• YEAR: 2006
  • DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
  • KEY ACTORS: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen
  • CERTIFICATE: 12A
  • IMDB SCORE: 8.0
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 94% 

SEX SCORE: 4/5

✔️ This is an incredibly rewatchable film. Every day, if you wanted
✔️ And I would absolutely fuck the cast. Every day, if you wanted!
✔️ It also did inspire fantasies, although not so much from the main plot but from Vesper and Bond’s whirlwind romance at the end. I wanted to sail to Venice, to run through the woods in the rain and have passionate sex in a shelter. Yup…
✔️ The sex positive question is a tough one but, especially when compared to other Bond movies, this is sex positive. All the sex is consensual and looks pretty fun!
❌ But it can’t get full marks as it does not pass the Bechdel Test. Worryingly few Bond films do – this is a future pub quiz question if ever I saw one. How many Bond movies pass, and which ones? Answers at the end of the post!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Virgin TVGo (free with subscription), Amazon Prime (rent £3.49, buy £5.99), YouTube (from £3.49). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

Casino Royale poster - Bond in the middle with a silhouette of Vesper in the background

There’s a very strong likelihood that Bond movies were what introduced me to sex on screen. They were often on TV on weekend afternoons, with much of the violence cut out, and I started watching them when I was really young and so was exposed to the innuendo and pre-watershed sex before I remember seeing anything else like it.

And I love Bond. I love him. I mentioned in the Thomas Crown Affair post that I was desperate to see Tomorrow Never Dies in the cinema when I was 12 in 1997 and I was enough of a geek that I made a database of the Bond movies for my IT GCSE coursework when I was 15. You could have asked me anything – actors, theme songs, cars, gadgets, original novels – and I knew the answer. My best friend and I even wrote a Bond screenplay when we should have been revising for our GCSEs, which was worryingly similar to Die Another Day and tells you all you need to know about how bad that movie was.

But my relationship to Bond, particularly the early movies, has changed over the decades and they now seem much more problematic – and I mean that according to the definition I read in a fascinating Twitter thread recently; understood by those who ‘know’ to be discomforting and frankly wrong in places but discussed using this innuendo so distinct negative labels don’t need to be applied. We (well, I) love Bond so don’t want to outright condemn it, but we don’t feel comfortable recommending it in the same way either.

Because, to speak bluntly, Bond is sexist, misogynistic, ableist, full of dubiously consensual and wholly non-consensual sexual acts, and often racist. Historically and currently. Too many villains have some sort of facial disfigurement or disability, including the Big Bad in the newest movie; the power dynamic between Bond and too many of the women who sleep with him is such that consent can’t be given freely, and I watched a 3 minute YouTube video of Bond’s inappropriate moments and my main takeaway was that I could think of many more that weren’t included.

It means that I struggle to maintain my insistence that Sean Connery is a great Bond or that Roger Moore’s Bond movies are just a bit of fun. I am so much more aware of the worrying sexual politics on display that it takes the shine off my enjoyment. I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of liking something and still interrogating it’s flaws but, for example, when there is literally unacknowledged rape in Goldfinger, it makes it difficult to recommend because it has a cool car.

I hope this is going to change. No Time To Die, released this month and SO FUCKING GOOD, is the first post-#MeToo Bond and the fact that director Fukunaga is on record calling Connery’s Bond a rapist suggests that he understood that change was needed. And, beyond that, with the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond, I am fascinated to see where the franchise will go now and what Bond will look like next. (I’d like to go on record with my pick – Dev Patel for Bond!)

Because the Bond movies as a whole do offer something fascinating – and incredibly valuable. They have provided an extraordinary visual history of sex, sexism and gender, stretching from the early 1960s. It’s not just the fashion and cars that have aged well or badly; Bond himself has changed, as have the women who join him on screen.

Now, this has been extensively discussed in film academia and thinkpieces and, while I couldn’t find any ‘Most Feminist Bond Girl’ listicles like there are for Disney Princesses, I did like the simple categories that a Stylist article used to describe the different decades of Bond girls and how they represent ‘their own era’s take on feminism.’ In her article, Kayleigh Dray describes how the 60s ‘FEISTY, FEMININE AND OH SO VULNERABLE’ girls were still dependent on men – fathers, bosses, lovers, or Bond himself. In the 70s, they became ‘CAREER GIRLS IN DISTRESS’ who were often in distress directly because of their careers. Mary Goodnight worked for MI6; Holly Goodhead as a space scientist. Their names were a joke, but I don’t think I’m stretching too far to suggest that the subliminal messaging was that women in the 70s needed rescuing from their careers. Later, the 80s ‘GLAMOROUS GALS OF THEIR OWN MEANS’ were more independent but no less in need of rescue, and the 1990s saw the Bond girls as ‘PARTNERS IN CRIME’ – either actual villains in the case of Elektra King or on the enemy’s side but potentially turned to the good to help Bond in Natalya Simonova or Terri Hatcher’s Paris Carver.

And they’re always ‘girls,’ aren’t they?

To me, this all undermines any suggestion that the women are feminist portrayals or that it’s Bond himself that is misogynistic and not the movies. Harriet Marsden recently wrote in the Telegraph that ‘the franchise has overall celebrated women far more than it has sexualised them. It’s us, the audience, that have drooled.’ She claims that the intelligence and perceived independence of these characters, and the frequency with which they save Bond, demonstrates that they are feminist depictions, citing the knife on Honey Ryder’s belt in the famous bikini scene and the nuclear physicist credentials of Dr Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough as examples. But, while an interesting perspective, is it enough? When women are fridged (the process by which they die to propel the plot) in nearly every movie and dress disproportionately in underwear, bikinis and ball dresses, I don’t get the sense that they’re trying to tell a feminist story in a misogynistic world. Unless it’s a male gaze version of feminism, which doesn’t really count. And isn’t that drooling audience the definition of objectification anyway?

A promo short of Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale

So where does Bond fit into the 21st century? Which, of course, brings us onto 2006’s Casino Royale; the first Daniel Craig Bond and essentially a resetting of the franchise, using the story of Ian Fleming’s first novel about Bond’s first mission as a 00 agent. This movie felt new. It felt different. And I loved it!

Casino Royale has a simple plot – Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen) is a wealth manager for criminals but has got into financial trouble by betting unwisely and needs to win back the money entrusted to him before the mercenaries realise it’s gone and, well, kill him. He chooses to play a high stakes poker game and Bond (Craig) is sent to beat him, which he does, aided by beautiful treasury agent, Vesper Lynd (Green). Bond is captured and tortured in an extreme and non-consensual version of cock and ball torture, before being rescued. In recovery, Bond and Lynd fall in love but she betrays him and breaks his heart. Of course, she dies (an act of fridging that propels the plot for FOUR MOVIES) and he becomes the cold and emotionally closed off man we know from the previous films!

At the end of his run, it is interesting now to look at Craig’s time as Bond from the beginning. Considering how beloved he is now, it amuses me how controversial a choice Craig was at the time – I actually found a website called danielcraigisnotbond.com to collect the negative comments against his choice – and while I didn’t agree with the ridiculous complaints of these early trolls (Bond can’t be blonde!!), I do remember being angry when he was announced because I didn’t fancy him. At all!

Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale, emerging from the sea in those famous blue shorts

But, wow, did he prove me wrong! As Bond and especially in Casino Royale, Craig personified sex. In my last post on 300, I talked about male objectification and how this wasn’t done for women in that movie, but Bond’s objectification here felt much more explicitly for the female audience. (Although, of course, Bond is still a hero even if he is an objectified one whereas the women are still simply objects to look at.) The famous scene when he rises from the sea in those tiny blue shorts was widely acclaimed as a gender flipped version of the infamous scene from Dr No of Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder, and I’m interested to see that, in this movie, the attempt at encouraging female pleasure is much more literally a reversal of the male gaze with specifically visual pleasures being encouraged. Not only are there short shorts but Craig wears a tuxedo beautifully, manages to carry off a Hawaiian shirt and looks pretty damn good in a polo shirt. Hot. So hot.

Now, I acknowledge that my age when first watching Craig as Bond – 23 for Casino Royale rather than a literal child for the other Bonds – may have impacted my sexual feelings towards him when compared to the others, but he was more than just good to look at. Craig’s Bond had a way with words that fitted the circumstance; flirting like a regular old Bond with Vesper on the train but realistically snapping ‘do I look like I give a damn?’ when a bartender asks whether his martini should be shaken or stirred; a line that sealed my love for him. And while the poker scenes are generally reviled by those who actually play, Bond’s prowess at a card game shows he is skillful at something that I am terrible at, which is a bigger turn on for me than it should be!

Bond playing poker in Casino Royale

Craig’s Bond also had a physicality that took my breath away. Connery had this – a brutal and powerful confidence in his presence that bumped right up against arrogance – but Craig’s version of Bond has an important nuance that I think is missing in previous iterations, and this is the feature that Craig has made his own. Verbalised perfectly by the Bad Feminist Film Club, Craig’s Bond could be ‘an arsehole and not a good person, but he’s not a misogynist.’ Not a misogynist. What a breath of fresh air!

And this is why, even as early as Casino Royale, I thought Craig could be the best Bond ever. Now having seen No Time To Die, I don’t doubt it; he is extraordinary in the role. Stephanie Zacharek for Time recently wrote that ‘as Craig has played him, Bond is a man whose blood runs close to the surface. Principled but also a bit thuggish, witty yet vaguely ornery, taciturn yet capable of being wounded, he became—by stealth, across five pictures—the best version of the character, the one we didn’t know we wanted. The rest were just Bonds.’ Craig himself told Esquire in 2015 that he thought Bond was ‘very fucking lonely…There’s a great sadness. He’s fucking these beautiful women but then they leave and it’s…sad.’ And we can see this character development begin in Casino Royale. Bond at the beginning is raw and fresh and is capable of vulnerability. He doesn’t yet have the scars and barriers that have defined the character before, and while he will certainly develop them later, seeing how and why they form makes him more human, less Cold War machine. 

Now, none of this Craig praise is to say that he is perfect. He may not be so explicitly misogynistic, but he still uses his power and position to seduce women that he discards immediately afterwards, if they survive the encounter. And neither of the women Bond seduces in Casino Royale do survive to the end of the film! 

Solange, the other Bond girl

In many ways, Casino Royale does continue the Bond tradition of reinforcing gender stereotypes by showing women as emotional and weak, and in need of men to save them. While Lynd may have been present for some of the fight scenes, she is clearly terrified and frankly appropriately emotionally damaged by witnessing such a violent death. But this is portrayed as Bond’s strength and her weakness, especially when he comforts her in the shower afterwards. Bond remains superior to her in strength and emotional stability. I was interested in a presentation I found on the Feminism of Casino Royale that suggested this particular emotion was reversed in Lynd’s death at the end. Here, it is Bond’s face that was seen in close-up to exaggerate his emotion; Bond who was unable to do anything to resolve the situation, Bond who is helpless. Perhaps the clear gender stereotypes previously were to enhance the impact of this reversal?

I do love how strong Lynd was. She’s obviously not the first Bond heroine who had a prestigious career in a traditionally masculine world, but I really believed she would hold her own. The verbal sparring between the two of them on the train and their back-and-forth about what to wear for the poker is so perfect and I loved that Vesper came out on top in both encounters. I also think it’s important that their relationship actually was strictly professional until after the ‘case’ was finished (and after she thought she had settled her score with her blackmailers). She didn’t succumb to his charms or make an unwise decision because he impressed her. In fact, she does exactly the opposite and doesn’t give him more money when he crashes out early because she doesn’t think he’s worth the risk. Blocking the plot, sure, as women in movies so often do according to Guilty Feminist’s Deborah Frances White, but a consummate professional! And I believed that they fell in love, and that doesn’t often happen in a Bond movie.

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is also my dream style. Without even considering our different body shapes, I don’t have the same colouring so wanting to look like her isn’t a realistic dream, but I want it nonetheless. I love her clothes, I love her make-up, I love her grace and her elegance. I love her. And her ending makes me sad, every time.

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale

(Especially as, if you’ll allow me a medical rant, Bond’s CPR to try and save her was seriously below standard. Why don’t they ever teach secret agents proper life support skills?! Oh, and that was not a ventricular tachycardia or even cardiac arrest rhythm on the monitor when he was poisoned. Who are the medical experts assisting with this movie and why won’t they hire an actual medic? I am available!)

So, Casino Royale. The first of a new era of Bond movies and a worthy introduction to what would come next for Craig’s character. They weren’t all good and they weren’t all that feminist, but when they were good they were absolutely fucking incredible!

NEXT TIME: Halloween Season begins with…CARRIE

There are five Bond movies that pass the Bechdel Test according to bechdeltest.com
From Russia with Love
For Your Eyes Only
GoldenEye
Skyfall
No Time To Die (not formally ranked but I’m confident!)
Can you think of any others?

Copyright All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.