James Bond in the Time of Brexit


Whether he is viewed as a strictly literary creation, or as the focus for a massively successful film franchise that currently encompasses 24 official movies, it is nearly impossible to doubt the enduring appeal of the fictional British secret agent, James Bond.

From his literary debut in 1953 in Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale the Bond brand, for want of a better term, has endured everything from multiple recastings the actor in the title role to the end of the Cold War. But while current Bond star Daniel Craig has recently confirmed that he will be returning as 007 for the the 25th film in the official Bond canon, the franchise faces a new quandary: What's the best way to deal with the biggest sociopolitical upheaval to effect Bond's homeland since the fall of the Berlin Wall?

On March 29, 2019 Britain, is due to leave the European Union. What exactly this move, dubbed Brexit in the UK's popular press, will mean for the people of Great Britain is still hotly contested, not least because negotiations on the terms of Britain's exit are still currently ongoing. Even the British Prime Minister Theresa May has been reduced to tautology when talking it, stating simply that "Brexit means Brexit" shortly after she came to office.

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In November 2019, some eight months after the Brexit deadline is due to pass, the 25th Bond movie will premiere in cinemas worldwide. With the exact terms of the final Brexit settlement still so uncertain, it seems highly unlikely that even returning Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade could accurately forecast the impending political realities of a Post-Breit Britain in time for the premiere of what is still called Bond 25 -- but are there any clues among the existing Bond films and novels that might indicate how the franchise might deal with Brexit?

To begin with, we could examine Bond's origins as a wish-fulfilling fantasy vehicle for a former Naval Intelligence Officer turned journalist named Ian Fleming. At 44, Fleming was facing the seemingly inescapable conclusion that his days of deliciously self-centered thrill-seeking were rapidly drawing to a close. But although Fleming was preparing to finally settle down and marry his long-time lover Ann Charteris, his appetite for adventure remained undiminished.

Fleming's solution was to embark on a voyage of escapism through the creation of the ultimate wish-fulfilling literary avatar, a fictional British secret agent who, unlike Fleming himself, would be actively involved in the front line of espionage for crown and country. A Mary Sue of breathtaking audacity, Fleming's creation would never age, never be refused by any woman in matters of love or lust, and would certainly never be tied down by a wife or children. That Bond would also have access to a virtually unlimited budget to indulge Fleming's own taste for the finer things in life was merely the cherry on top of this imaginary cake.

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In many ways, Bond would seem to be the perfect embodiment of, not just Fleming's personal desires, but of how a significant number of Brexit supporters view themselves and their country. Alone in the field, Bond stands for the nation; a paragon of Britishness -- victorious against all comers -- who is nonetheless figure universally admired, envied and desired. In both the Bond books and films, the foes he faces are typically eccentric megalomaniacs, crippled by their bizarre need to assert their superiority over the world. They are also almost always not British, a xenophobic trait that is almost, but not quite, explained away by Bond's counter/espionage work.

However, as tempting view of Bond as an all-powerful flag-waving British nationalist hero may be, it should be noted that 007 seldom works entirely alone. He is almost always aided in his adventures by international allies, be they the talented, and increasingly independent, women he is narratively obliged to bed, various one-off foreign male contacts, who may or may not be alive by the time the closing credits roll, or by Felix Leiter, his American counterpart and constant comrade at the CIA.

Leiter's recurring and often pivotal role in supplying Bond with the intelligence and resources the country he serves is unwilling or unable to provide itself somewhat undercuts the notion of Bond as a figure of British supremacy, and serves as a constant, if subtle, reminder that Britain is not the global superpower its most jingoistic subjects might wish it were.

There is also the fact that Bond himself has some non-British roots. The novel You Only Live Twice establishes his parents as being one Andrew Bond from Glencoe in Scotland and a Swiss woman named Monique Delacroix. Whatever else he is, it would seem that James Bond is international to his very core.

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Outside of his origins and temperament, further clues to how Brexit may feature in future Bond films might also be discerned from the way in which series has dealt with shifts in global geopolitics in the past. The most notable example here is probably the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 and 1990. This tumultuous change occurred itself during a brief six-year lull in the Bond film franchise, after the second of Timothy Dalton's tenure in the role, in 1989's License to Kill.

When the series returned with Pierce Brosnan in the title role in 1995's Goldeneye, the fall of communism took centre stage. The film's plot also focused on the treat of non-state actors exploiting the instability of a diminished post-communist Russia still equipped with the military technological might of a former global superpower and even its title sequence was full of thin women going hammer and tongs at statues of Lenin as well as the Soviet hammer an sickle.

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By contrast, Britain's entry into European Economic Community, the fore-runner to the modern European Union in 1973 seems to have been almost completely overlooked by Live and Let Die. That year's installment in the franchise seemed more anxious to keep up with the Hollywood trend for blaxploitation than wider political shifts affecting the UK. The Man With the Golden Gun, which hit cinemas in 1974, took more inspiration from the global oil crisis and The Spy Who Loved Me in 1975 was a comparatively straight tale of Cold War detente in the face of another archetypal Bond villain.

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