By Heidi Wilkins

The latest Bond film, Spectre is filled with trademark humorous quips that provide momentary comic relief from the fighting, car chases and explosions typical of Ian Fleming’s famous narratives.

One such moment occurs after Bond girl Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) has saved James Bond from death at the hands of the deadly assassin, Hinx. She shoots the “baddie”, enabling Bond to throw him from the high-speed train they are travelling on. Once safe, the couple sit back, exhausted and gasping for breath. They look at one another: “What do we do now?” Madeleine innocently asks Bond, and then they suddenly smile and exchange knowing glances.

We quickly cut to the bedroom and a scene of passion ensues as James finally “gets his way” with Madeleine, who earlier in the film had made it very clear that she would not be seduced by him. This moment – edited as it is to cause a knowing chuckle in the audience – reinforces that apparently no woman can resist the charms of 007, but also signals the demise of Madeleine as a strong female character in this film.

Prior to saving James Bond’s life, we learn that Oxford educated Madeleine is a psychologist working at a private medical clinic in the Austrian Alps. Upon meeting Bond she is filled with distain for the world of crime and assassination that he inhabits and blames him for leading criminals to her door. When captured by them she fights back, stabbing one with a needle intended for her. We later learn that she is proficient with firearms thanks to her criminal father, and that she killed a man as a young girl, saving her father’s life.

Dr Madeleine Swann, aptly named for her beauty, grace but most importantly the “don’t mess with me” attitude associated with the feathered creature, now transforms. Through saving James Bond’s life, she has emasculated him and it seems this must be countered by her succumbing to his sexual advances. And so, like every Bond girl, and like Monica Bellucci’s character in this film, she becomes merely another conquest.

This transformation is manifested in her lack of agency as the narrative continues. On arriving at a facility in the desert owned by the villain Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), she does not even have a choice about what to wear anymore, and finds a feminine dress and heels laid out for her to put on.

Undoubtedly she saves James once again in the following scene when Oberhauser is torturing him. Yet it is Bond’s quick thinking about his explosive watch, and his instructions on the exact moment Madeleine should throw it that saves their lives – she is merely a puppet in his escape plan and not an orchestrator of it. Following this, as expected, Bond fights and shoots his way out of the facility, dragging Madeleine along as she stumbles in her high heels. She looks around in fear, not compelled to pick up a gun and join in the action, instead being wheeled around like a beautiful mannequin and saved from danger.

Madeleine’s ultimate demise comes at the end of the film, when tied up inside the shell of the MI6 building. Bond races against time to find her and when he does, rips her free of her bonds, scoops her into his arms and jumps into the River Thames. Apparently upon being rescued, she does not even possess the strength or agency to jump on her own.

For a 2015 film, the narrative for this Bond girl is a mere gesture to strong, intelligent women that should pervade more of our screens. The loss of M in Skyfall left a gap that should have been better filled by a character that demonstrates agency without overshadowing James Bond.

Madeleine ends the film being driven away by Bond who has apparently given up his life as a secret agent. Thus Madeleine ends the film in the position of “wife” or partner to a man, not a character in her own right. As such, she is indeed “bonded” within the ideological constructs of a film series that perpetually posits men as active, and women as passive objects of desire.



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