The mythical James Bond, 007


King Arthur

In the 23rd James Bond thriller,  Skyfall, director Sam Mendes sought to elevate super spy James Bond, from mere Hollywood action star, to a heroic symbol for England.

By employing poetry, imagery and story elements of Arthurian legend, Mendes stretches an umbilical cord through time to connect Britain’s most modern fictitious national hero, Bond, with it’s most ancient and legendary, King Arthur.

In Le Morte d’Arthur (pub. 1485), Thomas Malory codified the legend of King Arthur from disparate sources and established what we now consider to be the definitive legend.

Arthur is an orphan who wields a weapon only he can command and must fight a traitor, his step-brother Modred, to save his kingdom. Arthur is betrayed by a woman, is mortally wounded in action and hidden away from the world by the lady in the lake. There he will await until his return to once again rescue his land at the hour of his country’s greatest need.

In Skyfall these events and all occur, though not in this order, and are there to subliminally underscore how mythical Bond is.

In the pre-title sequence we see Bond shot by fellow agent Eve, before falling into a river and being pulled under water by a godlike female hand. Being brought low by a woman named Eve is obviously a very Christian idea, reminding us how closely Arthurian legend deliberately echoes the story of Jesus Christ, his betrayal, death and his resurrection.Skyfall

Bond undergoes a symbolic Christian death at the hands of his followers, but remains in limbo waiting to be reborn. He only returns from the dead , when England is threatened by terrorists lead by a former British agent.

In Skyfall Bond/Arthur are tasked with defending Britain from Javier Bardem’s Silva/Mordred. All are orphans raised to be warriors.De la croix

And just as Arthur and Mordred were related, so we have lots of references to Judi Dench’s M as their metaphorical mother.

Bond is revealed to have a birth mother with the name De la Croix.

De la Croix translates as ‘Of the cross’ and so ties in with the idea of resurrection. This feeds neatly into the conceit of Bond regenerating every time a new actor assumes the role.

It’s also a nod to Ian Fleming’s socialite mother, Evelyn Beatrice St. Croix Rose.

Bond’s Merlin figure of course, is Ben Whishaw’s Q. He provides Bond with a pistol registered to his unique palm print so only he can use it. It’s an updated Excalibur, the sword in the stone.

Bond sails through a dragon’s mouth prior to sleeping with his enemy’s mistress.

Dragon mouth

Compare this to how Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon has Merlin invoke the Dragon’s breath to seduce lgrayne, the wife of Duke of CornwalI. John Boorman vividly illustrates this in his excellent telling of the Arthurian legend, in 1981’s Excalibur .

We hear how following the loss of his parents, the barely  teenage Bond spent three days in a tunnel before emerging an adult. An echo of the vigil an aspiring knight had to endure before being allowed to join the chivalric order.

Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson wrote a cycle of narrative poems concerning King Arthur called Idylls of the King (pub. 1859). This is the pertinence of Judi Dench’s M quoting Tennyson as Bond races to her rescue.

All we’re missing is a character called Mallory to appear and oops, that just happens to be the new M’s real name.Fiennes

I don’t believe a director as erudite as Mendes would incorporate these details by coincidence. It would almost impossible to do so by accident.

These details in the subtext of the film echo in the subconsciousness of the viewer. They reinforce the idea of Bond as heroic saviour of the British people.

The conflation of Bond and Arthur places 007 at the centre of British literary, cinematic and Christian cultural tradition, elevating him from the contemporary to the mythical, the once and future king of the franchise.

The Age Of Adaline

Director: Lee Toland Krieger (2015)

A woman who never grows old falls for a much younger man in this weird fantasy romance.

Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) lives alone, is kind to her dog, speaks in a breathy register and laughs at her own jokes.

Although really 107 years old, a mysterious event when she was 29 has prevented her from ageing.

Ever since the FBI tried to arrest her for being a suspected threat to the US, she’s been dodging the authorities and running away from love and commitment.

She changes addresses and identities every ten years, allowing the Costume and Make-up deptartments (Angus Strathie, Monica Huppert) to make Lively look lovely in all the major fashions of the twentieth century.

Plus it usefully acts as a visual shorthand for whatever decade we find ourselves in during one of the many flashbacks.

Her only friend is piano player Regan (Lynda Boyd) which suggests Adaline has been seeking out blind people to hang with as they don’t recognise her lack of ageing.

At a New Year’s Eve party she meets the hunky, needy, pushy yet altruistic internet millionaire Ellis (Michiel Huisman).

He’s not as endearing as the film imagines him to be and Adaline tries to reject his advances due to their secret age difference.

There are several dates, shooting stars, snow storms, two car accidents and a drive-in movie.

Despite Adaline’s reservations she agrees to visit Ellis’s parents where someone kindly explains the rules of Trivial Pursuit for those watching who haven’t played it.

It leads to a big surprise for his dad Bill (Harrison Ford) on the eve of his fortieth wedding anniversary to Kathy (Kathy Baker).

Ford seems energised for the first time in years and is allowed a door-smashing moment. Perhaps being back home on the Falcon is therapeutic.

However it’s at this point the heavy air of sentimental nostalgia curdles and becomes creepily uncomfortable.

A gravelly voice over by Hugh Ross offers the only grit available as well as the illusion of a patina of science.

San Francisco looks fabulous and the true romance on show is between the city and cinematographer David Lanzenberg.

Scriptwriters J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz are also enamoured of the city, highlighting it’s history as a leader of technological innovation.

Somebody ought to point out to the writers gifting first editions of famous novels only counts as romantic if there is a financial, emotional or other cost to the donor.

A millionaire dishing out rare works to relative strangers they wish to bed smacks not of romance but thoughtless opportunism.

The Age Of Adaline suggests grey hair and wrinkles are the gateway to true love; a sly commentary on women who can’t accept growing old and resort to going under the knife.

But if you want to send this sort of message then it’s important to create an effective and engaging delivery system first.