BOND AND KING ARTHUR
In the 23rd James Bond thriller, Skyfall, director Sam Mendes sought to elevate super spy James Bond, from Hollywood action star to a timeless heroic symbol of 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 its 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, mortally wounded in action and is 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 establish Bond’s mythical status.
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.
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 led 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.
And just as Arthur and Mordred were related, so we have lots of references to Judi Dench’s M as their metaphorical mother.
De la Croix is revealed to be the maiden name of Bond’s mother. 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 the mistress of his MI6 colleague-turned-enemy. Compare this to how Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon has Merlin invoke the Dragon’s breath to seduce lgrayne, the wife of his former ally, the 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 significance 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 real name of Bond’ new boss, ‘M’.
I don’t believe a director as erudite as Mendes would incorporate these details by coincidence. It would be 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 a saviour of the English.
The conflation of Bond and Arthur places 007 at the centre of British literary, cinematic and Christian cultural tradition, so elevating him from the contemporary to the mythical, and crowning Bond as the once and future king of English heroes, and Hollywood.