What can we expect from the first Brexit Bond film?
The next James Bond film, as yet untitled and dubbed the ‘most cursed production of all time’, has been all over the news in recent months. Multiple script rewrites aside, there was Danny Boyle’s exit as director, the postponement of the release date, Daniel Craig’s knee injury, a damaging on-set explosion, reports of an unhappy crew and news that Bond will no longer hold the 007 code number in the next film. Shrouded in mystery and controversy, this is perhaps the most eagerly-anticipated instalment in the fifty-seven year history of the Bond franchise.
Meanwhile, much has happened in the world since the release of the last film, Spectre (2015). Brexit aside, there’s been Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and, of course, the election and presidency of Donald Trump. The CIA recently tweeted – rather mysteriously – that the Bond franchise is ‘shaking things up’ in the next film, and the plot synopsis hints at a stronger CIA presence, with Bond’s old CIA ally, Felix Leiter, returning. Maybe the changing of the guard at the White House will have implications for the Special Relationship in Bond 25; after all, it has already been tested in the real world.
As well as geopolitics, 007 will surely have to grapple with sexual and racial politics too. For many, the anticipation of the film rests on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s contribution to the script and the question of just how far she has pushed Bond – whom Judi Dench’s M once called a ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ – in the MeToo direction. In recent years, there has been much speculation about whether James Bond can be played by a black or female actor, with Idris Elba and Gillian Anderson throwing their hats into the ring. For Bond 25, it has been reported that the actress Lashana Lynch will play ‘a new character who takes over (Bond’s) secret agent number after he leaves MI6’. Lynch is of Jamaican descent and with this film partly set in Britain’s former colony, Jamaica, it is likely that the film will deal with questions of empire and race as well as gender.
And, of course, this is also going to be the first Brexit Bond film. The last time a 007 picture was released while Britain was not a member of the EU was in 1971 with Diamonds Are Forever, when it was called the European Economic Community. (Perhaps the producers are mulling over whether to call the next film Backstops Are Forever, or The EU is Not Enough). Joking aside, the writing team will undoubtedly have taken the Brexit vote into account. After all, the villain in Skyfall (2012) warned Bond that ‘you’re living in a ruin, you just don’t know it yet’. It will be interesting to see how Bond 25 deals with Bond’s identity – and Britain’s – post-Brexit.
But if the identity of Bond and Britain are at stake in Bond 25, the fact that the film will hit screens next year – despite numerous setbacks – reflects a wider story of British success. After all, this is the 25th instalment in a movie franchise that could easily have ended at various points since it began in 1962. Dr Ian Kinane, editor of the International Journal of James Bond Studies, recently said that he would be surprised if the franchise continues after Bond 25. If he’s right, this would be a great loss for the British film industry and Britain: James Bond is one of the longest-running and highest-grossing film series in history and, according to the Film Distributors’ Association, is the ‘backbone’ of the British film industry.
And this industry is doing remarkably well. In 2018, the UK saw its highest level of cinema admissions since records began, and recent analysis by Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates shows that the UK’s audio-visual sector is not only the largest in Europe, but also runs a £1.3 billion annual trade surplus with Europe. Aston Martins aside, the standout images from Prince Charles’s recent visit to the Bond 25 set are of him meeting the BFI apprentices working on the film. The Bond franchise and the film industry have never been more important than they are now, and if we are to become Global Britain, then the continued success of this economic sector will be vital.
The signs are already positive: Netflix recently announced that it will set up a permanent production base at Shepperton Studios. Indeed, watch any major film or TV series today and the chances are that it was filmed in the UK, whether it be Star Wars, Game of Thrones or The Crown. And nothing speaks more of London’s status as a global powerhouse than the screen time which it has been given in recent years. Globetrotting blockbuster franchises that used to be set in Paris, Rome or Los Angeles now film in London. Think of Mission Impossible, Men in Black, Jason Bourne and Fast and Furious – to name but a few. The Film Tax Relief (2007), London’s booming skyline and the 2012 Olympics will all have influenced this, but don’t underestimate the importance of London’s role in the past two Bond films either.
In the wake of Brexit, Dean Acheson’s remark that Britain has ‘lost an Empire and not yet found a role’ was often quoted. The continued success of James Bond and the film industry in recent years shows that we’ve found one. The Bond films may hark back to the golden age of British military might, but what they really stand for today is Britain’s economic and cultural strength – its ‘soft’ power. Even if finance redirects to Frankfurt and influence to Brussels, film and television makers will find it hard to resist the tax rates, studios, skylines and heritage that the UK has to offer. Bond 25 should be called From Britain, With Love.