The Swishy Villainy & Psychodrama of Skyfall

Posted by in film

Mark Simpson fondles the pecs and thighs of James Bond’s latest ‘outing’

When at their first meet­ing in Skyfall a rather for­wards Raul Silva, played by a bleached-blond Javier Bardem, takes cad­dish advant­age of James Bond’s/Daniel Craig’s indis­pos­i­tion – tied as he is to a chair – run­ning his hands over 007’s craggy face, ripped chest and power­ful thighs, and flir­ta­tiously sug­gest­ing “Well, first time for everything, Bond…” you could feel the audi­ence in my local cinema freeze.

And when Bond delivered the now-famous lac­onic retort “What makes you think it’s my first time?” you could hear the audience’s sharp intake of breath over the THX sound sys­tem. Wot?! James Bond a bender!?!

Oh bloody hell!, I wanted to shout out, at Raul, the audi­ence and the world in gen­eral. Has ANYONE been pay­ing atten­tion? Of COURSE it’s not Bond’s first time! In Casino Royale Bond tried a spot of CBT with Mr Big and his knot­ted rope, while tied to a RIM CHAIR!!

Casino Royale rebooted and updated the tired, ter­min­ally naff Bond brand in 2006 in the pec­tor­ally prom­in­ent form of Craig, a man whose appoint­ment to the role ini­tially pro­voked a chorus of com­plaints from Bond fan­boys about his blond­ness, smooth­ness and the fact he kissed a man in another movie.

Craig’s Bond proved a sen­sa­tion on screen, one which finally real­ised the tarty prom­ise of Sean Connery’s beefily glam­or­ous, dis­turb­ing sexu­al­ity in 1962’s Dr No – long since for­got­ten in the sex­less knit­wear cata­logue model Bonds of the 70s-90s. By recon­nect­ing Bond to the met­ro­sexy revolu­tion in mas­cu­line aes­thet­ics, the male desire to be desired, that the ori­ginal Bond movies anti­cip­ated but which had been left to other movies to exploit, Casino delivered us Bond as a 21st Century fully-fledged, self-objectifying sex-object. Bond as his own Bond girl. Hence Craig’s Ursula Andress in Speedos moment.

So when Silva has a good feel of Bond’s pecs and thighs in Skyfall he’s just doing what pretty much every­one, male and female, has wanted to do since Casino Royale.

If Casino Royale outed Bond’s omni­sexual tarti­ness, Skyfall, which is at least as good a movie – effa­cing the mor­ti­fy­ing memory of Quantum of Solace – outs the queer­ness of the Bond vil­lain. Someone who was often impli­citly coded queer (those cats, those cigar­ette hold­ers, those hulk­ing goons), partly as a way of mak­ing unmar­ried, shaken-not-stirred Bond seem straighter. After all those dec­ades of cod­ing, Bardem’s openly flir­ta­tious swishy vil­lainy seems exhilir­at­ing. It’s cer­tainly a great pleas­ure to watch.

Though, like Bond, Bardem isn’t actu­ally gay. As a res­ult of the spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing Bond’s ‘shock­ing’ admis­sion of his bi-curious past in Skyfall Craig was asked in an inter­view recently whether he thinks there could ever be a ‘gay James Bond’. “No,” he replied, “because he’s not gay. And I don’t think Javier [Bardem’s] char­ac­ter is either — I think he’d fuck anything.”

Much like Bond, then.

What’s ‘gay’ about Skyfall isn’t the thigh-squeezing, or even Daniel Craig’s cir­cuit party tits (which I’m happy to report are reg­u­larly on dis­play again) it’s the glor­i­ous camp excess. “Was that meant for me?” Bond asks Silva dur­ing an under­ground pur­suit, after he det­on­ates a bomb behind our hero by remote con­trol, blow­ing a hole in the roof of the vault. “No,” dead­pans Silva. “But this is.” Right on cue a tube train falls through the hole, headed for Bond, while Silva dis­ap­pears up a ladder.

Some film crit­ics com­plained that this scene is ‘over the top’. This makes me won­der: a) What kind of movie fran­chise they think Bond is, and b) Whether they have a sense of humour.

The whole premise of Skyfall is of course pretty camp: that Silva, a former ‘favour­ite’ agent of M’s is going to so much trouble – hack­ing MI6, steal­ing, decrypt­ing and pub­lish­ing lists of secret Nato agents, blow­ing up the MI6 build­ing, per­son­ally storm­ing the Houses of Parliament dressed as a David Walliams char­ac­ter – just to get his own back on M (played by gay icon Judi Dench) for drop­ping him.

That’s some hissy fit.

Fortunately camp isn’t code here for ‘crap’. It’s a test­a­ment to Bardem’s skill as an actor and Sam Mendes dir­ec­tion that he’s vividly, entran­cingly men­acing. He steals every scene he’s in. Actually, his hair steals every scene he’s in. What’s more, you really feel, per­haps for the first time, that this Bond vil­lain has a point. After all, what kind of fucked up fam­ily is MI6? Particularly since in the open­ing scene of the movie Bond is betrayed too – badly wounded and nearly killed after M orders another MI6 agent to take a dodgy shot at the bad­die Bond is bat­tling (atop a mov­ing train, of course). ‘M’ is for ‘Mother’ – bad Mother.

Skyfall is very queer psy­cho­drama – delving deep into the twis­ted fam­ily romance of MI6 and the orphan Bond’s quasi inces­tu­ous devo­tion to M. Silva may be on a deli­ciously queenie ram­page, but we all know that it’s Dame Judi who is the real (Virgin) Queen. When Craig appeared in that embar­rass­ing clip for the open­ing cere­mony of the London Olympics this Summer it was quite clear to every­one that con­sti­tu­tional mon­arch Elizabeth Windsor was Judi’s mere under­study. M has the power of life and death, after all.

Silva’s first scene with Bond – ‘Do you like my island Mr Bond?’ – is grip­ping, and not just in a grop­ing sort of way. But the scene where he meets M and denounces her crimes and invites her to gaze upon her handi­work trumps it as a piece of pure theatre. Again, it’s delib­er­ately over­wrought – but then, so is any fam­ily romance. Even the ruth­less, steely M is clearly affected by this con­front­a­tion with her abor­ted boy toy.

Perhaps because there’s not enough Bardem in it, the shoot-em up final reel is a bit of an anti-climax after the emo­tional tube-train crash of the first couple of hours. Even in a Bond film as Freudian as this one it is too sym­bolic for its own good. More like a bad dream than a finale, Bond and M – and an ancient Albert Finney – are holed up in his fam­ily estate in the Scottish Highlands, which he hasn’t vis­ited since his father died when he was a boy. His bur­ied past, in other words.

The Gothic, moul­der­ing pile is called ‘Skyfall’ – a name which is pos­sibly inten­ded to bring to mind God’s favour­ite, Lucifer, being cast out of heaven. Sure enough, Silva, the agent who was cast out of MI6 by M, arrives with his goons and start shoot­ing the place up in the kind of pyro­tech­nic assault we’ve seen in a hun­dred other movies.

Though as with the rest of Skyfall, the final reel is beau­ti­fully lit. The attack begins at dusk (Lucifer is the ‘even­ing star’) and the light pro­gress­ively turns bluer until it is as dark as death, the only light the hellish orange of Bond’s ances­tral home aflame. Like the fam­ily romance itself, Skyfall is suf­fused with nos­tal­gia. Nostalgia for the Bond fran­chise (it’s a half cen­tury since Dr No was released). Nostalgia for 1960s aes­thet­ics. Nostalgia for Britain and Britishness. For the Mother Country. And mother-love.

Heavily preg­nant with sym­bol­ism, Bond and his Secret Service mother drive to their Highland hon­ey­moon from hell in his Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 he’s kept in a London lock-up, pre­sum­ably since the 1960s. On the way he dis­plays what Freud would call his ‘ambi­val­ence’ by jok­ingly threat­en­ing M with the ejector seat, fin­ger­ing the red but­ton on his gear stick. Of course, Bond never repu­di­ates his mother-love and remains true to Judi.

However, it won’t be giv­ing too much away to say that Skyfall does finally press that but­ton on 007’s behalf.

 

This review was ori­gin­ally writ­ten for the adult site Nightcharm