Much has been made of Danny Boyle’s appointment as director of Bond 25, the next outing for Daniel Craig’s 007, slated for a 2019 release. Both Bond and Boyle have longstanding interests in a thriving United Kingdom; the former being bound to serve the country as an elite spy, and the latter, as a director known for his creative portrayals of British culture.
Since its gritty reboot in Casino Royale (2006), the Bond films have been praised, in part, for rejecting the gadgetry of previous films, instead prioritising depth of character and staging a vulnerable Bond prone to introspection. Coupled with greater awareness of real-life political issues in the films – big banks and money laundering, playing politics with natural resources in developing countries – Craig’s Bond has been asking himself why and for whom he serves.
In his 25th movie outing, Bond will have an extra political issue to address: Brexit. Bond’s remit is to protect British society and interests from abroad. Given Britain’s changing politics, the spy will likely have a new set of international dynamics to negotiate.
Boyle, too, will need to pay close attention to the political landscape. He will be directing a franchise film for the first time – one funded by Hollywood dollars that plays on the kitsch British pound – and will be selling the goods to the global movie market.
But what will this mean for potential storylines? Look back to Sam Mendes’s Skyfall (2012) and you’ll see inspiration taken from the 7/7 bombings of London’s transport network. Skyfall dramatises a self-questioning Britain, no longer trustful of the international model of espionage. When M (Judi Dench) attends a parliamentary inquiry into the running of MI6, she explains to the chair: “Our enemies are no longer known to us. They don’t exist on a map. They’re not nations. They’re individuals.”
Skyfall is all about saving the UK from its own, and rescuing it in the face of supranationalist political terrorism. It focuses on restoring unity to the UK’s nations, while rejecting internationalist politics. Towards the beginning of the film, during a psychometric test, Bond’s own trigger-word response to “country” is “England”. The UK, like Bond himself, is fractured.
The only other represented part of the UK is Scotland, where Bond grew up. It represents a younger, more innocent Bond, before he fell into the world of spying and sin. When Bond finally kills cyberterrorist Raoul Silva in a bid to save the country (albeit at the cost of the Britannia-esque matriarch, M) he simultaneously prepares the way for Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to assume his tenure as head of MI6, tasked with keeping the UK safe long into the future.
This narrative of protecting the nation was cemented during the “opening ceremony” of London’s 2012 Olympics. Bond seemingly retrieved the Queen from Buckingham Palace and brought her to the Olympic stadium by helicopter, where she leapt out. Evoking Roger Moore’s scene in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), a union jack flag adorned Her Majesty’s parachute.
Fittingly, the director of the ceremony was Boyle. His “Isles of Wonder” was a vision of Britain that sought to bring together the country’s voices and histories as a harmonious whole in which the British nations are sutured together invisibly; borders largely erased and difference easily overcome. It was a Utopian vision of concord and camaraderie.
Boyle’s vision of Britain hasn’t always been the most optimistic, however. His most feted film – 1996’s Trainspotting – thought about the UK in starkly different terms. Based on Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel, Trainspotting documents the tribulations of a handful of Scottish addicts, whose tipples range from alcohol to violence to heroin. Set during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the Leith area of Edinburgh in the film is underfunded and forgotten by the neo-conservative society that Thatcher cultivated. Trainspotting’s Scotland is splintered off from the coherent UK.
By the time Boyle’s Bond film is released, Britain will have exited the European Union. The new internationalist arrangement between the UK and its continental counterparts will potentially be a throwback to the pre-Thatcher UK, when nations were primary drivers in politics. Though there is no saving Trainspotting’s disintegrated UK, Boyle’s Bond offering will come up against the backdrop of a “saved” nation – at least in terms of its own national identity, that is.
In the Bond films, Britain has long had a foil for solving international disputes, and a figure whose commercial appeal outweighs, on average, the current GDP of over 150 countries. But Boyle brings something new to the Bond universe, and his Trainspotting version of Britain where individualism thrives against a conception of a coherent UK is something Bond has rarely encountered. Now, however, the only question that remains is whether Bond will once again be able to save the Queen Olympics-style, as it were, and restore unity to a fractured Brexit Britain.
Nick Taylor-Collins, Lecturer in English Literature, Swansea University.
This article first appeared on The Conversation.