Welcome to Bond Week, in celebration of No Time to Die finally being released into theaters this week. Throughout the week, I’ll be posting James Bond themed-articles, mostly because I love that silly, hugely problematic and identity-bereft franchise almost as much as Star Wars. And also because of that sweet SEO-money baby. Don’t expect many deconstructions and insights, they will be mostly scattered, just like the entire franchise. One thing you realize about Bond movies is that you have to love it by the parts, not the whole. Today, we focus on the messiest but more interesting of Craig’s outings, and on one of the most underrated British actresses out there.
Quantum of Solace is a mess, but one that is getting reappraised today because, without having to dig too deep, you can find all the components of what would’ve been a brilliant film, it could’ve become a smart and poignant film not just for Bond standards. Most films in the franchise suffer from having a lot of great, individualized parts (the stunts, the song, the plot, the villain, the female characters, etc.) that end up outweighed by bad parts (the characters, the plot, the villain, the female characters, etc.). By contrast, Quantum of Solace had two great premises going for it: James Bond trying to suppress his emotions while avenging Vesper and Global Powers and greedy billionaires trying to steal the resources from Third World Countries. I cannot commend this movie enough for trying to do something different and risky with the franchise.
Best laid plans don’t survive contact with the enemy, which in this case was a rushed production schedule that happened to coincide with the WGA strike of 2007-2008. But I’d say a bigger problem was bringing Paul Haggis in to doctor the script. Much has been said about the movie going into production without a proper script or about director Marc Foster doing rewrites on the fly, or reworking it with the actors on the very set. The latter sounds like an interesting approach for a blockbuster of this scope, and once again, Paul Haggis worked on the screenplay, there’s no way the end result is any worse than his draft.
Quantum of Solace simply had too many things working against it, which is either a paradox, coming off from the most acclaimed and successful film in the series (not accounting for inflation), or perhaps, a case study in why sophomore slumps happen. But with all movies that had the potential to be much better, there’s almost always a single thing, one easy-fix change that would’ve made the movie much better. Not enough to save it, but at least improving it by a fifth, or even a third, give or take 3.4%. And I’m not talking about major changes, like a different director, more budget, or even a different script. It’s a change that could be made, realistically, with whatever the movie had to work with.
For Quantum of Solace, that decision was having Olga Kurylenko play Camille Montes instead of Gemma Arterton.
A quick recap: Camille Montes is a Bolivian woman hellbent in avenging her family, killed by General Medrano, seducing the main villain, Dominic Greene, who himself is trying to install him as dictator with the help of the US. A meaty role that was underwritten, predictable even without the comings and goings of the script. That is the fate of most Bond women. But on paper, her conception was great: Another grieving person with whom Bond can … well, bond and work out his feelings. Also, famously, she is one of two non-villainous (or non-M and non-Moneypenny) female characters in the entire goddamn franchise who Bond doesn’t pork (the only other one was Plenty O’Toole, and that’s only because Bond was interrupted by bad guys … and she was thrown out of a window into a pool goddamn this franchise sometimes).
I’m not here to diss on Kurylenko as an actress, I think she held herself very well in this movie. She did star in a Terrence Malick film after all. However, there was someone even better in the cast, someone who is a powerhouse and would’ve brought enough layering to the character to fill in the gaps in the script.
Gemma Arterton, only 21 at the time, played Strawberry Fields (SIGH), burdened with the worst kind of role for a female character in the Bond franchise and in general: The sacrificial lamb. Almost every single Bond movie has had one of them, portrayed as nothing more than beautiful objects for Bond to seduce, use them to further his mission, and then leave to fend for herself against the villain’s payback. Not all female characters who die in the series could be considered sacrificial lambs, some actually have an arch, but the trope has been used by every single iteration of Bond. In Strawberry Field’s case, she is an MI6 agent at the Bolivian consulate who is tasked with keeping an eye on Bond and to rein him in. He almost immediately seduces her, then they both go to a party hosted by Greene, she helps Bond by tripping a henchman … aaaand she is killed in a horrible way.
Arterton herself has denounced the role, understandably. It was a chance she couldn’t pass, having had only a couple roles at the time she was cast. But even then, the way they fridged Strawberry Fields was completely out of step with whatever progress the franchise had made. Casino Royale also fridges Caterina Murino’s Solange Dimitrios, but at least they give her a function: Portray the callousness with which Bond treats women. She is certainly used and a passive character, but we do get a small glimpse of her inner life, in contrast to Bond’s aloof demeanor towards her. Before that, the last proper sacrificial lamb was Paris Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, a former fling of Bond, but at least we get to see his honest remorse. With Strawberry Fields (writing the whole name to drill in its silliness), they simply had no idea what to do with her; she fulfills no role and her death has zero impact on Bond.
To say they did Gemma Arterton’s skills dirty is being quaint with the hyperbole. This is like benching a Rapinoe, a Mbappé, a Durant! Arterton has mastered the ability to shift between non-naive sweetness and self-assertedness. And … how can I say this without sounding like that article about Margot Robbie? If you follow LaineyGossip, you might’ve heard in their podcast about how certain young actresses shot to fame as full-women: it’s shocking to realize how young they were. The Ur-example is Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (only 22-23). Well, that’s how you could define Arterton at any stage in her career, and that quality permeates the way she inhabits characters and her stunning beauty. She irradiates sex appeal, but of a kind that is wholly-owned, and energy she transforms into the warm charisma she and her characters have, and it’s one that does not come to light if she is made to play a passive character. In other words, they made Arterton play a girl when she was always meant to portray women.
Now, imagine if her acting energy had been destined for the character of Camille Montes, bouncing off of the iciness of Bond. I’m not saying that she would’ve played Camille sassier, or something like that; Arterton would’ve made for a richer portrayal, more layered and more believable in her facial expressions and body language. The interesting thing about this character is that, despite her determination to get revenge, she has never killed anyone, a prospect she hasn’t fully reckoned with. Arterton could’ve elevated the character and the entire movie from that point of vulnerability, more so when you consider her own youth at the time. Moreover, with director Marc Foster reworking the script on the fly through collaborating with the actors, I have no doubt that Arterton could’ve found new ways to flesh out the character and go deeper into her relationship with Bond, also making his arc better.
Some of you might raise a valid point: Why should a white British actress play a Bolivian woman. This is true, but the point of this exercise is working with the team the movie already had. Also, in the end, the role was played by a white Ukranian woman. Apparently, originally they were considering a South American actress, but even then, it probably would’ve gone to a white actress. A perennial reminder: Latin America also has white people, and many actors that are considered “Latin” for US or European standards are white, as in “cops don’t bother them white.” In the case of Camille Montes (whose name more correctly should’ve been Camila), it is implied that her father was someone in power, from the elite, which in Bolivia’s history, until recently, have almost always been white. Even giving her an accent was optional: kids from Latin American elites usually study at bilingual schools or have English tutors. In sum, having a British or an Ukranian actress playing a South American character isn’t optimal, but could be worked.
I really hope Gemma Arterton, in the coming years, gets the recognition she deserves. According to Arterton herself, her outspoken attitude might rub industry farts the wrong way. That and her proper working-class background. And if there’s one role she deserves to make up for her stint in the James Bond franchise, then her agent should take a look at Velvet, Ed Brubaker’s take on ’70s spy thrillers and the secret life of characters like Miss Moneypenny.
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