The 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony already occupies a powerful place in the mythology of recent British history – in Jonathan Coe’s 2018 novel Middle England it represents a mid-point, a rare moment of celebration in the middle of a narrative that starts with Gordon Brown’s ‘bigotgate’ and ends with the 2016 referendum. One moment that elicited especial surprise and delight was the filmed sequence featuring James Bond and the Queen (‘the actual QUEEN!’ as one tweet put it) leading to the monarch’s entrance apparently jumping from a helicopter.
The sequence can be viewed in many ways – as an extended trailer for the appropriately named Skyfall, or as a modern version of a Jacobean/Caroline Court Masque, a symbolic, spectacular, one-off entertainment with the monarch in a starring role. The ceremony itself invited this reading, opening with a quotation from The Tempest, Shakespeare’s most masque-influenced play. (The Tempest also acts as a symbol of the BBC, the broadcaster through which most of us were watching the ceremony – an Eric Gill statue of Prospero and Ariel stands outside Broadcasting House, while the latter character provides the name of the Corporation’s staff magazine.)
Although the sequence’s power came from the juxtaposition of two apparently dissimilar cultural icons, the two have a lot in common – James Bond and Elizabeth II both emerged in the post-war world, both veterans of that war, looking forward to a more prosperous time ahead. Both manage to be symbols simultaneously of privilege and populism – the Queen’s April speech on Covid 19 captured the national mood far better than any elected politician has yet managed, while Bond (a career civil servant, lest we forget) has gained some of his cinematic effectiveness from the disjunction between the character’s class background and those of the actors who have played him. In this respect, the dark, self-aware quality of the Daniel Craig era worked to the sequence’s advantage – Connery or Moore would have undercut with a wink to the audience.
In the end, both are fictional characters; Elizabeth Windsor and Daniel Craig play roles that long predate their own involvement with them, and that have both embodied a large number of different, often contradictory, qualities. (The television series The Crown embodies this, recasting the principle characters every two series, like a constitutional Dr. Who.) On reflection, it seems less surprising that the two should meet, more that it should have taken them so long.
David, what an ideal post to start off this theme week on Bond in contemporary culture! This Olympics ceremony spectacle, as you've suggested, perfectly straddles classical (Masque rituals, Shakespearian literature) and modern British history and politics. Your post is also a great companion piece to tomorrow's post by Daniel Binns on a different series of Craig-era media paratexts (which I hope the two of you are able to discuss in the comments).
I wonder if you could elaborate on the Masque-like qualities of this Olympics promo, as I am not familiar with the genre/style. I feel like those qualities may temper the, as you say, "dark, self-aware" tone of Craig's Bond. I've always been struck by how this ceremony opener exists within that "contradictory" space you reference at the end of the post, forcing the stoicism of Craig's Bond to bend to the wryness of the conceit. Then again, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee (and the prestige of the Olympics, as well) have to bend to the marketing/advertising demands of EON in using the ceremony to market Skyfall. There are a lot of historical layers for both fictional characters that have to co-exist in contention with one another.
What a wonderful piece, David, well done!
I certainly squee'd a lot at seeing this wonderful crossover of two mythic British figures -- a highlight of which was seeing the obvious and genuine relish with which Her Majesty took up her role as Bond's commander-in-chief.
Your piece did strike another chord, though, which is Bond's relationship with Britain and the Crown proper over the years. For earlier Bonds (Connery, Moore, and Dalton, in particular) this seemed relatively unproblematic. But for Brosnan and Craig, the slavish devotion of their predecessors is replaced by a rebellious streak -- this particularly in Craig's case, whose Bond is interminably going rogue as to be yawn-worthy.
One wonders if this rebellion is some acknowledgement of the age of the Bond franchise, and some appeal to younger audiences that Bond is hip to an aversion to history.
Bond as a cultural mascot
Very Intersting! I've always thought that Bond in a way servers as a baromoter of the culture at the time. Conery's Bond was very much a symbol of post war British resolve, and western might in the Cold War. Likewise Moore to me at least, represented optomisim at imporved relationship with the USSR. What's also striking to me about what you mentioned is that Craig's Bond goes along with the patriotic representation like you mentioned, but is also highly critical of Bond as a person. Also if you follow Peirce Brosnon on Instagram as I do, most of his posts are either selifes or advocating for socalism.
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