The Women of James Bond: Examining Severine in Skyfall (2012)

Curator's Note

The recent slate of James Bond films starring Daniel Craig present the origin story of Bond from the moment he attains his ‘license to kill.’ The films are revisionist in their reworking of the Bond film and many of its key elements. While some might argue that the Craig era films are less sexist than their predecessors, it is important to examine this notion of ‘progress’ in relation to the actual depiction of women in the films. The shooting contest between Raoul Silva and James Bond in Skyfall (2012) offers one such opportunity. For Silva, this competition is designed to show Bond that he is not fit for duty while punishing Severine, his kept woman, for sleeping with Bond. When Bond misses the shot glass resting on Severine’s head, Silva kills her and after witnessing Severine’s death Bond comments on the tragic loss of good scotch.

In the early Bond films, the death of female protagonists like Tilly Masterson in Goldfinger (1964), Paula Caplan in Thunderball (1965), Aki in You Only Live Twice (1967), and Tracy Di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) registered emotionally with Bond. Moreover, kept women like Domino Derval in Thunderball were given the opportunity to confront and kill their abusers. Importantly, Severine is not offered sympathy or narrative agency. Instead, she is depicted as a disposable object of pleasure much like Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) who is ejected from the narrative by being thrown out of a hotel window when she is no longer of use (to Bond).

This renders Severine one of the most disempowered and tragic women in the franchise, and her narrative treatment challenges the assumption that the Bond films are progressing in terms of their gender politics. Skyfall presents a redemption narrative in which the heroic legacy of Bond is developed at the expense of women—Severine in addition to M and Moneypenny—rather than with them. As we look forward to Spectre (2015), it is important that we reflect on the past—examining both the Bond novels and films—in order to accurately assess what progress (if any) has been made to reduce sexism in the series. 


What's notable about this film is that it tries to recreate the seriousness of the successful recent entry Casino Royale, but without emotional weight to these female characters. Vesper's death is tragic and actually affects Bond, but in Skyfall, the film tried to achieve the same visceral beauty without the pathos.

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