The news that Penelope Cruz is in talks to play the romantic lead opposite Daniel Craig in the next James Bond film has prompted all sorts of reactions from across the web. Is it “a feminist breakthrough” that Craig will be playing across and actress close to his own age? Is noting that Cruz, who will be 39 or 40 when filming begins, the oldest actress to step into those stilettos opposite Bond, “drearily chauvinistic“? Or is age not really what matters here at all?
First, let’s take a look at the numbers. Cruz has been hailed as Bond’s first age-appropriate girlfriend, though that’s not actually the case. Honor Blackman, who played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, is five years older than Sean Connery, who played Bond in that film. Diana Rigg, presently crushing it as Lady Olenna Redwyne on Game of Thrones, was a year older than George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But it’s true that for the most part, James Bond’s love interests have been substantially younger than he is. By one fan’s calculations, there’s an average gap of 14.2 years between Bond and the woman who plays his primary love interest from Dr. No through Quantum of Solace, with one of the biggest differences, 28 years, coming between Roger Moore and Tanya Roberts, who was 28 years younger than Moore, in A View To Kill. Cruz, though she’s 39, isn’t actually much of a break with tradition, given that Daniel Craig is 45. The age gap between them is smaller than average, but it’s still there, and the same as the six-year gap between Ursula Andress and Connery in the first Bond film, Dr. No.
So does age matter? It’ll be nice to see the Bond films acknowledge that when a woman hits forty, there isn’t some mysterious biological mechanism that keeps her from throwing a punch, pulling the trigger on a gun, or enjoying herself during sex. But since Craig took the wheel of the Aston Martin, the franchise has made precisely those points, just not in the form of one of Bond’s sexual partners. M (Judi Dench) has a fabulous apartment, takes apart members of Parliament, fortifies a country house like a boss, and sees more penetratingly into Bond than any woman who’s gotten naked with him. They’re friends, mentor and mentee, boss and Peck’s Bad Spy, and verbal sparring partners.
What would make Cruz’s appearance in the Bond films really interesting is if she’s the woman with whom Bond can experience both that kind of collegiality and repartee, and sexual attraction. It’s not just that Bond’s love interests have tended to be substantially younger than himself, but that they’re often in some sort of subordinate position to him, or to other men. Pussy Galore, for example, needs to be cured of her lesbianism and her professional allegiance to Goldfinger. In the Craig era, Bond’s love interests are more substantial people, but he’s had a habit of being attracted to women who are broken in some particular way, rather than brainlessly pretty, and being made vulnerable by his attachments to them. Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd may have had some financial authority over Bond during his poker game at Casino Royale, but she was kidnapped and blackmailed by forces beyond Bond’s control. In Quantum of Solace, Camille Montes Rivero was forced to watch members of her family raped and murdered, and is almost raped herself. Severine, the woman who helps Bond find his way to a cyber-terrorist in Skyfall, is terrorized and shot in front of Bond as an illustration of his powerlessness.
There are narrative reasons to kill the women James Bond becomes involved with, to make them somehow emotionally unavailable to him, or for him to leave them being. If you want Bond to romance a new woman in every episode, you’ve got to dispatch the ones who have come before. But it would shake up the Bond franchise in refreshing ways to have Bond fall for a woman not because she needs protecting or avenging, but because of what she can offer him as a colleague, a companion, and as an equal. And if a female Bond makes it through to the end and leaves Bond behind the way Bond has sloughed off so many women before? Well, that might be a new psychological twist for a franchise that’s benefitted, in recent years, from quite a few of them.