Friday, 16 November 2012

'M' is for mother

Skyfall not only successfully tip-toes the fine line between the hard-edged realism of Craig era Bond and the self referential familiarity of the character's 50 year history but offers a thematic depth to which past films in the series have dared not aspire.

Judy Dench's 'M' has brought a wonderful dynamic to latter Bond films, her matriarchal authority over the eternal womaniser a delight to behold, her snide remarks in Skyfall preventing any over-sentimentality during the less subtle nods to the Bond legacy.

In this, her seventh film, the role reaches Oedipal levels of complexity. Surrogate mother to both Bond and Javier Bardem's unnervingly sinister Silva, the latter bent on revenge for her past betrayal, she comes to personify Britain itself (herself) - the nation, the motherland - forcing Bond, and by proxy the audience, to question the meaning of loyalty to country.

Indeed there is an overt link drawn from 'M' to Queen and from Queen to country - a hacked laptop threat displaying her gurning face backed by the Union flag, the same flag latterly draped over each coffin in a line of fallen operatives, 'M' looking on them with an icy, Boudiccan stare. When Bond at one point suggests "there's life in the old girl yet" he could just as easily be referring to the country as the head of MI6.

I accept I may be artificially colouring the film with a recent personal motif i.e. Britain finding its post-imperialistic place in the world, yet as in the film the Secret Service struggles to defend itself to a 'Leveson style' Inquiry, so too, in reality, Britain's established pillars of media, government and justice attempt to redefine themselves in this era of ultimate accountability.

Are we any longer willing to accept that 'mother knows best', the secrets of these once impenetrable organisations now coveted vehemently in the public interest following revelation after scandalous revelation?

Silva's thoughts are clear and Ralph Fiennes' excellent Mallory, Parliamentary representative and symbolic of the Prime Minister's guilty conscience, appears to think not, ordering 'M' to exit quietly from the top job in penitence for her misdemeanours.

Yet far from taking a partisan view, the film navigates its way through a thorny issue with poise. 'M' counters in a stirring statement to the Inquiry, that new, unseen enemies, now, more than ever, require men operating in the shadows to counter their threat...

So what of our Shadow-player? - Agent 007, washed up and worn out; left for dead in the film's opening montage; soul searching in a shot glass. Betrayed? Perhaps. Loyal to Queen and country? Forever. Yet never before have we seen him contextualised like this. "Women want him and men want to be him", yet in Skyfall, his portrayal is as tragic servant, a pitiful son unable to break the maternal ties, the only ties he has.

Even his brief sexual liaison here is cold and calculated, promising femme fatale Sévérine an escape from the madman's clutches only to use her plainly as conduit to Silva. As she suffers her reprisal in front of him, Bond quips, perhaps in an attempt to shrug off his hurt at another lost innocent, or perhaps his reinforcement of that same cold hearted clinicism adhered to by his 'true love', 'M'.

Every passing Bond film feels like a new dawn, reacting to the criticisms of its immediate predecessors - Brosnan's Bond is somewhat derided now but courted 'best ever' acclaim from some quarters post Goldeneye - the milestone of the 50th anniversary only serves to burgeon this desire for ongoing renewal.

As Bond returns from the wilderness, attempting to prove himself fit for service deep in the bowels of the relocated MI6, a psychologist attempts to employ a word association test: "Hobbies?" the Doctor suggests. "Resurrection" replies Bond.

His 23rd return may just be his most miraculous to date.

No comments: