We’ve been looking all week at the various aspects of the James Bond films, picking out the best villains and best action scenes. We’ve also named the worst films in the franchise, along with the best. But there’s one essential ingredient of the series that we haven’t yet touched on that couldn’t really be ignored — the Bond girls.
Even when franchise staples like gadgets and the theme songs weren’t always in place, Bond’s love interests — both friendly and villainous — have been an essential part of the recipe, with the ladies of the 007 series blessedly evolving over time from damsels-in-distress who crumble at Bond’s feet to independent, ass-kicking heroines in their own right (though “Skyfall” marks something of a backwards step in some respects). So with that in mind, we’re closing off Bond Week at The Playlist by picking out our five favorite Bond girls. Did we miss your favorite? Argue your case in the comments section below.
Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) – “Dr. No”
The very first Bond flick also provides, as you might imagine, the very first Bond girl, who remains (with the possible exception of Jill Masterson in “Goldfinger,” who’s in and out of the film in about ten minutes) by some distance the most iconic, even 50 years on. Most of the first half of “Dr. No” is an estrogen-free zone, with only the first appearance of Lois Maxwell‘s Miss Moneypenny, and a mysterious photographer working for the titular villain keeping up the side of the fairer sex. But things change once Bond reaches the bad guy’s private island of Crab Key, and Swiss actress Ursula Andress makes one of cinema’s most unforgettable entrances, clad only in a white bikini, and singing Bond theme composer Monty Norman‘s “Underneath The Mango Tree” while collecting sea shells (the scene was paid homage to, gender reversed, in Daniel Craig‘s “Casino Royale,” albeit without the shells and the singing). Julie Christie had originally been considered for the part, but a photo taken by Andress’ husband John Derek won producers over, and the relatively unexperienced actress got the gig. Andress was ultimately dubbed over, but even so, she makes quite the impression as Bond’s assistant for the second half. By modern standards, it’s an underwritten role, but no list of Bond girls could ever be complete without Andress in that bikini on the Caribbean beach.
Tracy Di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) – “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
Over 50 years and 23 films, no Bond girl has the lasting impact as Contessa Tracy Di Vincenzo, or as she became known, somewhat briefly, Mrs. Tracy Bond. As we’ve said, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” isn’t just notable for being an excellent Bond, but for the way that it places a central romance at its core more than almost any other 007 film. Lazenby’s Bond meets her in unusual circumstances, saving her from attempted suicide. As it turns out, she’s the daughter of crime boss Marc-Ange Draco, who offers Bond a million pounds to marry his troubled daughter. It’s a curious set-up that almost feels like a marriage plot comedy, but as time goes on, there’s genuine feeling that develops between the pair (although not enough to stop Bond from seducing someone else, in a rather sour and misjudged note), and by the time that 007 proposes to her, it feels surprisingly earned. It helps that we’ve got one of the best actresses ever to play a Bond girl. Brigitte Bardot had been considered for the part, but one suspects that it really wouldn’t have worked without Diana Rigg, who like previous Bond girl Honor Blackman, came to the attention of producers through rival spy TV series “The Avengers.” Rigg is undeniably beautiful, but she’s also a fantastic actress (having trained at top drama school RADA, and spent five years with the Royal Shakespeare Company prior to playing Emma Peel) and, aided by a script with unexpected depth, makes Diana into one of the relatively few three-dimensional female leads in the early years of the franchise. Interestingly, she was originally meant to survive the film, with her murder at Blofeld’s hands intended to be kept back for the pre-credits of the next film. But after discovering that George Lazenby had no intention of returning, the filmmakers were forced to move her death to the end of the film. The result is the most powerful conclusion in Bond history.
Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) – “For Your Eyes Only”
While decidedly not a great Bond film, 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only” did at least mark a return to more earthbound antics after the creatively disastrous (but hugely successful) “Moonraker,” even if it is a fairly awkward mix of Moore-era camp and something harder-edged (including the somewhat controversial moment when Bond spitefully kicks a car off a cliff). But it did at least feature by some distance the most interesting Bond girl of this era, in the shape of Carole Bouquet‘s Melina Havelock. In a film positively overrun with potential love interests, including ice skater Lynn-Holly Johnson and Cassandra Harris as Topol’s mistress (the latter was married to Pierce Brosnan at the time, though passed away from cancer before her husband took on the role), Havelock isn’t particularly concerned with romance. The daughter of friends of M’s who’ve been murdered by a Cuban hitman, she’s now a crossbow-wielding angel of vengeance, out to find the person who ordered her father’s death, who turns out to be smuggler Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover). Fiery, tough and just as deadly as Bond without the training, she’s one of all too few allowed their own character and objectives rather than just standing around in the background. The script sells her up the river by the end with a deeply unconvincing love scene with the twice-her-age Moore, but she still makes a serious impression before that.
Colonel Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) – “Tomorrow Never Dies”
Though it dosen’t match its predecessor “GoldenEye,” “Tomorrow Never Dies” is still the second-best Brosnan entry in the series, thanks to a handful of cracking action sequences (the remote-control car chase is one for the ages), and the ludicrous scenery-chewing of Jonathan Pryce‘s Rupert Murdoch surrogate villain. And this period isn’t a golden one for Bond girls (bar Famke Janssen in “GoldenEye,” who landed on our villains list), with Denise Richards‘ Dr. Christmas Jones, the least convincing nuclear physicist in cinema history, marking something of a nadir. But, “Tomorrow Never Dies” does also feature the pick of the crop in the shape of Michelle Yeoh. A major star in Hong Kong cinema thanks to the Jackie Chan vehicle “Police Story 3: Supercop” and subsequent films, and would soon star in the acclaimed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Yeoh made her English-language debut in the film as Chinese People’s External Security Force spy Wai Lin. Initially undercover as a reporter, she and Bond soon see through each other’s cover and are forced into an easy alliance. The script, to its credit, doesn’t have Lin come to see the benefits of Western life or anything ridiculous like that; she’s a professional, doing her job extremely well, and more than almost any other Bond girl, she’s a skilled female counterpart to 007 (certainly more convincing than Halle Berry‘s take on a similar character in “Die Another Day“). Yeoh excels at the fight sequences, as you might expect, but also delivers a fairly impressive performance given it’s her first time in an English role. The character proved popular enough that MGM flirted with the idea of a spin-off franchise focusing on her character, and the original script for “Die Another Day” would have seen her character return, but Yeoh ultimately declined in order to shoot her own vehicle “The Touch.”
Eva Green – “Casino Royale”
It’s easy to forget that Eva Green‘s Vesper Lynd doesn’t make an appearance until almost an hour into 2006’s “Casino Royale,” such is the long shadow she casts on the memory of the film (and, to a degree, its follow up, “Quantum of Solace“). Having seduced the ill-fated wife of an associate of villainous financier Le Chiffre in the Bahamas and thwarted a terrorist attempting to blow up a prototype plane at Miami airport, Bond is sent to Montenegro, and on the train, meets Lynd, a treasury agent who’s there to make sure he doesn’t lose the £10 million stake Bond’s been given to bankrupt Le Chiffre. Unlike most modern Bond girls, she’s not going to be his match in the action stakes (though refreshingly, she saves his life when he’s poisoned), but it’s clear from that excellent initial train introduction that she runs rings around him intellectually, and you can sense Daniel Craig‘s Bond being almost immediately disarmed by her. By the time their mission has been completed, the couple are in love and flee to Venice, only for Bond to realize she’s been playing him; her boyfriend was kidnapped by the organization who’ve been pulling the strings all along, and she’s been assisting them in exchange for his safety. It’s an intriguing twist (if a little muddled), with Bond giving his heart to someone only to be deeply betrayed, and it all helps to make Lynd a far more complex and interesting female lead than they usually are in Bond films. It helps that Green (who broke out a few years earlier in Bernando Bertolucci‘s “The Dreamers” and beat out Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Audrey Tautou and Cecile De France for the part) is terrific in the role, pulling off an impressive English accent on top of being smart as a whip, vulnerable and sexy as all hell. Her death (like Tracy Bond before her) has hung heavy over the subsequent Craig-starring films, and she’s likely the seminal female character of the contemporary era of 007.