I’m counting the days until Skyfall hits movie theaters and I’m reunited with my first hero, Bond—James Bond.
Growing up, while other girls my age were hanging posters of Rob Lowe and Matt Dillon, my romantic ideal was Roger Moore, a British guy who was five times my age. I blame my parents, who brought me to every Bond film from the time I was in elementary school. I don’t know if my parents thought that “love 'em and leave 'em” Bond was an appropriate male example for me at age, oh, I don’t know—seven. Maybe they just didn’t feel like paying for a babysitter.
Either way, when a Bond film came out, I was there.
It took many films for me to realize that I was supposed to care about Bond catching the criminals and saving the world. For years (okay, still) all I cared about was Bond’s relationship with the woman du jour. The spark of that romance, no matter how brief the encounter, no matter how cheesy (this was the '80s, after all), is how I rate Bond films.
If it weren’t for Daniel Craig, the latest incarnation of James Bond, my undisputed most romantic Bond—and Bond film—would belong to Roger Moore and the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only.
The theme song alone is enough to put For Your Eyes Only at the top of my list. It was performed by Sheena Easton, the Adele of the 1980s. When she sang, “The passions that collide in me, the wild abandoned side of me, only for you, for your eyes only,” I was schooled in how a woman should feel when in the presence of a romantic hero.
For Your Eyes Only opens with Bond laying flowers on the grave of his late wife, Teresa. So right away you know this is a guy who has loved and lost, big time. No matter how much bed-hopping this guy does, who could blame him? His wife died. He’s too heart-broken for any real intimacy. It’s not his fault. Then, we meet the heroine of the film—beautiful Melina with her flawless skin and waist-length dark hair and blazing blue eyes…and her parents are gunned down right in front of her. (Close-up on those blazing blue eyes) Then there’s the anticipation of when she and Bond will meet, and the film does not disappoint. Bond goes to investigate the Cuban hit man who killed Melina’s parents, and is about to be carried off by his henchmen when Melina kills the hit man with a bow and arrow. She drives the getaway car for herself and Bond.
While Bond is debonair and cool under pressure, this film gives him a feisty, active female counterpart. She is avenging her parents’ death, and she is no-nonsense. She will not be easily seduced by Bond.
Later, when Bond saves Melina from would-be motorcycle assassins and tells her to leave, she says, “You don’t tell me what to do.” Snap! But then, during a sleigh ride across frozen tundra, Bond convinces her to trust him (with the muzac version of the movie theme song playing in the background). Later, while taking a romantic stroll along Melina’s family’s waterfront palazzo in Corfu (cue theme song again), Bond somehow manages to ask if her dead father left behind any notes and it doesn’t even break the mood. Now that’s smooth.
While solving the crime, Bond and Melina are a team. By the time they finally have sex (aboard her late parents’ yacht), the crime has been solved, the bad guys have been vanquished, and their union is completely earned. Melina suggests a midnight swim, and Bond undresses her. And she says,—wait for it–“For your eyes only, darling.”
My romantic ideal was etched in stone.
Then, six years ago, Casino Royale came along and re-wrote the Bond romance playbook. Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about the ending of this movie, so anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, don’t deprive yourself of the experience. Stop reading!
Casino Royale opens in grainy black and white, and the opening sequence doesn’t fade to a romantic theme song, but instead to fierce burst of Chris Cornell singing “You Know My Name.” The first action sequence is devoid of any cars and gadgets, leaving only the raw physicality of a parkour-style chase through a gritty, third-world obstacle course. Daniel Craig’s Bond is not a fine-edged, smooth charmer—his Bond is one of raw, rugged sexuality and fiercest blue eyes imaginable. But, as he admits to M., he is emotionally cold.
It takes nearly half the movie for Bond’s love interest to appear, but when she does, it’s worth the wait: Vesper Lynd, a Treasury agent looking after a ten million dollar buy-in to a terrorist poker game, appears on Bond’s train en route to the casino. Vesper has a cool, feline beauty. She has dark hair and fair skin, with blue eyes accentuated by heavy, smoky shadow. She wears scarlet lipstick.
Vesper’s disdain for him is obvious, and they spend the train ride sparring verbally. She’s sarcastic, and they size each other up. It’s clear from this first scene that they are equals. And if Bond thinks she’s going to fall for his considerable charm, she makes it clear he should think again:
“You think of women as disposable pleasures. So I will keep my eyes on the money, and not on your perfect ass.”
Of course, once they arrive at the casino, their cover is to pretend to be lovers. “Don’t worry,” he tells her. “You’re not my type.” She says, “ Intelligent?” “No,” he replies. “Single.”
Their first kiss is fake—just part of the cover—but it’s obvious that the heat between them is genuine.
Later, when Bond is fighting for his life against an African warlord in the stairwell of the casino, Vesper jumps in, wresting the gun from the warlord’s hand.
Afterwards, Bond finds Vesper shaking in the shower, fully dressed in her evening gown and jewels under the water. He sits beside her in his tuxedo, the water falling on them both, as he comforts her. He was intrigued and attracted to her when she was feisty. Now, with her raw vulnerability, he is falling in love.
But the relationship does not stay on this tender plateau—more heated conversations ensue when she won’t float him more money to buy back into the game. A short time later he is poisoned, and she is the one who saves his life.
Bond wins the violently competitive poker game, and takes Vesper to dinner to celebrate (he won’t let a vicious bout of hand-to-hand combat with a warlord followed by a near fatal poisoning slow him down. He’s taking his woman on a date!) Their conversation crackles with the heat of their chemistry. This is their first prolonged exchange of intimacy, and it jumps off the screen.
After they are both kidnapped and Bond is brutally tortured, they have a romantic, bedside reunion. Their passion, no longer subtextual, is overt and promises are made to each other. She says, “You’ve still got your armor on.” He tells her he has no armor left—has nothing left, but whatever is left of him belongs to her. Their relationship is finally consummated on the bed in the luxury, villa-like hospital where he is recuperating.
Cut to an idyllic beach. Bond’s ridiculously hot body is in bathing trunks, Vesper is wearing a white cover-up, her dark hair loose and wet. He tells her he loves her and wants to quit the Agency to be with her. Next, a romantic boat ride in Venice, and Bond emails his resignation. Later, they lounge in a posh hotel room, planning their future. She leaves, and minutes later, he realizes Vesper has been a double-agent all a long. She has betrayed him.
In the course of the ensuing chase scene populated with various bad guys, Vesper ends up trapped underwater. Bond dives underwater to save her, but she won’t let him. As he struggles to reach her in time, his face is twisted in anguish. Even after betrayal, his love for her drives him.
After her death, he finds that she left him a trail to the bad guys.
Bond’s loss and betrayal is the scale on which all future romances can be judged. This Bond is not just a hero, he’s a tragic hero. This Bond, unlike every other Bond, didn’t just risk his life—he risked his heart.
It’s a good thing I didn’t see this film as a child. Roger Moore was dapper and seductive and totally crush-worthy. But Daniel Craig is devastating. I don’t think my impressionable young heart would have recovered.
Casino Royale gets my vote for all-time most romantic Bond movie. That is, unless Skyfall changes my mind next week. It could happen: true romance is full of surprises.
Jamie Brenner is the author of historical romance The Gin Lovers, an original e-book serial with St. Martin’s Press. Her latest novel, written under the pen name Logan Belle, is the erotic romance Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian, publishing with Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster at the end of November. Also writing under the name Logan Belle, Jamie is the author of the erotic trilogy Blue Angel, published by Kensington. She lives in New York City. For more, please visit www.jamiebrenner.com or follow her @jamieLbrenner.