Giles Coren, Sexism in Bond and Why We're Not All 'Sheep-Faced Critics'.

Spoiler Warning: Please be aware that this article contains discussion of several important plot points from Skyfall and links to other articles which have the same.

If you follow this site on twitter, or one of the five-hundred plus other accounts who have retweeted it since 1st November, then you may have come across this piece by Giles Coren, which makes the argument that Skyfall is a sexist, misogynist dinosaur and that everyone involved with it should be ashamed of themselves.

There are a lot of words out there on the Internet. Comparatively few of them are worth reading. Giles Coren's article is worth reading.

Apart from the bit where it claims to be 'the piece they tried to ban', which sounds, to paraphrase Shakespeare, like a load of horseshit.

Coren's points are interesting, not solely because they go against the grain of many writer's words on the subject, but because they present a valid argument for the contrarian's viewpoint. Unlike, say, Armond White - who takes the opposing view of popular opinion for the sake of it, blindly blustering, whilst saying little - Coren articulates his views, mainly based on a single conviction (Skyfall is sexist) and comes to a partially-understandable conclusion based on them.

This is troubling to someone who thought Skyfall was quite good - and not only because Coren labels anyone who liked the film a 'sheep-faced critic' - but then again, so are the bits that don't appear to make much sense.

It is easier to dissect the problems with Coren's argument than it is to start down a route in danger of back-tracking over this site's own four-star review of Skyfall.

Coren's argument fixated on Judi Dench's M is demonstrably flawed.

'I am ashamed, as a man, that women are still compelled in the 21st century to watch movies in which the three female outcomes are:

1) Judi Dench’s ‘M’ dies, and is replaced by a man;'

M in the character's Dench guise was introduced in Goldeneye as both an intriguing character in her own right and as a very specific weapon against the perceived misogyny of the franchise, and introduced during a sequence which sees her label Bond the same in no uncertain terms, flawed only, if you agree with The Incredible Suit's excellently informed input on the subject, by the cop-out line at the end.

M's position as head of MI:6 through the last seven Bond films has slowly grown in stature, to the point where Mendes clearly felt Skyfall needed no major female interest for Bond, based on the prevalence of M. Under the stewardship of Judi Dench, M has become a strong female character in what is perceived as (rightly or wrongly), a man's world, and has been for some time. Her removal from the franchise at the end of Skyfall is nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman and is rather to do with the same reasons why, eventually, Connery, Moore, Brosnan and the others finally had to bid the series goodbye. To frame M's departure from Bond to being solely due to her sex is reductive and narrow-visioned, excluding all the things she has done in the franchise to date.

Coren also calls into question a scene where Silva (Javier Bardem) shoots Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe).

'she is later tied up with a glass of whisky on her head in a hilarious William Tell spoof, and shot dead in a game devised by the baddie. We knew already knew [sic] the baddie was bad, so there was no plot developing element here.'

Coren's claim here that 'we already knew the baddie was bad' falls foul of the fact that we haven't actually, at this point, seen him do anything. In fact, Silva had been introduced on screen mere moments before, in the film's best scene, and has spent a serious amount of time suggesting that he can accomplish everything with merely his vast arrays of computers. Sévérine's death is the first time we see Silva achieve physical victory and is therefore an important step in 'knowing the baddie is bad'.

The final flaw in Coren's argument is his assertion that the three female outcomes in the film and the inclusion of the above scene, make Skyfall a bad film, something which he does whilst insulting anyone who enjoyed it.

'I am ashamed, as a journalist, of the five star ratings this film garnered across the board from sheep-like critics afraid or unable to look through the hype, to its rotten soul'

Assuming, for a second, that you agree with everything in Coren's piece, he does not pause to give us his consideration on the performances, the direction, the overall tone, the success of the story, the squareness of Bond's jaw, the film's place in Bond's history, the cinematography, the editing, the performance of the best grip, Daniel Craig's stylist's suit choices, the contextual idea of the enemy coming from a mistreated place within or the thematic resonance of M's distraction by countless, perhaps pointless, enquiries.

Coren labels the film as 'bad', because he believes it to be sexist, to have sexist elements or to feature a sexist character (I'm not sure which). On that logic a drastic reassessment is required of nearly all of the 'good' films Hollywood has produced over the decades. Sexism is a prevalent, distasteful flaw, yes, but one which signals the certitude of incompetence? I'm not so sure.

And so, to Coren's argument's successes, which by now you would be forgiven for thinking were never coming.

'there is a young woman in this film whom Bond correctly identifies as a sex-worker... She gives no sign of being sexually interested in Bond, merely of being incredibly scared and unhappy. So he creeps uninvited into her hotel shower cubicle later that night... and silently screws her because he is bored'

There's more to that in the full article, which I encourage you to read, heavily edited as it is here only for the purposes of not reproducing Coren's piece wholesale and because I have no desire to see this site feature a Jimmy Saville 'joke'.

Is there any need to have Sévérine as a victim of abuse? No, and the film handles it badly, mentioning it as if the passing call of its name absolves it of any other crimes it may or may not commit against the female sex, or of the necessity to explore it fully and properly. It's a messy and mucky afterthought that adds nothing and deserves to be perforated by Coren's argument.

Similarly, the film has already included its minimum quota of having Bond sleep with at least one woman (the nameless lady on the beach during his 'recovery' from being shot) so is the scene with Sévérine in the shower needed at all? A nearly-chaste Bond, interested primarily in repairing and maintaining his relationship with M, could have been even more refreshing than Skyfall already feels.

But then, of course, there are problems if you are a woman and remain chaste in a Bond film...

'3) The pretty girl who manages to remain chaste despite Bond’s ‘charms’ is rewarded at the end with a job as his secretary.'

Coren here refers to Eve (Naomie Harris), who not only rejects Bond's charms but actually bloody shoots him at one point, surely representing the harshest brush-off the spy has ever fallen foul to. Her reveal as Moneypenny in the film's finale is a messy piece of pandering to heritage, hardly required and calling to mind the previous films where yes, of course, all these powerful men could call, from the very office shown at the end, on female servants to do their bidding. Is that how Moneypenny will be portrayed in the next film? Sans gun but now with added typewriter? It, perhaps sadly, looks likely.

'I am ashamed, as a British person, that this film will be mistaken abroad for an example of prevailing values here'

Coren's final paragraph includes the above, which he was attacked for perhaps more than any other piece of the article in the comments. Of course, this is partially a typical sensationalist close (as is his personal attack on Sam Mendes... and his claim that the film is 'reactionary', to what exactly, he never makes plain) but he does also have a point, proven by articles which have focused on Bond's Britishness. We are aligned with Bond as a piece and product of our culture and, therefore, if you wish to look deeply enough (and some will), aligned with his moral standpoint. If his moral standpoint is one of sexism and misogyny, what becomes of us? Dangerous times, 007.

Whatever you think of Bond by this point - and I maintain that Skyfall is a good, if flawed film - hopefully you do think something about Bond and his sexism, or lack thereof. The point of this is perhaps not entirely to sway you against Coren's argument, which obviously I have clear problems with, but to point out that, in a world where headlines like this about the next Star Wars film increasingly pass for copy worth publishing, there are still some intelligent articles about film out there, able to make you think, reconsider and interact in a passionate but mostly polite way. I disagree with Coren's article. But I'm glad that, in the end, nobody succeeded in banning it.

(With thanks to The Incredible Suit, who read this through before publication and did not immediately label me a complete idiot. He also pointed me towards this by Andrew Ellard which I had seen publicised on twitter but had not read and which similarly criticises Coren and has excellent insight on the film as a whole.)


  1. Though I see Coren's arguments as valid to a point, I think he's taken it too far. Most of his concerns approach the film in a decontextualised manner - like you say, a sexist character doesn't make the film as a whole sexist.

    Yes, the William Tell moment is sickening but it is in character. Bond's quip (which didn't sit well with me either) can be explained away by his needing to unsettle Silva before he pounced but Mendes didn't give it enough space make that obvious enough to the audience (hence the need to explain it away).

    And again, the shower scene with Severin did nothing to advance the plot but there was some cursory seduction in the scene previous. Again, Severin's background was interesting but not fleshed out enough to warrant its inclusion.

    So, yes, I can understand his concerns but I don't thing the film's soul was rotten, so much as its intentions not developed well enough. I wasn't a fan of the film. I found it paper thin and unnecessarily convoluted. I think this lack of depth is where Coren's gripes stem from - he laments the lack of rounded female characters (or the death of them) - I lament the lack of rounded characters full stop.

  2. Ooh, that turned into a post in itself. Sorry.

    1. Interesting points there Michael (and no problem, that's what the comment form is for!) and glad to see you disagree with Coren, mainly, on the same points that I do.

      I think an interesting thing to consider in this debate, mentioned briefly towards the end of my piece above, is the nature and notion of franchise and series. I take your point that several people aren't perhaps developed to the point that they could be in Skyfall, but where those people have featured in the franchise before (M, Bond, perhaps at a stetch, second M and Eve) do they need to have explicit development here, or do we already 'know' them from previous films?

      I think, to a point, Skyfall assumes we know things about them (and even them in their previous incarnations when considering people like Eve and Tanner) and therefore, reckons it can get away with a little less focus than usual.

  3. I'm not going to pay attention to Coren's words. I'll state my own. "SKYFALL" took gender portrayal in the Bond franchise back 40 to 50 years.

    There was no real reason why Eve had to become Miss Moneypenny the secretary. She was saavy enough to realize that she had a bad shot. She only took it because M ordered her to do it. She even saved Bond's life in Macau and handled herself well during Silva's attack against M in London. Yet, because Bond insinuated that she was not cut out to be a field agent, she decided to become a secretary.

    Severine . . . my God! What on earth were Purvis, Wade and Mendes doing with her character? I don't believe that Bond had raped her. I think she was expecting him on the boat. But since Bond was able to recognize her as a former child sex slave, surely he could have shown some restraint. And didn't he realize that sex with her would sign her own death warrant?

    Poor M. She's deemed incompetent by Mallory throughout the movie. Yet, her order to take the shot was very plausible. She had another means to stop the guy who had taken the list of NATO agents and she took it by ordering Eve to take the shot. It didn't work. Simple as that. And it was M . . . and only M who figured out that MI6 was under attack by a former agent, while Mallory was still busy trying to undermine her sense of self worth.

    As for Bond, I haven't seen him this incompetent since "GOLDFINGER". He failed to recover the list. He endangered Severine's life. Eve had to save his hide in Macau. And he failed to save M. Why wasn't he sitting behind the secretary's desk, outside of M's office? He was so incompetent that he deserved such a promotion.

    But this is a man's world. And the women in this film were deemed as irrelevant or incompetent. And along with the plot holes in this film, I came away with the view that "SKYFALL" was a piece of crap.

    1. Thanks for stopping by to leave some thoughts on this Rosie.

      Agree with you on Eve. On further discussion with a friend about this we both felt she could have very naturally stepped in to take over the Tanner-type role for Bond, a character who seems to consistently get re-cast. Harris could have neatly taken that over in the next film, splitting time between familiar field support (i.e; her role in the casino) and the things you see Tanner et al do in MI:6.

      Largely agree on Severine too (although I've since read a couple of swaying arguments relating to how she chooses to use her body and how she thinks she might have a chance at escape). I just think the notion of her background is treated too flippantly, given how serious the subject is.

      I can see what you mean with M but, as discussed, she is ultimately as much a subject of the film as Bond is and has been a strong presence for seven films but I do take the point that the film's plot is predicated on her making a mistake and Mallory constantly re-enforcing it.

      Fair point on Bond's incompetence - remember he failed his physical assessment too, he was only on the job in the first place because of M! - but I think the reasons why we won't see him behind a desk are more to do with franchise, money and the source material than to do with him being a man.

  4. Coren here refers to Eve (Naomie Harris), who not only rejects Bond's charms but actually bloody shoots him at one point, surely representing the harshest brush-off the spy has ever fallen foul to.

    Now, you're misdirecting in order to make Coren feel bad. Eve's shooting of Bond had nothing to do with her "brushing him off" and you know it. In fact, later in the film, she was on her knees before him, giving him a shave. I found that scene stomach churning. I never felt so embarrassed and disgusted in my life.

    1. I'm sure I'm being far more flippant than normal in the above but I won't hide the fact that Coren's article irritated me mainly because of his underlying insults towards anyone who liked Skyfall. I'm all for movie discussion but lets keep it polite and recognise different opinions exist, something which he seems to rule out.

      As for Eve, I think what I'm trying to get at is that Coren's reductive argument is far too simplistic. Eve is a strong character for a lot of the film (first female character to shoot/'kill' 007?), but he ignores all that because focusing on her reveal as Moneypenny serves his purpose better.

      Her shooting him in the first scene is indicative and emblematic of her treatment to him later on; she does constantly push him away and reject his charms. I don't think the shave scene is 'stomach churning', but nor do I really think it's in-keeping with her character.