3 Major Plusses That Phoebe Waller-Bridge Could Bring to Bond 25
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is having quite the moment. In the past year, she’s scooped up awards all over the place for Fleabag and Killing Eve, the two British TV series she created in 2016 and 2018, respectively, including two Golden Globes for the former this past weekend. In April, No Time to Die, the 25th film in the official James Bond franchise, opens and Waller-Bridge is getting lots of ink as one of its co-writers. Four scripters – Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Scott Z. Burns, and director Cary Jo Fukunaga – were already credited before the Bond team, including star Daniel Craig, wooed Waller-Bridge to do a polish. Craig loved what she did with her BBC series Killing Eve and wanted some of the same edgy humor and unpredictable storytelling brought to Bond 25.
It was a good call as Waller-Bridge infused Killing Eve with so much energy and cunning that it became a wholly unpredictable spy series. Surely, the 58-year-old Bond franchise could use such a jolt. So, what might her rewrite bring to the screen? While it is not certain how much leeway she was given to diddle with the plot, one can assume that the same qualities that mark her writing on her two series will surface in the new film as well.
1) Complex Heroes and Villains
One of the best attributes of Killing Eve is the shades of gray in both the hero and villain. British intelligence officer Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is well-meaning but is drawn to the darkness that is assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Additionally, the killer wants a friend and finds a soul mate in her pursuer. As the series has gone on, both make choices driven less by duty and more by feeling. Neither is all good or all bad. In fact, in the second season, Eve tended to be the one making more moral compromises than the ‘bad girl’ Villanelle. Granted, Waller-Bridge wasn’t the showrunner for the sophomore year of the series, but her template pointed the show into exploring the moral ambiguity between the two women.
On Fleabag, Waller-Bridge ensured that everyone was flawed, and no one filled out a strict villain role. Olivia Colman was a selfish and competitive stepmother to stepdaughters Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) and Claire (Sean Clifford), but she was never evil. And Claire’s husband Martin (Brett Gelman) may have been a brash lout, but he remained sympathetic as well as pathetic.
It will be of particular interest to see how much Waller-Bridge adds to the female characters in the new Bond since she’s written them so well in both her TV series. Lea Seydoux’s character of Dr. Madeline Swann first showed up as Bond’s love interest in Spectre (2015), so she’s a rare returning character outside of Bond’s support team (M, Q, and Moneypenny). She was a bit of a cipher in her previous outing, despite the formidable Seydoux in the role, so we’ll see how much Waller-Bridge can embellish her. One would hope that she’ll not miss the opportunity to put Bond on the couch more, considering Swann is a psychiatrist.
And Ana de Armas proved that she cannot only play pathos but comedy in the current hit whodunnit Knives Out, so hopefully her role as CIA agent Paloma, the other “Bond girl,” will be a lot more than mere window dressing. Wikipedia describes her character as “irresponsible” and “bubbly,” and frankly, that sounds like the kind of characteristics Waller-Bridge would write.
As for the Bond villains of late, they’ve either been dull or too two-dimensional. Despite having a talent like Christoph Waltz playing another iteration of Blofeld, he didn’t register nearly enough in Spectre. Mathieu Amalric is an acclaimed actor too, but his performance as the villainous Dominic Greene was almost as oblique as the title Quantum of Solace (2008) that he starred in. It’s encouraging that last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Rami Malek is assuming the villain duties in No Time to Die, but it will come down to how distinguished his character is written and what are the stakes he raises in the plot. Hopefully, Waller-Bridge added as much dimension and layers as she could to the key role to make the big bad not only scary but relatable as well.
2) Snarky Banter
One of the ways that Waller-Bridge adds dimension to her characters is with a strong emphasis on their dialogue, particularly under the banner of witty banter. Subscribing to the idea that people talk more cleverly onscreen, almost every scene she wrote in Fleabag or Killing Eve had two characters tossing it about, often in conflict, but never at a loss for words. That sort of thing should work well here, but it’s surprising how little chance Craig has had to mix it up verbally as Bond in his last few outings.
Craig certainly did with Javier Bardem’s villain in Skyfall (2012), and his banter with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in 2006’s Casino Royale was one of the highlights of his Bond debut. Arguably, she bantered better than any Bond girl since Diana Rigg’s Tracy di Vincenzo back in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But snarky, crackling words were largely missing from Quantum of Solace and Spectre. Waller-Bridge will likely not miss an opportunity to give Bond’s scenes with all comers more bite, particularly in those interactions with his leading ladies. Let’s hope they sizzle beyond smoldering looks and suggested nudity.
Waller-Bridge also weaves offbeat humor into scenes where it is wholly unexpected. One of the characteristics that showcased the scenes with Eve’s MI6 boss Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw) so brilliantly was her penchant for non-sequiturs. During a breakfast meeting, she derided eggs as being an unworthy breakfast staple. It was hardly important, but to Martens, it was enough to interrupt her laser focus. Such zigs in the zagging keep scenes from ever becoming stale, particularly those heavy with exposition as was often the case with Martens. Waller-Bridge tends to make even the lines between A and B utterly compelling.
3) Wicked Violence
Waller-Bridge’s boldness in creating complex characters and giving them terribly clever things to say are obvious traits of her writing. Another characteristic, although not always as apparent, is her tendency to dole out extreme violence. At the very least, it’s violence that really is shocking and/or affecting. Even with one of the main characters working as an international assassin in Killing Eve, Villanelle’s sudden, horribly vicious murders still took the audiences’ breath away.
In the very first episode, she crashes a child’s birthday party and dispatches an adult party guest with a long hatpin right in the eye – – as the kid watches from the bathroom. Subsequently, throughout the series, Waller-Bridge and the writers didn’t hesitate to kill off people in similarly disturbing and unusual ways. Cheating husbands were disemboweled in public. Spies were killed on disco dance floors. Even a hospital-ridden teen had his neck broken by Villanelle when it suited her. Granted, Luke Jennings’source material, the Villanelle series of novels, laid out the style for such killing, but the TV series has never hesitated thus far to make the most of its bloodletting.
There are no such horrid murders in Fleabag, but there are shocking deaths, nonetheless. Boo (Jenny Rainsford), Fleabag’s best friend and business partner, died when she was hit by a car after walking into traffic. Boo’s actions were triggered by the revelation that Fleabag slept with her boyfriend. It may not be the world of espionage, but people do terrible things to others in the everyday world and Waller-Bridge shrewdly showed such events in what was billed as a sitcom.
The Bond films have always been violent, but usually of a PG-13 level of notoriety. Will Waller-Bridge dial things up and earn an R? Likely not, considering the needs of broader audience appeal, but it would be characteristic of her writing to not pull any punches no matter what the MPAA rating. When someone in the new Bond film dies, Waller-Bridge’s rewrite will likely ensure that it is as shocking and perhaps even devastating a moment as possible. Only time will tell, but my guess is that No Time to Die will show some spectacular and unforgettable ways for people to do just that. And Bond 25 will be much better for it.
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