The changing face of Miss Moneypenny

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One of the best loved characters from the James Bond films is Miss Moneypenny, whose first flirtatious encounter with 007 we see in Dr No after being called in for a briefing by M during a night on the town. From then on she became a fixture of every Bond film until Die Another Day and was only reintroduced at the very end of Skyfall.

Fleming’s Moneypenny

In Ian Fleming’s books she has a very different relationship with Bond and the screen version owes as much to Loelia Ponsonby (and later Mary Goodnight), Bond’s own secretary, as she does Fleming’s character. In fact given that she works for M , I have the feeling that she would be seen as off limits by members of the Double-O section; the other girls are viewed as fair game.

In Casino Royale Fleming tells us that Moneypenny “would have been desirable¬†but for eyes which were cool and direct and quizzical”, which just a book later she is “the desirable Miss Moneypenny”, something I believe was first pointed out by Kingsley Amis in The James Bond Dossier.

And then there are The Moneypenny Diaries by Kate Westbrook, although I have’t read this trilogy and so not in a position to judge whether the character is closer to Fleming or Eon.

The definitive Miss Moneypenny

Lois Maxwell’s portrayal of Miss Moneypenny though is the one that endures. Indeed, it is her portrayal that has shaped Moneypenny’s character in some of the continuation novels and when she flirts with Sean Connery – when she talks to him she somehow almost purrs – there is real sexual tension in the air, which Lois Maxwell continued with George Lazenby and Roger Moore.

However, when Maxwell retired from the role there was a problem. Who could step into her shoes after she had made the role so much her own?

Short of the mark

The first attempt was with Caroline Bliss, in The Living Daylights. However, whereas Maxwell’s Moneypenny had the balance of suggestiveness and restraint, Bliss’s got right to the point. She was also way off the mark if she though she could seduce Bond with a Barry Manilow CD and overall lacked the playfulness of Maxwell’s portrayal.

Bliss lasted just the two Dalton films and when Bond came back after an extended absence with Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye there were was one big change beyond a change of actor; Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson took over the reigns from Cubby Broccoli.

With the new producers came a female M, as well as the relocation of MI6 into, well, the MI6 building at Vauxhall Cross, rather than the dusty corridors of Whitehall that we had seen before.

The new Miss Moneypenny was quite different again, but once again missed the spot. Unfortunately Samantha Bond’s Moneypenny was always too schoolmarmish on one one hand, while lacking any subtlety at all on the other. Witness in Goldeneye the following conversation:

“You know, this sort of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment.”
“Really. What’s the penalty for that?”
“Someday, you’ll have to make good on your innuendos.”

Also:

“What would I ever do without you?”
“As far as I can remember, James, you’ve never had me.”

Both exchanges make me cringe every time I hear them.

But when Brosnan was dropped after Die Another Day so was Moneypenny. Samantha Bond had already signalled her intention of leaving when Brosnan did, but few people would have predicted at that stage that for two films the character would be absent entirely. She wasn’t really missed except by a few fans who disliked the change, but after getting the character so wrong for six films it was time for a break.

Enter Naomie Harris

Although she was not billed as Miss Moneypenny in Skyfall – she is simply Eve – the film gives some background to her character. The fact that M appears to have sent an agent into the field completely unprepared for what she was tasked with – or perhaps simply too inept to follow training – says little for M and it is surprising if Eve had the ambition to be a field agent that she later appeared to be prepared to settle for the role of secretary.

While her character flirts with 007, she stills lacks the chemistry sheer charisma of Lois Maxwell; perhaps her Canadian accent added to her allure. And when she finally steps into her anteroom at the end of Skyfall and properly introduces herself as Miss Moneypenny there is something of the old days.

However, she also seems too little girlish for my liking and while she is certainly flirtatious she lacks the Lois Maxwell purr. We’ll see if that changes when Bond 24 hits the screen in 2015.

Agree or disagree? Let me know what you think.

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2 Responses to “The changing face of Miss Moneypenny”

  • Joe Stefanelli

    I had never envisioned Moneypenny as a field operative …but then I caught may self and remembered her brief appearance as an immigration official in Diamonds Are Forever…so I suppose the new “Eve” set up makes sense.

  • Rhett

    In all fairness to Eve, she does tell M she doesn’t have a clean shot.

    As for Lois Maxwell, I think her Moneypenny changes from Connery and Lazenby to Moore. Whether because of her own previous association with Moore (school days and guest starring on ‘The Saint’ and in ‘The Persuaders!’) or a conscious retooling for Moore’s tenure, she treats Bond more as a friend with whom she may or may not have had a dalliance with than as the focus of her unrequited love.

    What she brought to the character, and this was supported by the writing, was a sense that she was warm, vulnerable and compassionate while at the same time being strong, snarky and emotionally savvy enough to hold her own in the good old boys club of MI6. Also, Lois Maxwell was an actor with more range and gravitas than was required of Moneypenny and I think this made her portrayal feel real.

    Bliss was vulnerable and Bond was snarky; both were one-note portrayals. Harris, like Maxwell, is already an accomplished actor with more than the roll demands and so shows more promise but she has almost too much sexual chemistry with Craig’s Bond. I want them to get together, not for the characters but for the actors. They have an almost William Powell/Myrna Loy-like spark. It’s enough almost to drive its own film maybe but that film shouldn’t be Bond 24.

    Hopefully the writers will resist the urge to serve the actors and serve the character herself by giving her character enough range without turning her into Jinx 2.0.

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