5. Xenia Zaragevna Onatopp (Famke Janssen)
Few villains, male or female, manage over-the-top with any real style. Most Bond villains, modeling themselves after Dr. No, the original, keep a cool and formal exterior. Excess can become ridiculous, as when Christopher Walken, playing A View To a Kill’s Max Zorin, giggles after failing to kill Bond. Giggling has never impressed me as very villainous.
Bond bad girls tend to be as cool as the bad boys. Fiona Volpe was dignified, always on top of the situation. Elektra King was at first tragic; when she later transformed into a villain, she held a hard edge, and when she slipped into traditional villainous dramatics, “Pretty thing. Did you have her, too?” she loses control of her performance.
But there is one villainess who turns over-the-top into high art, and makes you regret her inevitable demise. GoldenEye’s Xenia Onatopp is as delightful as she is maniacal, as exciting as she is evil. Famke Janssen really lets herself go in the part; she isn’t afraid of overacting, but she doesn’t play her character like a cliché. I love little touches of the portrayal, like the cigar-smoking, and how she scowls with anger when she loses at chemin-de-fer. It is so like a villain to stay cool, perhaps to threaten Bond, but to maintain a demeanor that suggests that only inferiors lose their temper. Xenia isn’t about the cool demeanor, or world conquest, or being a loyal member of the Janus organization.
She’s in it for the sensation, for the thrill. She hates Bond, but when she realizes he’s going to ram the train, her eyes light with excitement and pleasure; she is aroused by the danger, and aroused by the man who dares it.
…her extreme portrayal is marked by an extreme character trait — one that wouldn’t have existed in a Bond movie before the 1990s. Xenia achieves orgasm when killing (apparently, only when killing, although that is hard to judge). In action movies, we quickly become inured to violence and death. It is hard to grasp the true tragedy of murder when it is depicted in spectacular cinematic fashion. When Xenia pants with excitement while slaughtering the computer technicians of Severnaya, we are horrified.
This is different, this isn’t just a random death in a Bond film. This is pleasure of the most evil sort. GoldenEye is exceptionally good at reminding us that death is terribly costly; when Natalya grieves for her friends in the aftermath of the slaughter, we are moved, and it is one of the few occasions in Bond movie history where a main character is given time to mourn. Both the movie and the character drive home the idea that murder is not merely a cinematic game, and yet allow the audience to enjoy the visceral thrill of watching extravagant evil.
Xenia embodies the very concept that killing is fun, that it is sexy; that for her it is sex. By stating this disturbing concept outright, by relishing and then destroying it, GoldenEye gives us one of the movies’ most memorable characters. Xenia is both a fan favorite and a personal favorite of mine. She tends to come out as number one on “bad girl” surveys among younger fans, but she is also popular among fans like me, who were around in the Connery era. She is a little lower on general Bond girl surveys, where bad and good characters are mixed, but she remains near the top.
(Bond girls 4, 3, 2, and 1 below the fold.)
4. Anya Amasova (Agent XXX)
Long before Vin Diesel came along, the spy world had a more attractive XXX in the form of The Spy Who Loved Me’s Anya Amasova. Barbara Bach is a woman of such beauty and captivating screen presence that it took me four or five viewings of The Spy Who Loved Me to realize that she really can’t act worth a damn! She exudes such loveliness that she still looks good wearing the stupidest accessory ever forced upon a Bond girl — a crocheted cap that looks more like a tea cozy than something a glamourous woman would wear.
Indeed, Anya is one of my favorite Bond girls, despite her thespian weaknesses, and The Spy Who Loved Me one of my favorite movies. Agent XXX embodies the title to which so many Bond actresses try to lay claim — the “new and different kind of Bond girl.” She wasn’t the first female spy Bond encountered — Aki and Kissy were agents of the Japanese Secret Service ten years earlier — but she was the first one presented as Bond’s equal, in this case, his Soviet counterpart. In the next movie, Moonraker, Bond reacts to Dr. Holly Goodhead with a chauvinistic surprise, not quite believing that a woman can
be a scientist. Yet here Bond knows all about Major Amasova, including what she drinks, and never doubts her competence. The only nod to sexism in The Spy Who Loved Me is not on Bond’s behalf but on Eon’s. Anya is introduced in a love scene with Sergei Barsov. When the call comes for Agent XXX, we are meant to be surprised that it is she, and not her lover, who answers. (Such clever scenes always fall victim to a movie’s promotion, and no one is ever surprised by them.) Anya doesn’t take her place in a more modern age of spy movies by announcing it, but simply by being who she says she is — a competent and dangerous agent who is also a woman.
Throughout the movie, Bond and XXX compete with one another, playing a game of espionage one-upmanship. They enjoy this game, and so, eventually, they come to enjoy each other. Their chemistry is plausible because it develops in a context we (the audience) can appreciate.
Anya Amasova, with her huge, soulful eyes, her unwillingness to take guff from 007, her fierce loyalty to her slain lover, and her remarkable way of filling out an evening gown, is truly one of Bond’s greatest co-stars.
3. Dominique “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger)
Domino is perhaps not as interesting as some other fan favorites; she usually makes the cut for “most beautiful,” or “most desirable” on fan surveys, and appears a bit less often as “best” or “favorite.”
In the novel Thunderball, Domino Vitale is one of Fleming’s finest characters. I’d call her the best of the literary Bond girls. She is playful and childlike, yet womanly and assertive. The character’s name was changed when French beauty queen Claudine Auger was cast in the role. She played Domino almost as a lost child, soft and lovely. But not entirely soft — this is the woman who says “What sharp little eyes you have,” and it is she, not Bond, who kills the villain. Still, it is hard to argue that her great popularity among fans is due more to these traits than to how she looks in a bathing suit. In fact, she looks fantastic in several beautifully-designed suits, and she wears little else.
2. Elektra King (Sophie Marceau)
The duplicitous apparent victim portrayed by Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough proves again that hiring a real actress can make a strong impression on the audience. It also proves how strongly the fans respond when Bond lets his guard down and allows his feelings to show. From the beginning, Bond is captivated by Elektra, reading about her kidnapping ordeal and watching a video of her vulnerable, tear-streaked face. In the novels, we learned that Bond had a soft spot for a “bird with a wing down;” a woman in need of rescue. In the movies this has often proved out as well. Tracy, whom he met when he stopped her suicide attempt, is surely the woman most in need of rescue in the Bond films, and is also the woman he marries. In Elektra, it appears Bond is reminded of Tracy. Many fans believe that when Elektra asks, “Tell me, have you ever lost a loved one, Mr. Bond?” and Bond doesn’t answer, this is meant as a reference to Tracy’s death. Certainly the audience is reminded of her when they ski together, and Elektra wears an outfit pointedly similar to one worn by Tracy when skiing in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As happened with Tracy in the earlier film,
Bond and Elektra are caught in an avalanche. Elektra’s claustrophobic panic attack
when this happens allows Bond to protect her, to hold her, and surely, to care about her.
Not numbering The World Is Not Enough among my favorite Bond films, I cannot include Elektra King among my personal favorite Bond girls either. The weaknesses of the film drag her down a bit. But I can certainly admire Marceau’s performance, her complexity, and her beauty. Pierce Brosnan has some of his finest scenes with her. When Elektra says “You wouldn’t kill me. You’d miss me,” she pushes Bond into his most cold-blooded assassination since Professor Dent’s in Dr. No. And when he answers “I never miss” he replaces the death quip with a worthy follow-up to “That’s a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” Elektra King is a fan favorite not just because she is a beautiful woman, but because she serves as both a true love interest and a worthy adversary.
1. Comtesse Teresa (Tracy) di Vicenzo
No Bond girl is more popular among fans than Tracy; the only woman to whom Bond ever proposed marriage. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Tracy married Bond and died mere hours later. She is one of the few points of continuity in the Bond series, having been explicitly mentioned in three subsequent movies: In conversation with Anya in The Spy Who Loved Me, when Bond visits her grave in For Your Eyes Only, and when Felix tells Della in Licence to Kill that Bond was once married.
When the Bond producers decided to film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, they knew they’d need a really special actress if the fans were to accept her as a worthy Mrs. Bond. Diana Rigg, cat-suited, high-kicking star of television’s “The Avengers,” was an ideal choice. She was elegant, she was tough, and she was already the heartthrob of millions.
This is the part where I’m supposed to wax poetic about the wonders of Diana Rigg. Unfortunately, I have never understood her appeal. The coolly dignified, somewhat distant portrayals she excelled at have never been my cup of tea; my favorite actresses have more warmth. Dame Diana Rigg is a competent actress, and her love scenes with Lazenby have conviction and charm. Certainly many of the beauty queens and models hired as Bond girls for their looks could not have done such a fine job, although the role is well within the reach of any reasonably skilled actress. Yet we never really get to know Tracy, and in watching her, I never feel swept away, as the audience should with a romance.
Diana Rigg, as Mrs. Peel, was the ideal woman for millions in “The Avengers,” and, as Tracy, for Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While she remains the ideal woman for many, many Bond fans to this day, she leaves this fan behind.
(Excerpted from The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book)