The Moneypenny Exchange: speculation on Naomie Harris' role // November 14. 2011
Since actress Naomie Harris was first associated in casting reports for SKYFALL this summer, rumors have persisted that she was being considered for the role of Moneypenny, a supporting character once inseparable from Ian Fleming's novels and the Bond film franchise. Current news articles about the upcoming 23rd Bond movie continue to tout Moneypenny as the character Harris is destined to portray despite some potentially contradictory evidence. Given some of her comments at the recent SKYFALL press conference announcing the film and confirming Harris among its cast, FilmEdge.net is placing its bet that Naomi will exchange the classic Moneypenny role for a much more lucrative and dynamic persona in the next Bond mission. Even if Harris did take on the well known name in the franchise, she would be a Moneypenny like 007 fans have never seen before.
In the immediate wake of SKYFALL's London press event, we have these scant facts as the only official confirmations about Naomie Harris' participation:
Her character's first name is Eve
Eve is a "field agent"
These deliberately vague definitions of her character leave speculation open to dozens of interpretations, not to mention a hundred paths to wrong assumptions on their cryptic meaning. Speculation based on such meager evidence is surely a game of chance, but what else have we got to do while we wait for more accurate intel and official facts? FilmEdge is ready to gamble and take some educated guesses about who Naomie Harris will and won't be in Bond 23.
For starters, we can compare the two character confirmations above to the richly documented history of Miss Moneypenny in the Bond universe, spanning Ian Fleming's original novels and the 22 previous feature films based on them. The first fact, Harris' character is named Eve, provides little help in identifying the role as Moneypenny or not. As written by Fleming and portrayed in the films, Miss Moneypenny's first name has never been officially revealed to readers or audiences. Her first name could be Eve as easily as it might be Betty or Veronica. This single avenue of speculation quickly leads to a dead end without more supporting or dissenting evidence from the filmmakers, and we're not likely to get a definitive answer soon.
The second confirmed character fact, however, adds more fuel to the theory that Harris will not be playing Moneypenny as we've known her for decades in Bond cinema. From her character's inception, Fleming defined Miss Moneypenny as secretary to M, who is head of the British Secret Service a.k.a. MI6. While Moneypenny's presence and participation in Fleming's stories varied from title to title, the Bond film franchise more firmly cemented Moneypenny in audiences' minds as M's deskbound secretary, commanding the interoffice buffer zone outside M's private conclave and regularly flirting with Bond to confirm 007's sex appeal. Such duty is hardly the defininition of a modern Secret Service field agent like Eve, to be sure.
Most memorably portrayed by Lois Maxwell across 14 Bond films from 1962's DR. NO through 1985's A VIEW TO A KILL, the original and undoubtedly best cinematic Moneypenny deftly fulfilled her duties as romantic foil for Bond and source of plot exposition as he received each new assignment from M. Other than her unflagging, unrequited pursuit of Bond in personal terms, Moneypenny was relegated to injecting each film with wry, playful humor and touchstones of franchise consistency as the actors who played 007 changed around her. While Maxwell earned the lion's share of credit for enlivening this otherwise inert secretary, her successors Caroline Bliss and Samantha Bond merit kudos as well for carrying on the Bond feature film tradition of Moneypenny as the interpretations, relevance and even appearance of James Bond evolved greatly over four decades. Even the actors portraying M changed twice in this time span, from Bernard Lee's origination of the on-screen character to Robert Brown's portrayal after Lee's death, which only added to Moneypenny's importance as an unwavering figure on the 007 big screen roster.
Beloved as the character may be, the Miss Moneypenny of the novels and the first 20 Bond films bears no resemblance to an MI6 field agent, certainly not one comparable to Bond's high risk, high octane exploits around the globe. More importantly, the woman Bond audiences know as Moneypenny seems an unlikely candidate for the weapons and physical training that Naomie Harris describes in preparation for her role in SKYFALL. Take it from the actress herself as she details her training regiment, as reported in a recent post-press conference interview (see video clip):
"I spent two months training, so I've been . . . driving cars, and stunt fighting, and yoga to get my body really toned, and firing guns, machine guns and Walther PPKs. So I've done a lot of work over the last two months."
Has Harris developed all that firepower and muscle tone to sit behind a desk outside M's office and enjoy a five-minute flirt with James Bond in the first reel of SKYFALL? We give that prospect double-0 of a chance.
Perhaps more corroborating evidence arises from the last two Bond films in the series starring Daniel Craig and Judi Dench as his boss, M. When Dench took over the role of M in 1995's GOLDENEYE, Moneypenny remained a fixture of MI6 and the 007 franchise, as portrayed by Samantha Bond. She nearly consummated her passion for James in a virtual simulation closing DIE ANOTHER DAY, which also turned out to be a comedic coda for the secretary's appearance in the franchise. Once Craig replaced Pierce Brosnan as 007, Miss Moneypenny disappeared from the films even though Dench resumed her role as M once again in CASINO ROYALE.
Moneypenny's omission made complete sense for the Craig-era story line, especially since CASINO ROYALE involved Bond's ill-fated love affair with Vesper Lynd, thus setting up Bond's future persona as the spy who closed off his heart to women thereafter. Bond's two fatal encounters with women in the film were plenty to establish his character, so a third superficial dalliance with an MI6 secretary outside M's office door served no purpose to the plot or Bond's baptism as a double-0 agent. QUANTUM OF SOLACE, as an immediate continuation of the first film, maintained the focus on the conflicts and hard-earned trust between Bond and M without any interoffice distraction. In short, there simply hasn't been the room or the need for Miss Moneypenny in the 21st century of Bond lore. We can't know if this is a permanent condition, but for now her absence supports the logic of the Craig-007 universe much better than would her inclusion.
So if Moneypenny was not required in the previous two Bond films, would adding her now gain the franchise any distinct advantage on its third 007 mission? And if indeed Naomie Harris has learned advanced driving techniques, stunt fighting and weapons training for her role in SKYFALL, how would those dynamic, dangerous skills logically apply to a desk set secretary inside a cozy MI6 office as Moneypenny has always been portrayed? If director Sam Mendes and the screenwriting trio to invest these new skills into a new MI6 female field agent, then what need is there to include Moneypenny at all?
The only logical answer for the return of Moneypenny would be that writers John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade intend to drastically redefine her character for the Daniel Craig era of the Bond franchise. Naomie Harris as an MI6 field agent with driving, weapons and combat training under her belt has no place behind a desk outside M's office door. Such a boldly redrawn Moneypenny also has no interest playing coquettish flirting games with James: if she wanted a spy to love her, she'd target Bond as a sexual equal and not waste her time firing back a few tame double entendres to go home empty handed.
Enacting this complete revision of Moneypenny's place in Bond films as an active agent also seems to make sense only if Harris were to be a recurring character in league with 007 — or why bother calling her Moneypenny to set up that expecation? Certainly if Moneypenny is returning to the current Bond films, her character needs a complete overhaul to appeal to 21st century audiences and rise above her shallow role as a flirtatious secretary seen only in five-minute glimpses with heartthrob James. Putting a new Moneypenny in the field and behind the wheel with a gun in her hand would be a radical departure from Bond tradition in theaters, but so was casting Daniel Craig five years ago to remake James Bond in his own image. The success of such a bold move speaks for itself.
We're still not convinced Moneypenny will return to the 007 series in the tough-and-trained guise of Naomie Harris, but if she does, audiences will never have seen anything like her in 50 years of James Bond cinema. The question remains: would fans accept such fast-driving, two-fisted interpretation of the character that Lois Maxwell made so playfully yet passively charming for two decades? Or might today's Bond fans be quietly ready to see Moneypenny escape her deskbound duty and face dangers at Bond's side as a reliable, recurring field agent regular? Giancarlo Giannini's René Mathis and Gemma Arterton's agent Fields both met their demise in QUANTUM, so Bond is a couple of allies short for his next assignment. Would a less-disposable female agent make dramatic sense for a new, perhaps independent set of Bond stories in the future — especially if 007 were finally to face off with SPECTRE in these new films? This much may be certain: Naomie Harris will never play the lovelorn, romantic foil from days gone by, nor should she given the direction of the Bond movies under Daniel Craig's reign. She deserves better.
For now the secret behind Harris' character remains, but the time just might be right for Moneypenny. Eve Moneypenny.