Digging deeper into Bond’s complex French connection.
As the most loyal secret agent of Her Majesty, James Bond was always going to have a rocky relationship with France! Fans of classic action films will be happy – during his early years, 007 spent quite a lot of time visiting Britain’s historic rival, and his adventures there are worth a watch. Yet Bond’s escapades in France have become less frequent recently. So, in which film does 007 take the ultimate French trip? And why has he stopped visiting the country?
From Paris with love: the early years
Let’s get back to where it all began: 007’s first visit to France happens in his fourth movie, Thunderball (1965). Sean Connery attends the funeral of SPECTRE assassin Jacques Bouvar (Bob Simmons), only to realise the man is masquerading as his own widow. 007 fights and defeats Bouvar in his French castle, a scuffle filmed in the real Château d’Anet, in Western France. A few scenes in Paris also reveal that SPECTRE has its headquarters close to the Eiffel Tower – Blofeld knows how to choose cool lairs! Connery’s Bond also visited Southern France to defeat SPECTRE in Diamonds are forever (1971), when he strangled henchwoman Marie (former Miss World Denise Perrier) with her bathing suit. These dives into the country are too brief to be certified ultimate: fans would have to wait until 1979 to see Roger Moore’s Bond spend some proper time in France… or a place closely resembling it! In Moonraker (1979), megalomaniac businessman Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) reconstructed a French château in the middle of his Californian estate. The imposing castle he recreated is none other than the famous Vaux-le Vicomte, built by Nicolas Fouquet, an aspiring rival of King Louis XIV. Although Bond does not technically make it to France in Moonraker, the recreation of Vaux-le-Vicomte still counts as a visit – after all, Hugo Drax would never have satisfied himself with a castle that doesn’t perfectly match the original!
It is only A view to a kill (1985), Moore’s last Bond movie, which would give viewers an enjoyable – if flawed – French adventure. Our favourite 00 agent gets to spend part of the film in France, where he meets a pretty useless Parisian detective (Jean Rougerie) while dining in the Eiffel tower. When 007’s contact is killed by henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones), Bond does not hesitate to pursue her on the tower itself. A race through Parisian streets ensues! It is not part of the saga’s best chases (some accessories and stunt doubles really look cheap), but still gets certified “ultimate”, as it offers an entertaining view of the capital in the mid-1980s. As a Parisian, I can confirm that the landscape hasn’t changed all that much in nearly forty years! A view to a kill’s French escapade also features another well-known location: the Château de Chantilly, situated close to Paris and where famous horse races take place. Bond follows demented businessman Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) there, as the golden boy has a nasty habit of rigging races. The castle and its exteriors are absolutely stunning, and Zorin’s over-the-top party gives us a good view of them. Overall, Chantilly is a truly enjoyable location, except for poor Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick MacNee) who learns the hard way that May Day is not the most helpful car wash attendant!
After this lengthy trip, subsequent 007s would spend much less time in France: Dalton doesn’t set a foot in it, and neither do Craig or Brosnan – though the latter does visit the neighbouring bMonaco. And… this is it when it comes to official visits of the super-spy!
No time for France?
So, why isn’t James taking the Eurostar train to Paris more often? Well, the production costs might play a part. Shooting major stunts near the Eiffel Tower can be difficult – and costly. Yet Mission: Impossible Fallout did it in 2018, even featuring a tense motorcar chase around the Arc of Triumph – filmed on site. M: I 6 is not the only example: if its trailer is any indication, the upcoming John Wick: Chapter 4 will also have action scenes set near Parisian landmarks. Besides, money is scarcely a problem for EON Productions, so financial issues definitely don’t explain 007’s recent absence in France. Could it be that Bond avoids some specific cities? Paris is not the only megalopolis that James rarely visits: New York is also left behind, only preeminently featured in Live and let die (1973). After all, coordinating impressive stunts and car chases can be harder in a hectic place, especially one with small streets like Paris. Yet SPECTRE (2015) proves us the contrary, by featuring a chase in the crowded streets of Mexico – on the day where even the Dead roam around!
If practical issues don’t prevent Bond from working in France, and assuming that he isn’t just afraid of hanging out near SPECTRE’s HQ, his rare visits must be the result of a deliberate choice. France is not a typically unusual destination for a British agent, so fans might expect 007 to take longer – and riskier – trips. For a London-based spy, Paris is a less exciting destination than Cuba or the Austrian Alps. This is all the more true as Sean Connery and Roger Moore have visited quite a few local châteaux between themselves – and Moore even fought on Eiffel tower. The screenwriters might be considering that Bond fans have been exposed to all recognisable French landmarks, and look for newer sights elsewhere.
So, we aren’t likely to see Monsieur Bond embark on the ultimate French adventure soon, and for now, the fans will have to settle for A view to a kill’s campy style. This might sound chauvinistic coming from a French writer, but this lack of interest in France is a shame for the saga in itself: James has some close ties to the country through the women in his life, and these could be explored further. His late wife, Teresa “Tracy” Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), has a Corsican father. But after her passing, her dad Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) is never seen or heard of again, and it seems unlikely that James will be visiting his father-in-law over the holidays! Madeleine Swann, James’ latest great love, is also French, though the couple never visit her home country together. Much like the women he loved and let die, it seems that James Bond and France are not destined to spend much time together. Yet Brosnan and Craig have made a point of exploring Bond’s personal relationships in their movies, so digging deeper into 007’s French connections could be interesting – on top of offering to fans the ultimate French adventure!