- This article contains spoilers for “Spectre”, “No Time to Die”, “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall“.
I need to apologise to Ms Swann. I got her all wrong. And I’m mortified that I made that mistake.
I’ll explain. You see, I’m “quiet”. Always have been, always will be.
As a child, I was just the ginger boy at the back of the class. Very quiet. Keeping myself to myself. Not one to really talk in public. Not that I got crippling social anxiety, but I preferred a more understated approach.
And, as discussed in Susan Cain‘s excellent best-seller QUIET, I struggled in a world seemingly full of extroverts – or at least a world where extroverted behaviour is seen as the norm.
Then as an adult I realised that while occasionally “shy”, I was actually more introverted. And that made sense with my preferred learning style as a reflector (sitting back, listening, absorbing, before commenting), which in itself is viewed as lack of effort by the extrovert majority.
I excel in avoiding small talk. It’s not my preferred way of spending my time. A silence instead of awkwardly improvised ramblings about the weather or football? Count me in. Yet I was increasingly frustrated at how others responded to me:
- “Speak up, don’t be shy”
- “find your voice”
- “you’re very quiet”
- “you should let your hair down a little more”
Frustrating. And hearing these well-intentioned comments can be infuriating. And yet, alongside people thinking I’m distant or arrogant or unemotional or unapproachable, I’ve also seen unintentional benefits – more than one acquaintance has commented on how I project confidence. (Really?) And of course there is the “once I really got to know you, I realised you were actually alright”.
If only people wouldn’t jump to conclusions, right? Then I watched SPECTRE. And jumped to conclusions.
A quiet, contemplative analyst, sitting in her tidy office in a cold glass resort in the snowy mountains. A woman who receives Bond with a very businesslike manner. Who doesn’t immediately connect with his levity.
Then before too long she is kidnapped and then turns on Bond because they led Spectre to her. She is defensive. Scared. Angry. And we don’t know why.
At the Hotel L’Americain, having had a drink or two, she lets her guard down and is a little more humourous, and then on the train we learn a little about her childhood, including the attack on her family, and we get a glimpse of how she is haunted by her past. This mirrors the unresolved trauma Bond carries from the death of his parents, the death of Oberhauser Sr., the death of Vesper, and the death of M.
The revealing discussion on the train shows their similarities, and I’d argue that this is a deeper connection than that of Bond and Vesper. Sure, Vesper had better dialogue and repartee than Madeleine, but does Swann’s quiet nature make her less of a character?
By the end this couple have been through a lot, and while unspoken, their childhood trauma that has affected them deeply has locked them together. This bond is understandable, even though on screen, it feels a little unearned.
The presentation of Madeleine in NO TIME TO DIE does a lot to improve my perspective on her character, and her bond to Bond. It doesn’t make SPECTRE a better film, but I GET her connection to him, and him to her. In Bond 25, both are on the cusp of finally exorcising the past and moving forward, but the ghosts return to tear them apart. Indeed, for me, Billie Eilish’s song “No Time to Die” is sung from Madeleine’s point-of-view.
Seydoux’s performance in the extended opening sequence is wonderful, and as she is bundled on the train, my heart breaks.
Avoiding the handshake and not even pretending to be nice to Bond at Belmarsh prison makes total sense because as a ‘quiet’ person, it took a lot for her to let herself open to him, so returning to that open wound can’t be easy.
She may deny who Mathilde is at first, but then she can’t fully trust Bond yet. That may seem odd, but it’s self preservation, and parental protection of her child. We see Madeleine shooting a goon with efficient expertise (yeah, don’t piss off an introvert) when Matilde was threatened.
An interesting interview of Léa Seydoux during the press tour of The French Dispatch is worth a read in this context:
I have read her say that – like more actors than you would suspect – she has always been troubled by shyness. Should we be surprised by that? Are we wrong to feel that the business of acting is inherently an extrovert’s activity?
“I think there are many actors who are shy,” she says. “Extremely shy and extremely sensitive. I think that cinema helped me to overcome . . . Well not shyness. I am still very shy. But sometimes people don’t see that about me. And you never really heal from that. It is something that will always be with me. But shy people can often be very daring.
Article accessed in The Irish Times.
Sure, you may accuse me of revisionist reinterpretation to suit my own ends, but viewing Madeleine as introverted has enriched the character for me. She doesn’t crack wise or flirt, although many introverts do. But behind that seemingly cold exterior is a living breathing character – I’d argue a richer character than Vesper – and I can see why Bond ‘suddenly’ falls for her, and she for him. They have more in common than Bond and Vesper, because Bond himself is a “loner” too.
In SPECTRE, I just assumed Madeleine was underwritten and not engaging. I thought she was cold and unapproachable. Instead she is just like me. Shame on me for thinking otherwise. Sorry, Madeleine.
Featured image: Léa Seydoux at window
Other photos are screengrabs from Spectre and No Time to Die.