If you believe the rumours, sex appeal’s Idris Elba — half Sierra Leonean, half Ghanaian, fully a Londoner — will be the next James Bond, although Daniel Craig may clench and mumble his way through a couple more before that happens. If it does, Elba would be taking over at a very interesting moment for the Bond franchise, apparently now entering full-on postcolonial melancholia mode.
The new James Bond movie, Skyfall, is a vision of what American thrillers will look like in a few years time should this country ever get through its current phase of chest-beating denial regarding its inevitable decline as top global dog. (Remember how irritated NPR were by how little anyone in China cared about America’s tremendously exciting presidential election? Apparently the Chinese ought to have been reminded that they are governed by an unaccountable elite, so very unlike the American situation.)
Nobody’s pretending that the UK is a great power anymore, politically or morally. Even the supposedly nationalist Conservative government that’s currently busy ruining our public institutions doesn’t present the country on the international stage as much more than a bunch of BAE Systems sales representatives in nice suits. Skyfall is all about the vulnerability of the old bulldog heroes to nasty newfangled foreign contraptions like homosexuality (one man caressing another man’s leg is the new waterboarding), China (with their massive neon cities and man-eating komodo dragons), and the internet (Javier Bardem as Julian Assange, anyone?). I won’t spoil the film, but suffice to say that its main interest is in exploring how Britain and its institutions respond to the dawning realisation of the marginal position within world affairs that the country has already occupied for more years than anyone will admit. (Clue: they dig out the muskets and a stick of dynamite.)
The next step might be to send Bond to Luanda or Lagos or Maputo or Rio — not just as backdrops for high casualty car chases, but to show how the rest of the world has moved on and largely forgotten about how important Britain likes to feel. Maybe by the time Idris Elba takes over, Bond will be working for DFID.