"I wouldn't be seen dead with a woman old enough to be my wife," a Hollywood celebrity once remarked.
It is a line that has been variously attributed to Tony Curtis and Jackie Gleason, though it might just as easily have come from James Bond himself, who exhibits a curious habit of growing steadily older while his women remain on the sunny side of 30. Sean Connery was a strapping, virile 32 when he made his first appearance as 007 in Dr No and found 26-year-old Ursula Andress hunting conch shells on the beach. By the time he bowed out he was a paunchy 52-year-old, romancing a 29-year-old Kim Basinger.
Roger Moore went one better – or worse, depending on your viewpoint. At the end of his tenure as 007, Moore was 57 while his sometime Bond girl (Tanya Roberts) was 28. They came rattling through A View to a Kill like J Howard Marshall on the arm of Anna Nicole Smith.
Naturally context is all when discussing the sexual politics of the James Bond movies. And yet, viewed in the light of Bond's previous history, the news that Penélope Cruz will play Daniel Craig's love interest must count as the franchise's equivalent of Seneca Falls: a feminist breakthrough, one for the annals. Finally, cinema's ultimate chauvinist has got himself an age-appropriate girlfriend.
Cruz, it transpires, will be 40 by the time she appears in the next 007 outing. This makes her the oldest "Bond girl" ever – just ahead of Honor Blackman, who was a dashing 39 when she cropped up in Goldfinger. All at once the whole "Bond girl" label looks a trifle redundant.
Even so, I fear we may be missing a trick here. Full credit to Cruz for dragging the Bond movies towards some semblance of sexual parity. But the "oldest Bond girl ever"? Surely not. That honour remains in the iron grip of Judi Dench – 77 at the time of the last Bond movie. Down the years M has been the one woman 007 could never tame, let alone jilt for a younger model. She is the great survivor; she leaves Cruz and Blackman trailing.
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