Dressed to Kill: Pretty-Boy Brosnan and the Queer Appeal of James Bond
Pierce Brosnan ushered in a new era for Bond – and contributed to perhaps the most queer-coded portrayal of the iconic character.
by Liam Heitmann-Ryce-LeMercier
James Bond is not a very good secret agent. Portrayed both onscreen and in Ian Fleming’s original novels as dark-haired, tall, brutish in manner and build, this is a man bound to attract the wrong kind of attention. Throw in a penchant for the finer things in life, commuting between high-end hotels in some very conspicuous company cars, and one does begin to wonder if there is much credence paid to the ‘secret’ aspect of his job title.
Yet the loudest klaxon Bond rings on himself comes straight out of his closet. Performing duties that are essentially those of a glorified civil servant – albeit with some exceptional privileges, including a licence to kill and some stupendous credit allowances – Bond is never a pocket square less than being obscenely over-dressed.
For more than sixty years, his wrists have been cuffed with the latest status symbols from Rolex and Omega, flashing an array of designer trinkets that put him as much at the threat of getting mugged as being rumbled by a Russian-accented baddie.
The demands of Bond’s job do not require such submission to fashion trends – again, he is supposed to blend in – so this is an extravagance purely his own. Gliding off an international flight without a spot of lint on his overcoat or a whisper of two-day stubble, Bond’s presentation is always, ethereally, flawless.
And there is just something a bit gay about this.
I say this as a gay man myself, having first discovered James Bond in childhood. What I witnessed at the age of eight on those fuzzy VHS copies of The Man with the Golden Gun and The World is Not Enough came to inform my understanding of how men are supposed to dress.
As a sexually confused adolescent who did not come out until the age of sixteen, I recognised Bond’s litany of sexual conquests as something I should idealise – Sophie Marceau’s enchantment of Bond was an especially heady home cinema experience – but I never realistically considered these women as sex objects.
I was always more interested in Bond himself – and Pierce Brosnan specifically.
Pierce is my Bond. He is the first Bond I saw in any film in the entire series, having been introduced to GoldenEye before having any real awareness of who this character was. My initial Bond education was consolidated in the guise of Brosnan’s second, third, and fourth outings, and they stood to epitomise everything I understood about 007.
Yet as much as Brosnan carries the brawn and force of Bond, being just as fast on his feet as his panther-like predecessor Sean Connery, his portrayal is also noteworthy for its mildly camp affectations.
Let’s start with his hands.
They are beautiful. Slender, elegant, and utterly unscathed. The way Brosnan inspects things is notably prissy and dainty, opting to use the flat edge of his fingertips to press buttons and touch computer screens. There is remarkable poise in his precision of movement, which he extends to his facial reactions, touching his lips or the bottom of his nostrils.
Oh, and the pouting. This is most apparent in The World is Not Enough, perhaps due to the soapy influence of director Michael Apted (best known for weighty dramatic titles such as Nell and Gorillas in the Mist). If not explicitly camp in his performances, there are numerous aspects of Brosnan’s Bond that emanate this spritz of queerness amongst the car chases and explosive shootouts.
“He has been unfairly described as a suit-model because of his suavity in the role. But people overlook how explicitly psychological his Bond films are.”
So says David Lowbridge-Ellis MBE, scholar, podcaster, and creator of Licence to Queer, an online hub dedicated to exploring the affinity for Bond held by so many within the LGBTQ+ community. “He has some really intense scenes compared with previous Bonds. Perhaps the clothing and other accoutrements help to make the character more palatable for those accustomed to a more superficial presentation.”
While the glitz of product placement was at its most blinding in the Brosnan era, with one Sydney Morning Herald article covering the release of Die Another Day christening the film ‘Buy Another Day’, Lowbridge-Ellis assures “the brands have always been there. It’s worth looking at how aggressively Bond was used to market a whole range of products – luxury and other – in the 1960s. You could buy Bond on everything!”
A personal favourite David cites is this bizarre lipstick advert from 1963, featuring the voice of future Blofeld actor Charles Gray.
Offering further readings of 007’s legacy as the subversive queer icon is Sam Rogers, a prolific Bond contributor whose views and writings have appeared across a range of media including Cinema Savvy, his personal YouTube channel, and podcasts such as SpyHards and Really, 007! as well as numerous Licence to Queer articles.
Rogers suggests that Bond’s queerness derives from how visibly out of place he is. “Diamonds Are Forever is an easy target. Bond walking into a seedy Las Vegas casino in a full-on white tuxedo surrounded by generic Americans in casual, bland clothing makes him stand out more than usual.”
The film affirms many more LGBTQ-friendly credentials: “Queer henchmen, a villain in drag, Natalie Wood’s sister thrown into a pool and drowned in another, a cassette tape in bikini bottoms – it’s sheer camp perfection!”
More generally, Rogers suggests that Bond’s queer-coding stems from his promiscuous, consumption-oriented lifestyle. “A stylish man who can’t hold a relationship, usually finding solace with sexual encounters; travelling; and abusing alcohol encapsulates a section of the queer community, for sure.”
While this brand of boozy globe-trotting fits only one type of queer person, “for mass audiences, sometimes this is the only type of queer person that they’re aware of.”
Bond is not a character whom Rogers looks up to, but he does admire his confidence as an unflappable womaniser. That cocksure self-certainty is “something I think queer people need to use in their day to day lives much more than heterosexuals.”
Lowbridge-Ellis remains similarly doubtful that Bond’s high tally of sexual conquests permits him to embody any kind of masculine ideal. “I don’t know how anyone can really say this any more, or has ever been able to say this. I think people only see the parts they want to see. This could be true of me, too, of course, but I have always seen Bond as the perfect blend of masculine and feminine.”
None manifest this dichotomy more so than Pierce Brosnan. Unlike any other Bond actor, he is shockingly pretty. With his curved, shapely lips, elegant nose, intense dark blue eyes, and the best hair of just about any star in the business, Brosnan’s is the most delicate-featured face in a craggy lineup of cleft-chinned mugs across the franchise’s 60-year history.
This puts Brosnan somewhat at odds with the murky affairs that his licence to kill place him within, but Rogers asserts that his natural beauty is “testament to the vision of making Bond a superhero. He looks so perfect regardless of whether he’s gambling in a casino, knocking back shots of vodka, or escaping a wall of fire swinging on chains.”
He recalls his college Film Studies teacher, discussing the representation of women in film: “Even when pretty women are acting physically hurt and ‘dirtied up’, they’re still gorgeous. I’d confidently say that Brosnan’s Bond is made up in a similar fashion.”
Literally the only time Brosnan’s Bond appears truly unkempt is following his 14-month incarceration in a North Korean prison. “And even then he’s back to his usual self after fifteen minutes of screentime.”
This overt suaveness is what marks Brosnan’s portrayal of Bond as unique within the character’s onscreen history. Until his return to screens in 1995’s GoldenEye, 007 had last been seen six years prior in the guise of a smouldering Timothy Dalton.
“Smart and well-groomed, Bond in GoldenEye very much re-establishes the Bond style. He has a refined yet similar aesthetic vibe as his previous incarnations.”
The following film, 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, is where the franchise – and Brosnan himself – really enter their stride. “Going from complete uncertainty to overwhelming success is bound to instil confidence in everyone involved, and this lends itself to Bond’s world feeling much more recognisable and stylish.”
Tomorrow Never Dies was a production famed for its crushing production schedule and a script beset with countless on-the-day changes, yet remains an entry that has earned significant reappraisal among fans.
Speaking personally, it is this writer’s favourite Bond film and the one from which so much of his own sartorial inspiration derived in childhood. I even took a photograph of Brosnan as Bond in this film with me to a barber at the age of eleven, as reference for the kind of haircut I wanted.
“Brosnan’s Bond is undoubtedly more refined from Tomorrow Never Dies onwards,” Rogers says of the actor’s second outing, noting “his longer hair, leather jacket during the pre-titles, exceptional set of suits and tuxedos – including a fabulous cashmere coat – and well-fitted commando outfit for the third act.”
The flashiness of these outfits, and how recognisably expensive they are, personifies the Brosnan era of Bond. Following his revival of the character, what we came to expect of the smooth-talking, hard-hitting secret agent pivoted from dark Savile Row suits to silky-hued navy three-pieces from Italian fashion house Brioni.
Bond’s jewellery got a radical upgrade, too, becoming a star in its own right for perhaps the first time: the Omega Seamaster 300M Professional chosen by costume designer Lindy Hemming remained consistent throughout Brosnan’s tenure, unlike the more randomised selection of wristwear adorned by previous Bonds.
Rogers puts it best: “Brosnan’s interpretation of the character is often referred to as an amalgamation of Connery’s and Moore’s Bonds, two iterations that certainly have their share of over-attired outfits and camp moments, so it makes sense that this Bond is like their love child.”
Bond went upmarket with Brosnan and it was the first time that his attire became conspicuously fashionable. The ties were works of art in their own right, featuring bespoke silk-weave designs created specifically for Brosnan, and of the four instances in which Brosnan’s Bond is seen at Mi6 he is dressed in a three-piece suit.
There is something so marvellously excessive about wearing a blazer and matching waistcoat for little else than a morning meeting at the office. But such was Brosnan’s Bond, doing his damnedest to ignore the secret part of his job title and conducting covert espionage in sharper outfits than most people would wear to weddings.
While the history of Bond’s affiliation with high-end goods had long been a hallmark of the series, these pricey commodities gained, in the 1990s, perhaps as many closeups as the man using them on assignment. Bond became blatantly materialistic during Brosnan’s tenure in a way that had not previously been put onscreen.
The prominence of accessories, of more carefully assembled outfits, of eye-catching cufflinks and flashier gadgets – Bond’s first mobile phone! – yes, these gave Bond an up-to-the-minute edge within popular culture, but it also showed him at perhaps his most vain and explicitly trend-oriented.
Ballooning budgets necessitated such extremities of product placement within the Bond franchise, but Brosnan’s take on the character saw a glamorous disregard to subtlety in such matters. Each instalment in the franchise became the blueprint of a season’s worth of features in men’s lifestyle magazines.
From the exotic steering wheels he sat behind, down to the clothes on his back, the numerous costly elements which comprised Brosnan’s Bond were just so unusually opulent within the character’s then-30+ year legacy. Paired with one as uniquely beautiful as Brosnan, and we have an interpretation of the hard-as-knuckles assassin that brings with it more than just a whiff of rose-scented silk beneath the
Liam Heitmann-Ryce-LeMercier is a freelance writer from Western Australia with strong interests in film, classical music, and contemporary popular culture. Many of his LGBTQ-centric articles and interview features can be found in his portfolio, and he is also active on Instagram and Twitter. He is currently based in Melbourne.