Bond's new girls edge slowly towards maturity

The traditional British image of 007 is replaced by the trendy Euro-loo k
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Ian Fleming will be doing somersaults in his grave. James Bond, the epitome of British sophistication and style, is to wear a nifty Italian suit and drive a German sports car.

And it is not just Savile Row and the vintage Aston Martin that are left on the cutting room floor in the new Bond film. The first 007 movie of the nineties has a breed of actress who would no more come out of the sea in bikinis like Ursula Andress than they would serve the boys coffee between takes.

Yesterday the actress playing Bond's paramour said she refused to be known as a "Bond girl", edging fitfully towards feminism by asking to be described as a "Bond woman".

Yesterday I toured the purpose-built studio on an old Rolls Royce engine factory and airfield in Hertfordshire where shooting has just started on the 17th James Bond film, the $50m Goldeneye, set in Russia though among organised crime rather than Smersh and Spectre.

My illusions were quickly shattered. It was still possible to marvel at the sets where model MIG jets flew at 100mph over an Arctic made out of polystyrene and snow fashioned from Epsom Salts, and at the requisite stylish good looks of new Bond Pierce Brosnan, his new partner and rival, 006 Sean Bean, and Polish-born Bond person Izabella Scorupco.

But there was something not quite Savile Row about the cut of Mr Brosnan's jib. "Look, it's really not worth making an issue over this," said Gordon Arnell, director of marketing for the British production company Eon.

"We commissioned the Italian designer Brioni to make Pierce's suit as a trendier version of Savile Row. Bond is known for high style. And he will be wearing British shoes."

But alas, those Church's shoes will be pressing their soles upon the pedals of a BMW. No more the vintage Aston Martin from which Sean Connery once ejected unwelcome guests. "He will still have that," protested Mr Arnell. "He will just be driving it privately. We talked to a lot of British manufacturers but they didn't have the right car at the right time.

It was a similar tale of late delivery for the British secret service inside the studio workshop of the real life Q, special effects technician Nick Finlayson. "We did try," he said, "but there are so many difficulties in getting the supplies on time." And so Bond's watch, with its special agent devices, is a Swiss Omega.

But a further shock to the system came on meeting the screen Q, the MI5 gadgets expert played by Desmond Llewelyn, the only actor to have survived since Dr No back in 1962. What did he think of the wondrous mechanisms he had fashioned for a variety of Bonds? "Me? I hate gadgets. They always go wrong."

Onward, falteringly to the women. With a nod to the real M15 now headed by a woman, the new M is to be Dame Judi Dench. And there is a new Miss Moneypenny, the feisty Royal Shakespeare Company actress Samantha Bond. No submissive secretary she.

"It's a more modern woman now," she promised, adding: "It's played much more from the woman's point of view," surprising those of us who had never realised the potential for a feminist role model in Money penny.

His virility may remain intact, but his potency is unlikely to survive Miss Scorupco, as beautiful as any Bond heroine but an actress able to teach Rosa Klebb a thing or two in post-feminist assertiveness.

"Please do not refer to me as a Bond girl," she asked. "I prefer `Bond woman'. The person I play is a normal Russian working girl. She is a clear-thinking person, very independent."

Mr Brosnan looked impassive, perhaps planning to be the first James Bond to choose to drink his Martini - rather than just having it shaken, not stirred - but in one of those London clubs devoid of the company of women.

n Hugh Grant's prospects of being nominated for an Oscar as this year's best actor increased after he walked away with a Golden Globe award for his performance in the hugely successful British film, Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The Golden Globes are given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and are generally promoted as a bellweather for the forthcoming Academy Awards.