The Spirit of Intelligence: the significance of Rolls Royce in Bond films
What every character really wanted
"The green Rolls?"
"The green Rolls Royce - there can't be that many in Hong Kong!"
But it turns out there was; the Peninsula Hotel in HK has the largest fleet of Rollers out of any hotel in the world. The region itself currently has the largest amount of the things per capita, of all things!
Nevertheless, that quote is from the 1974 Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun and refers to Bond (Roger Moore) asking Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) to tail a green Silver Shadow which Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) climbs into the back of.
But what's evident is that perhaps the audience isn't surprised that the plush car is a Roller. In fact, you will notice that throughout the Bond franchise, cars from Rolls Royce are used by all sorts of different characters and despite being from the same brand and even the same models, each have various connotations to the characters.
In my previous publication which discussed the significance of Mercedes in Bond films, the reoccurring theme was that they were mainly associated with the villains and henchmen. Mercs symbolised an antagonistic nature and the spirit of evil. But with Rollers, it becomes fairly complicated.
The themes of desire and authority
Silver Wraith featured in 'From Russia With Love' (1963).
The first instance when a Roller makes an appearance in the Bond franchise is in From Russia With Love. The car is owned by Kerim Bay (Pedro Armendáriz) who instructs the driver to take Bond (Sean Connery) to his office.
A theme that can be observed is that the majestic car represents the fact that Bond never travels inadequately. First impressions count and Kerim delivers this by using the Roller as a means of first class service. The energy is similar to preparing your mansion for a presidential visit. The car represents importance and most importantly, a desire to be seen as someone of great authority.
The famous Phantom III from Goldfinger (1964)
Talking of the desire to be seen as someone representing authority, this is made clear after a game of golf in Goldfinger.
After Bond (Sean Connery) wins, he compliments Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) for his Phantom being 'a beauty'. In the shots from the film, it is represented as this magnificent sea of luxury and opulence that few people could have access to. The low angle shots of it being loaded onto the aircraft exemplify this opulent beastliness.
This is an example of a Rolls being used as a villain's mode of transport; so aggressively, that you couldn't imagine Mr Goldfinger being chauffeured in anything less majestic.
A Silver Shadow Drophead from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
This theme of authority is displayed in a slightly calmer fashion in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, whereby Bond is driven to Draco's (Gabriele Ferzetti) office by a set of his assistants. Interestingly though, the car is not only used for villainous intentions, but also a peaceful lift where Bond (George Lazenby) and Tracy (Diana Rigg) are seen looking into each other's eyes as the blue Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Drophead cruises through London.
In this instance, the Roller represents both peace and authority, and it's certainly hard to imagine the characters in anything else. Especially in Drophead form, the car captures both atmospheres perfectly.
The antagonists' dream
'The green Rolls' from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
When it generally comes to Rollers being used by the antagonists in the Bond franchise, they play a slightly complicated part in terms of character connotations. As discussed in the last publication, the go-to cars for the bad guys were products from Mercedes, as they could be connotated with brutal dictators and had a menacing presence that no other car could really match.
With a Rolls, the usual connotations outside the world of film include royalty, lordship and high class, but at the same time, a more peaceful aura than a big Mercedes.
But what can be observed is that some villains exploit the class differences between the two brands and reserve the Rolls for the figurehead. Take Goldfinger for instance: the henchmen use the Ponton Mercs, but Mr Goldfinger prefers to use the bigger, more majestic Rolls Royce Phantom III.
Phantom II from Octopussy (1983)
In Octopussy, this is evident again because despite the film continuously using various Mercs ranging from a W116 S-Class to the 600 Pullman, it is clear that Kamal Khan's (Louis Jourdan) preferred wagon is based at his home in India in the form of a vintage Rolls Royce Phantom II.
The big Roller not only represents Khan's massively opulent taste, but it is also a nod to the immense popularity of the brand to the Indian Maharajas. They ordered hundreds of Silver Ghosts and Phantoms in the early 20th century because of their majestic nature and faultless dependability.
When representing the antagonists, they are a symbol of power and this draws parallels authoritative nature of the characters who own them.
Silver Shadow II from The World Is Not Enough (1999)
To put it into basic English, you are doing well if you have a Mercedes, but you're on top of the game if you have a Rolls Royce. For over a century, Rolls has always been a more desirable brand that emphasises being the 'best'.
The producers at Pinewood realised the significance of the brand and used this to signify that the villains never wanted to be seen as the 'second best'.
But at this point, you might be thinking: but Bond is also seen in a lot of Rollers? And this is where two worlds collide.
Demonstrating the strength of the protagonists
A Silver Cloud from A View To a Kill (1985)
Following the theme that the villains utilised Rollers to demonstrate their seriousness, Bond and whichever associates also tended to use Rollers for exactly the same purpose.
Take the Silver Cloud from A View To a Kill for instance: Bond (Roger Moore) and Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) arrived to the classy French hotel owned by Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) in that car to demonstrate that they were a powerful duo who would take a hard stance on things.
It was a move, whereby Zorin would find it hard to judge his guests based off class and taste. Because it would naturally be difficult to insult someone who showed up to your hotel being driven in a gorgeous example of a Silver Cloud.
That was until... it was shoved into a lake.
This aggressive use of the Rollers is seen throughout the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton era films. Often when arriving in a different country on appointment, Bond would get driven in a Roller to show that the individual was serious about his business.
The car most often used is the Silver Shadow which at the time, was one of the top-end cars you could get. It exemplified class, authority and above all, seriousness no matter where the occupant was driven to.
Silver Shadow II from Moonraker (1979)
Another aspect of the protagonists using the Rollers could also be cultural. It must be understood that many people perceived the Rolls Royce brand as the best of British from not only a motoring point of view, but of British industry itself.
The Aston Martins are used by Bond as an individual and those are one arm of what people perceive to be great British products. But Rollers are deemed to be better, if not the best, and at whatever opportunity, a Rolls would always be utilised by MI6 to display the best that Britain can make in the automotive sector.
Silver Shadow II from Licence To Kill (1989)
MI6 are ultimately representing Britain in the intelligence world and Rollers are used in countries across the globe to represent how serious Britain is in preventing a world catastrophe.
Bond's character can also draw parallels to this theme of seriousness; notice that each and every time he rides in the back of a Roller, he is a stern and impeccably serious gentleman who will only accept the best hotels and service during his stay. He aims to make no fool of himself to either his guests who ride with him or whoever he is on appointment to meet.
Silver Shadow I from For Your Eyes Only (1981).
However, after Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane) reverses his Silver Shadow II into his own batch of water, there was a noticeable break from the use of Rollers for a while in the Bond franchise. As mentioned in the previous article, a switch was made to Jaguars and Land Rovers.
Come the release of Spectre (2015) however, and a very interesting guest makes an appearance.
The 1948 Silver Wraith in Spectre
As Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeline (Lea Seydoux) are waiting for their ride to Blofeld's lair, Bond identifies a 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith approaching them. It pulls up and takes them across the desert to a modern-looking facility where Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is waiting.
But aside the over-done explosions and gun fights, the Rolls is such an interesting use of a car. Because it is a symbol of British engineering and heritage, was it supposed to make Bond feel more comfortable on his trip to Blofeld? Because at the lair, a pair of Mercedes G-Wagons were parked up and they would've undoubtedly been more practical for taxiing purposes.
Or perhaps it was supposed to make Bond feel uncomfortable? By using an old Rolls that represented his own country, it could've been an intimidating message from Blofeld that Britain and MI6 was deemed outdated and incapable of his cutting-edge, mastermind antics.
Whatever the real reason was, it was such a clever use of a car to convey the attitudes of the characters and ultimately the plot of the film.
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