My favourite film aged 12: GoldenEye

The first 12-rated Bond film – and power-thighed assassin Xenia Onatopp in particular – seemed impossibly glamorous if you were just old enough to be admitted to the cinema

Her name’s Onatopp. Xenia Onatopp …

Famke Janssen’s GoldenEye character is a transparently ludicrous fantasy of a sexy, so-called “strong female character”; the definitive bad-ass Bond babe with thighs that can (and do) crush a man to death, and a line in double-entendres to make a drag queen blush. Let’s face it, she practically is a drag queen – that flamboyant makeup, even when dressed in full military garb; the constant outfit changes; the pantomime orgasm every time a powerful weapon shoots its load (and yes, that is the calibre of double entendre we’re dealing with here).

She is the reason Goldeneye was so important to me in 1995. She joined the pantheon of clippings from magazines that adorned my bedroom wall, the shrine to everything I considered attractive, aspirational or both. Between 1995, when Goldeneye came out, and my leaving for university in 2001, the lineup evolved. Blur and PJ and Duncan came down, replaced by pictures from FHM and Maxim, replaced in turn by clippings from Kerrang! of Marilyn Manson, Dexter from the Offspring and Davey Havok from AFI. But Xenia remained a constant, her image bleached by the sun over time until the red lipstick became pink.

In short, to my 12-year-old eyes, Onatopp was the definition of the perfect woman. GoldenEye was the first Bond film I saw at the cinema (the Tower Park leisure centre in Poole, a magical place where a sign used to boast that “a galaxy of entertainment awaits”), which may have had something to do with my infatuation. In one cinema trip, Bond went from something one might half-watch on television on a bank holiday to a transporting slice of silver-screen fantasy.

While the intention of BBFC certificates may be to primly prescribe a minimum viewing age, they also often function as a guide to the ideal age to see the film in question. That’s very much true of GoldenEye, which was the first Bond film to make use of the 12 certificate. While, to fully grown Bond fans, this may have signalled a toning down of the franchise (the previous entry, Licence To Kill, was a 15), to us 12-year-olds it meant something sophisticated and grownup had been created specially for us – like when the drinks industry invented alcopops. And I was only just 12, only just allowed to see something so hard and cool and dangerous, so I was desperately excited while trying hard to pretend it wasn’t a huge deal, like all cool people.

Cool and dangerous … Pierce Brosnan.
Cool and dangerous … Pierce Brosnan. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

And boy, did GoldenEye deliver. From the opening action sequence with Bond diving off the massive Contra dam, to Sharpe from ITV (Sean Bean) getting killed in the line of duty (or was he?), to the first heady thrums of Tina Turner’s still unbeatable Bond number, I was hooked. Even the opening credits were insane: a Hugh Hefner fugue state in which ladies open their mouths and guns come out. Are the guns sexy? Are the ladies sexy? What is going on?! I wasn’t sure, but I was riveted.

I rewatched GoldenEye a few weeks ago, chatting all the while with a group of friends over WhatsApp. It was the first full week of lockdown and we figured it’d be a fun watch. It was, although there was also a fair bit of tedious exposition and some fun but unnecessary padding with Robbie Coltrane and an American guy. In my mind’s GoldenEye, the film is nothing but suspenseful set-pieces and drama, and, of course, that big, man-crushing crush. But isn’t that always the way when you look back at being 12? Nobody remembers the tedious exposition and unnecessary padding; when you look back it’s all suspenseful set-pieces and drama. And of course, the crushes.

• This story was amended on 20 April 2020. The Bond film before GoldenEye was Licence To Kill, not The Living Daylights as an earlier version said. This has been corrected.


Catherine Bray

The GuardianTramp

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