Miss Moneypenny is a strange but welcome character in the Bond films. She isn’t offering any story device at all. She doesn’t give Bond the missions and spell out the exposition like M or give Bond the gadgets and welcome comic relief like Q. Moneypenny seems to be added sexual tension or a “woman-at-home” to care for the character. She doesn’t feel necessary but when she isn’t part of the films, she is missed.
Moneypenny was first, and most consistently, played by Lois Maxwell. In the beginning the relationship between the spy and secretary wasn’t so overtly flirtatious or sexually charged but more about casual, playful advances that Miss Moneypenny politely rejected. The more films, the more risqué the relationship became and the two characters had a great, if somewhat brief, tension filled electricity that offered another layer to Bond’s character.
Miss Moneypenny was someone for Bond to show genuine emotion towards. M was the father/mother of the Bond family, Q the lovable uncle but Moneypenny was almost the loving wife left at home. She was Bond’s ally, she warned him of an angry M, helped him unofficially and offered a gentle voice to help keep him on the straight track.
You don’t truly notice the impact Moneypenny has on the series until her character is changed. Timothy Dalton had the strangest and most forgettable Moneypenny in the series. Caroline Bliss played a Moneypenny who was in a high-tech office space and was more a technical advisor than a secretary for M. She was stand-offish in one scene and then emotionally distraught in another. It was a jarring combination.
Luckily, with Brosnan’s introduction came a very different but familiar version of the character. Samantha Bond was a much more forthright and flirtatious Moneypenny. She gave as good as she got, offering all manner of double entendres and innuendoes to match Bond’s (including one of the most graphic to end the briefing in Tomorrow Never Dies).
The best aspect of the character is the fact that they come close to giving in to the relationship without ever actually doing it. The satisfaction is in the idea that they will never really be together but it would be nice to imagine that when Bond does eventually retire, he will do so with Moneypenny by his side. Samantha Bond’s version of the character had the spirit of Lois Maxwell’s version and both echoed this idea.
As with many of Bond’s staple tropes, Moneypenny went the way of Q, Vodka Martini and the catchphrases when Daniel Craig took the role. Skyfall reintroduced the character in a teased, quite original and satisfying manner. Naomie Harris’ Eve Moneypenny is not the secretary but instead a past field agent and someone who is willing to get her hands dirty. She has gotten closer to Bond than any of the past incarnations (that VR scene in Die Another Day doesn’t, ever, count) and even done what other Moneypenny’s probably wish they could by shooting the super-spy. Whether Harris’ version will be as popular and effective as the more traditional versions of Moneypenny will be seen with Spectre.
Overall, Moneypenny doesn’t have the same necessity for the movies as M or Q but is sorely missed when she doesn’t appear. She is Bond’s constant, his “one that got away” and the ally he can rely on above many others. Their relationship is one that offers little screen time but is often more interesting than with the traditional Bond Girl. Harris’ version is different to what Maxwell and Bond have established and it’s probably too soon to see whether a kick-ass Moneypenny actually works.