Kingsman: The Secret Service – Is sexism to be expected? Review

Cinema is my favourite! So I 100% subscribe to the opinion that if you are going to give a movie the attention it deserves, to really be able to judge it by all its merits, then the cinema is the place! Huge screen, complete darkness around you, grab yourself a comfy little corner seat (where the row isn’t big enough for anyone else to fit on) and you’re sorted. No distractions, just a whole other world on screen for you to get lost in for a few hours. I love it!

*Contains Spoilers*

So this week, Kingsman: The Secret Service, was my film of choice. I was looking forward to this because I love to be visually thrilled by the smart cinematic choreography that often comes with an action film. And on this basis, I wasn’t disappointed. Seeing Taron Egerton, as lead character ‘Eggsy’, stylishly street-jump his way past a gang of thugs and then reverse a car for the entirety of a police chase through the streets of London, put a very satisfied smile on my face.

kingsman

This continued as I watched a fabulously slick fight scene that introduced Jack Davenport as ‘Lancelot’, a member of Kingsman, and Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, an associate of the evil mastermind Valentine, played by Samuel L Jackson. This approach was a welcome assault on the senses, which eventually built to a complete indulgence of gore, quick edits, and speed changes, in a scene containing Colin Firth as ‘Galahad’, and a whole load of dead bodies by the end of it (N.B. not the scene from the trailer, this was on a whole different level).

So far so good you might say.

Now, as a woman, I have a certain awareness of, and dissatisfaction with, how poorly my sex are represented on film*. It’s quite apparent from the trailer that Kingsman is a movie that quirkily harkens back to the spy genre of the 60s and 70s, and it certainly, lovingly, takes the gadgets, suits, and ‘Britishness’ that is quintessential to Bond and mashes it with the fast-paced mega edits of the contemporary spy genre. However, the objectification of women is also something synonymous with early Bond so should we also expect to witness the same sexist portrayal in a 21st Century re-hash?

In my opinion, no, we shouldn’t expect to see a sexist portrayal of women without rebuke or counter comment, for the sake of upholding the genre’s ‘traditions’. It’s the equivalent of re-making Disney’s Peter Pan and STILL including the song What Makes the Red Man Red? We wouldn’t want to repeat racism, so why is sexism any different?

So I went along to Kingsman with an assumption that such educated screenwriters as Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman would be fully aware of the dialogue surrounding the objectification of women in Bond and I felt safe in the assumption that they wouldn’t repeat it. Kingsman does try to address the modern need for an empowered woman (indicating that the writers do have awareness of the issue) through the character of Roxy, played by Sophie Cookson, who beats ‘Eggsy’ in securing a position as a spy within the Kingsman. However, her empowerment is constantly undermined, not least by referring to her as a ‘good-girl’ when she helps save the world. *Cringe*

I was willing to roll my eyes and let this slide. That was, until the final few scenes. We have a blonde ‘Scandinavian Princess’ locked inside an underground prison (Yep, that’s the only name we have for her even though she hasn’t just popped up in the film she is actually the fourth ‘main’ woman in it from the beginning, the lack of a name makes her easier to objectify). As Eggsy happens upon her, trapped and helpless, he ‘cheekily’ remarks, “If I let you out will you give me a kiss?”…

Why this is wrong: JUST because you have the power to save an attractive woman’s life, does NOT mean she should then thank you in sexual favours. There should be no ‘IF’ I let you out. You do not say to a woman, I hold the key here but it would seem ungrateful of you if you didn’t then kiss me in return. It just reinforces the assumption that women should be subservient to the needs of men.

I sat in the cinema waiting for some re-buff. Of course they had included this comment to harken back to the 60s, but surely there would be a 00’s take on it which would show we have progressed beyond this, perhaps with the joke ultimately being on Eggsy for asking the question…? But this never came. Instead, the scene was pulled into the 21st Century using a completely different notion – Porn: how we like to objectify women now.  Not only did the Princess indicate that she would love to kiss Eggsy, but she immediately offers him anal sex if he also saves the world!?… We then get a full on POV shot of her naked arse as Eggsy is about to do the deed.

It was just abysmal to watch. After having so much going for it until this point, and so many flaws that I was willing to forgive.

I just don’t understand how educated writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, who surely cannot be ignorant to the problem of the representation of women on film, decided to end a clever, slick, audacious movie, as if it were the start of a bad porno. It was a direct endorsement of the objectification of women, which pulled any smartness the film had right out from under it.

Aside:

*For those of you who are unaware that there are any issues with the representation of women on film, let me share with you The Bechdel Test as a quick overview of the problem. Needless to say, Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t pass this test, but I wasn’t intentionally watching the film with this in mind, as so many films fail it, you can’t really judge one individual film on the basis of The Bechdel Test – it just highlights the problem for the industry as a whole, for any readers who are un-aware.

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10 thoughts on “Kingsman: The Secret Service – Is sexism to be expected? Review

  1. Ahh, you combine feminism and film so well! I really enjoyed reading this 🙂 I don’t really like films like this or Bond anyway so I wouldn’t naturally go to see it and part of the reason for this is that I expect sexism. From your review, I definitely won’t be seeing this! I can’t believe the ending, it sounds so dreadful. I think you’re so on point with the idea that we shouldn’t necessarily hark back to gender stereotypes just because we’re referencing a bygone era, it’s just not necessary. Factual things, yes, like women not being able to vote for example, but not the usual trope of women having no name etc. So annoying!

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    • Hi Suzy! Sorry I’ve only just seen this! Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂 I agree with you, factual yes, racism/sexism for the sake of ‘tradition’ big no!
      You know what got me into feminism, it was A.S. Level media studies, a basic critique of a bond scene and my eyes were opened: the woman as passive, an accessory to the man, something I had never ever noticed before and had just accepted until it was pointed out to me. I think of all the men and women who go along in life thinking there is no problem with the representation of either of our sexes because they have never had it pointed out to them – the only way I had my eyes opened was through education. Even if a film is all about the visuals (the fights, action, gadgets) don’t they still have a duty to be mindful of representation and stop enforcing stereotypes and worse, perpetuating them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m happy that I read this review. You saved me two hours and $30 that I would never get back. I like smart, funny, action-packed movies, but now I also require them not to be offensive. Sexism in film is unfortunately very common, but in these kinds of “boy movies” it’s an epidemic. Vote with your wallet people.

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    • Hi Joshua, thanks very much for your comment! Once you recognise sexism in films it’s very hard to un-see. Glad I could be of some help to your decision!

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  3. I didn’t read the whole article, and while I did agree with everything I did read, I’d just like to point out that the princess wasn’t actually unnamed, she’s called Tilde.

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    • Hi Henry, when I wrote the article I checked via IMBD and she was just down as Princess, which got my goat, now I see they have a name for her on there!

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  4. Yes, humans are very sexual creatures (that’s how species survive). And while there are differences between the sexes, women enjoy/need sex just like men do. Also, in general, women have control over sex (since they can have it anytime they want, and decide whether it happens), you look at a girl wanting anal sex and shame her for being submissive to a male (WTF???). Yes there are differences between the sexes but both have advantages, you equate being sexually submissive to being bad (again WTF, most women are sexually submissive, how does someone’s sexual preference affect you?). Men & women are different, get over it and enjoy what you have! Hopefully no one judges you on your sexual preferences like you do others.

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    • Our species survives by having sex!? I never knew! Women enjoy sex!? I never knew that either!
      I’m sorry, I have clearly failed in my written analysis of this particular film, as you have very much interpreted that I am somehow judging anal sex and women for having it – I am a feminist, why would I judge women for having anal sex?
      I’m talking about female agency within film, which is a huge problem! I was not happy with the character of The Princess who is imprisoned and who is ‘cheekily’ asked for a sexual favour in return for a release – this is sexist.

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  5. Just today I chanced upon the Bechdel test and the seminal comic strip. I immediately stopped to ponder the issue regarding movies I have seen and although my memory for movies is rather bad, I was quite certain that the situation was still more or less what the comic hinted at. So I went a bit down the rabbit hole and landed here.

    This was an interesting read – and it got me back to my experience with the film. Personally, I’m neither a feminist nor a macho – I just consider people based on personality and action, not gender, at least when it’s conscious. However, despite being a guy, I had an experience quite similar to yours at the end. I was fully expecting some reaction from “princess” other than… that. The further the went the more I expected her reaction to be over the top, in line with the rest of the movie… but it never came. I really did not know what to make of that. That she was in that cell precisely for standing up to the villain doesn’t really help…

    I agree with Suzy and you in that portrayals of fact should be true to the bigotry, but as far as artistic license goes, that’s just not cool 😦 Unfortunately, I think we can’t expect Hollywood to improve speedily – such changes are far more likely to happen in independant productions. I’m curious to see if today’s eye-opening will have a lasting effect on me…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comment! I do truly believe that once you are made aware of gender stereotypes within film you just cannot watch a film without noticing it all of the time! I’m glad you took the time to take a look into it and see what all the fuss is about!

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