“Manners Maketh Man.” The proverb first appears in William Horman’s Vulgaria in 1519, but has found its contemporary articulation in Matthew Vaughn’s 2014 pulp-action spy romp: Kingsman: The Secret Service. And this fall’s sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, takes manners beyond pressed pin-striped suites and polite conversational etiquette. Manners means no more ‘Bond Girls.’
For decades, James Bond has been an archetype of refined, sophisticated masculinity. The well-dressed, articulate, and charismatic MI6 agent has dined with the highest of society, and by most estimations is a man of manners. He is also notorious for his long list of one night seductions and “love” interests (the so-called Bond Girls) that never see a sequel. Bond has showed several generations of movie-goers that assertive, charismatic, and polite men can not only be rampant misogynists, but that this misogyny is integral to the image of unattached, stoic, ass-kicking masculinity. The writers of Casino Royale (2006) attempted to root such promiscuity and disregard for relationships in 007’s personal history by tragically killing off his first true love. Yet even this gritty iteration that dives into the character’s near pathological behavior maintains the ‘Bond Girl’ trope.
Kingsman has been praised for being a spy movie that has dropped the gritty realism of the more recent Bond, and has embraced the snazzy gadgets and over-the-top villains in the long tradition of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. It was no surprise that Kingsman: The Secret Service ended with Eggsy carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses to have victory “I just saved the world” sex with an undeveloped Swedish princess. In fact, it appears as a legitimate homage to nearly every final scene in the 007 franchise. Save the world. Say something pithy. Sleep with a near nameless face we won’t ever see again.
Only we do see Princess Tilde again. We see her and Eggsy living together, celebrating a birthday with Eggsy’s neighborhood friends, and anticipating his introduction to her royal parents. Not only that, their relationship is a constant theme throughout the film, and offers a sincere critique of the secret agent archetype as we know it. In one sequence, Eggsy must engage with a woman sexually for the sake of the mission (and to save the world!). The uncommitted Bond never had any moral conundrum with this particular spy movie cliche. The tension between mission and relationship is a new tier of complexity in this genre of film. It is a tension that is only present when women in spy movies are no longer ‘Bond Girls,’ but are instead fully realized characters with their own humanity.
Kingsman illustrates that the manners that “Maketh Man” are more than proper decorum and fancy clothes. Rather these manners require relational engagement. Even after his rise to secret agent, Eggsy maintains his friendships from his neighborhood, and they are far from peripheral. When the villain Poppy (played by the delightfully sadistic Julianne Moore) targets all the Kingsman agents and blows up their homes, Eggsy’s friend is murdered while dog sitting for him. While Bond has no ties whatsoever, Eggsy’s relationships are integral to his character arc. Be they romantic, filial, or the parental relationship he has with Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, Eggsy’s communal life is the tangible motivation for his heroism. His relationships ultimately fuel a character with much more depth than 007’s charming smile and witty words could hope to portray.
“Manners Maketh Man” is not a statement regarding what fork to use during a dinner party or how neatly pressed one’s slacks are. On several occasions in The Golden Circle, Eggsy still wears the same baseball cap and jacket he had on when he first met his Kingsman mentor, Harry Hart. The poignant message of Vaughn’s films –and I suggest the poignant critique leveled at Bond films–is that “Manners Maketh Man” is a statement of character and virtue. Manners involve how one values and treats others. They encompass how one cherishes relationships. “Manners Maketh Man” means that others do not exist for exploitation. “Manners Maketh Man” means that the ‘Bond Girl’ at the end of the movie is no longer a Bond girl.