When Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli snapped up the rights to Ian Fleming’s Dr No, he searched far and wide for an actor to play the lead role.
James Bond, 007. Smart, athletic, with a 70-a-day smoking habit and a bad attitude to women. Still, Bond was a man who got things done, a cold-hearted killer who buried emotion, along with the hope of a normal life, deep inside the far reaches of his unconventional mind.
Fleming admitted that he wasn’t happy about the selection of Sean Connery in the role; he thought he was too uncouth. Still, it wasn’t his choice. Cubby famously watched from his office window as Connery left their first meeting, commenting on how the Scotsman stalked through the parking lot like a panther. He signed him shortly after.
When Fleming wrote Casino Royale, he was getting ready to settle down. With a wedding on the horizon, he set about writing the ultimate spy novel. He didn’t succeed. Casino Royale sets the scene for future Bond novels admirably but in its own right, it simply ain’t that hot. Still, despite being a little muddled compared to the novels that follow, with the absence of fantasy and fluff, Casino Royale remains the clearest picture of Bond – the man, Fleming ever scribbled.
So who is Fleming’s Bond?
Casino Royale gives us a man in self-imposed isolation. He lives by the simplest needs on one hand and the most grandiose on the other. The basic ego-driven, essentially male traits are readily on display in Casino Royale. He likes to win and let’s face it, in Bond’s line of work, losing often means death. Bearing that in mind, winning often means killing and though it’s not something 007 will shy away from, Fleming intricately plants a seed of doubt as to whether it’s something Bond actually enjoys. Or rather just does as a means of survival and then consciously cuts himself off from.
Bond lives his lifestyle to excess. The cigarettes, the caviar, the unquenchable sexual appetite and the huge expense account. He is a connoisseur of fine food, fine wine and exceptionally fine women.
The opinion of which actor portrays him closest to Fleming’s vision, is just that - opinion. Connery is the untamed jungle cat, never quite comfortable trussed up in a tux. Roger Moore is the dandy; the gentleman, always ready with a quip but his portrayal, though colourful, is perhaps a little too flabby. Out of all the actors to portray Bond on the big screen, Timothy Dalton is the man most linked by Bondian scholars to the figure Fleming painted. His brutal, detached Bond smashed through obstacles like a bulldozer.
Pierce Brosnan is perhaps closest in appearance to the Bond of the books’ tall and suave, yet capable of delivering the killer blow. The climax of the fight scene in Carver’s satellite TV control room in Tomorrow Never Dies, where Bond slaps an ashtray against his palm to ensure the object is suitable to smash over his victim’s skull, is pure, unadulterated Bond. Brosnan just didn’t get the material to be measured against Connery, or Dalton for that matter.
The hugely underrated License To Kill has been unfairly maligned for blatantly ignoring the Bond film tradition. At the time, associate producer Barbara Broccoli was determined to take the Dalton era a step further, away from the flash-bang of Moonraker and the clumsy nudge-nudge wink-wink of A View To A Kill. She succeeded and the film was slated for it.
So, here we are. 17 years later, as producer, Broccoli is at it again. Similar to Dalton’s last turn in the Aston, there is no megalomaniac perched in a mountain-top hideaway surrounded by ninjas. No submarine-Lotus or CGI surfing. Yet, it seems this time, the critics are firmly behind her.
But what of her Bond? Daniel Craig? He’s hardly the typical, tailored English gent, is he? In fact, Fleming would probably think him uncouth…