As the new James Bond novel approaches, we probe the many faces of a disputed, immortal character.
Last year saw the release of the smash-hit Skyfall, the twenty-third film of the James Bond franchise and the third starring actor Daniel Craig. It became not only the second-highest grossing film of 2012, but the highest grossing British film of all time, outstripping the other 22 entries that propelled the likes of Sir Sean Connery to global stardom. So, has the Bond formula finally been perfected? According to those involved, it seems not...
This month, the latest Bond novel, Solo, will be released, penned by multi-award winning English novelist William Boyd. Boyd has enjoyed a long career in the literary world and has recently branched out into espionage fiction with novels such as Restless and Waiting for Sunrise. His and Craig’s interpretation of the character, could not be more different, and audiences seem to be equally divided.
Follow-up Quantum of Solace had limited success, dogged by over-direction that left a strangely simple plot line almost impossible to follow. Was disaster set to strike? Had all of 2006’s efforts been wasted? We waited and waited for Bond 23, and along came Skyfall to save the day. The film raked in $1.1 billion dollars and was almost as lauded as its predecessor. How did it achieve this? By bringing back everything that Casino Royale had carefully removed and turning it into a Roger Moore flick. This is an odd habit of EON Productions – Connery himself walked out of the Bond series several times for this reason, stating that Bond had quickly become a parody.
Yes, reviews are essentially opinion pieces and yes, taste is subjective. But this film was a let-down.
So how does Craig, the man we thought saved Bond, see the character? Some of us were taken aback to find out. According to several interviews from August of this year, Craig wants to see the “ironic humour” for which the old Bond films are known make a comeback. He enjoyed the lighter touches in Skyfall and is particularly fond of the scene where, having landed painfully on the roof of a moving train, he stops, Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye-style, to straighten his cuffs. Dammit. Maybe it will be a disaster, after all.
Boyd happens to agree. He has described the on-screen Bond as a “cartoon character” and publicly vowed not to see Skyfall as a result. He sees Bond as a “boozer” and a miserable type with real psychological problems and a nasty, murky workload to deal with. This is precisely how Ian Fleming’s Bond was originally portrayed on the page and Boyd knows that, hence Bond’s return, in the new novel, to the smoky 1960s.
Halting the laser-wielding, mass-murdering, collar-tweaking and camply-quipping cinema monster for more than one or two films at a time (see Timothy Dalton’s similar attempts to ground the character to its original form in the late 1980s) seems impossible, and those of us who don’t approve are just going to have to deal with it. We still, however, have the books, and those who haven’t read them should give them a try. Bond is an intriguing character with very different flaws – cold and “almost cruel”, as Fleming put it it, a fetishistic chain smoker and astoundingly heavy drinker who lives on painkillers and coffee for the perpetual hangover and plunges the moral dilemmas of killing and chaos.
We will also always have the fact that Fleming, had he lived to see any of the films after Connery’s first few outings, would have agreed with us. In From Russia With Love, the most successful of the Bond novels, beautiful Russian agent Tatiana Romanova remarks: “You look like American film star.” Bond, aghast, replies: “For God’s sake, that’s the worst insult you can pay a man!”
Solo, by William Boyd, will be published on 26th September in the UK (Jonathan Cape) and 8th October in the US (HarperCollins).
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