12 August 2018 3890 Views

Racism a no no. But Ageism alive and well it seems in the Film Commentary Universe? The sickening Double (0) standard at the heart of the Idris Elba as Bond Debate

by James Murphy



Idris Elba is NOT James Bond. At least, not yet. But whyever not? Well, really, idiots, it’s because Daniel Craig IS James Bond. He will be 007 for the next film. He may very well change heart and not leave after that one. Deal with it. He made the part his own, against the odds. And yet..clickbait needs constant speculation as to who might replace him. Enter the always reliable ‘IDRIS IS BOND!’ debate on a slow news day.

Facts? The role of James Bond is NOT open for recasting yet. It wasn’t back in 2016, either and yet every site kept citing at least two wallies as the next 007. In NO way propped up by the actors in question. Honestly 🙂 The only candidate that was at once interesting and distinctive and credible? Idris! He could easily have been installed, quickly, had Daniel Craig decided to call it a day post SPECTRE. They could even have kept the same continuity timeline, given Daniel’s and his similar qualities (tough, professional, charming, no nonsense, 40+).

In any event, Dan stayed on and gets to complete his tenure, though take that with pinch of salt, too, given Bond actors’ propensity for staying beyond the projected run and the fact that we are ALL now ageing differently. If 40 is the new 30, then it follows, surely, that a 50something could carry the Bond role a few more years? It’s also just bad business to go into ANY project with the looming shadow of ‘THIS IS MY LAST ONE’ hanging around: it hurts rather than helps Box Office. If the actor is about to go then why watch this one? Why not wait for the next one? Also invites mawkish send offs that are drawn out and self indulgent (see also Doctor Who and THAT David Tennant departure a decade ago).

What is MOST interesting is the FLOOD of commentary on AGE. So: Daniel Craig MUST leave the Bond role at 51? Why? Where is this divinely ordained rule written? He could do at least one more after that and take it to 53 (when Connery did his last turn in Never Say Never Again; more convincingly, incidentally than his awful phone it in Diamonds are Forever; and 1996’s The Rock was more a Bond performance than EITHER Never Say Never/Diamonds..he was 66 then).


Heck, Craig could go the whole Harrison Ford as Indy and remain Bond, forever. AGE with the character. Invent a premise of his becoming the next M, give the character REAL closure rather than the killing off which – shock -horror – and in NO way copying LOGAN – is apparently one possible conclusion for BOND 25. Nah. We LIKE the novelty of recasting /reinventing Bond. Every ten years or so. It’s what keeps the franchise ALIVE. Or IS it?


Notice MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE-FALLOUT is still doing box office rounds and every critic adores it. Tom Cruise is the leading man and 55 years old. He runs, fights, commands the screen and yes, he is still handsome / vital. But he is playing his age. Cruise is not, contrary to some arguments, trying to be young. He looks his age and acts it but does so with a commanding and compelling curiosity. Yet so many posts bitch about ‘Cruise is now OLDER than JON VOIGHT was in part 1!’ etc. ‘HOW CAN WOMEN FIND HIM ATTRACTIVE?’.

Answer: he is TOM. CRUISE. Biggest movie star in world. Does own stunts. Handsome. Powerful. In great shape. Women aged 25 -90 might find that kinda sexy and it’s ok, provided he is not painting himself as the answer to all their prayers /fantasies. It will be the same when he is 80! Same way JANE FONDA is still sexy at 80, SUSAN SARANDON at 70 and so on.  True, FALLOUT does veer on the Tom as Super-messiah motif that the last two Mission movies steered well clear of (ironic considering Superman himself, Henry Cavill, features in the latest Mission, yet is never allowed to be messianic even when he IS playing Superman). But at no stage is it a case of having entire rooms of younger women swooning and sighing as Tom walks by and neither does the film balk at acknowledging the passage of time. In fact, its (limited, save the car/bike chase) charm is in actively embracing the years.

See also, once again: Harrison Ford, circa AIR FORCE ONE (1997; Ford was..55). But there is no fighting the ageist tide, despite the fact that we are ALL living longer and Cruise a shining example. He should be venerated for his love of new challenges and indeed trying those spectacular stunts amidst specifically European aesthetics (London /Paris = real stars of his latest adventure; such a shame they spoil one with an arguably homophobic and puerile cottaging joke in a toilet scene.. but anyway..). Homophobia, casual racism..ALL alive and well. But ‘trumped’ (no pun intended) by AGEISM. Back on Topic: All roads lead us back to Idris. How does the ageist agenda impact the debate about the possibly next James Bond? Because people are so full of ‘ a four letter word’ as Bond might say.

If I had a pound for every discussion thread comment, click-bait article heading and actual, published article that led with ‘Idris would be great but he’s too old..it’s not because he’s black’…I would be rich. As in Bond villain rich!

Let’s put our spy hats on and decode So: Racism bad/evil/wrong But ageism ok? And in any event? I don’t believe you. I think some of the commentators citing age are REALLY thinking ‘thank God..if Idris is too OLD then we don’t need to have THAT awkward debate about ‘can we have a Black James Bond?”. You may as well say: I’m not ageist but…oh and some of my mates..have mates who are..OLD!

There will also be those who will go on and say ‘JAMES BOND WAS WRITTEN BY IAN FLEMING AS SCOTS /SWISS! AT NO STAGE IS HE BLACK OR THE WRONG SIDE OF 45! I’M NOT RACIST OR AGEIST BUT IAN FLEMING’S BOND IS NOT GONNA BE IDRIS‘. Hmm..well, let’s get something straight about Fleming. Sure, he was opposed, initially to casting anyone as Bond that was not a David Niven type.  But he changed his mind on seeing Connery in action and in any event..accepted commercial realities of success. Market forces etc.

Besides which? FLEMING DID NOT EVEN LIKE JAMES BOND! HE HATED HIS OWN CREATION! WANTED TO KILL HIM OFF AND HUMILIATE HIM! Even toyed with giving 007 a penchant for necrophilia. But let’s not dwell on that slightly adolescent side to Fleming, with which, incidentally, many authors capable of great refinement are sometimes cursed in their work. Roald Dahl, Colin Dexter..they all craft great pulp heroes and stories and with class to match. They still insisted on spoiling that with an occasional walk into the nastier elements of sexuality or prurient schoolboy descriptions of what their generation, post war, thought of as the human condition.

And another vital thing that ‘bonded’ those writers and many of their contemporaries? An absolute belief in breaking boundaries of any sort, busting taboos and thereby defining freedom such that it was never taken for granted; all whilst preserving veneers of class and civility. Truly balanced freedom and an art we have sadly all but lost today. A natural reaction to the evils of fascism and totalitarian bullying, with Britain the heart and symbolic soul of heroic defiance.

It is in THAT spirit of provocation, rebellion and creative expression that I suspect Fleming would not only have allowed a ‘black’ Bond but actively embraced and indeed, even campaigned for the notion, provided the essential class /competence/masculinity and professionalism of 007 remained intact. Contrary to some beliefs, the Bond novels are NOT racist anymore than they are sexist. LIVE AND LET DIE certainly veers close towards what many would see as pure racism in its language. And yet one should note also that Fleming, and indeed Bond, express hatred not so much for the villains’ race as their ties to Russian SMERSH operations and violent gangster-ism (they feed Bond’s trusted colleague, Felix Leiter to sharks yet allow him to survive the attack: ‘he disagreed with something that ate him’). Felix is now, incidentally, played by Jeffrey Wright, onscreen and he is..yep..black.


What Fleming would NOT want? A wally James Bond. Some effete twit with sense of entitlement, championed by the very hypocritical classes who claim they want change and equality, whilst sitting in chat rooms and actively shouting for maintenance of the old order. In a way though, Idris IS old school, just as much as he is of a more modern world. He is THE remnant of forgotten masculinity, grace and refinement. That unique ability to be both gentleman and bruiser; as at home in a cocktail party as in a local pub and able to outsmart white collar villainy whilst holding one’s own in a deadly brawl against faceless criminals. All wrapped up in a well spoken, cut glass yet natural sounding RADA like vocal pattern; soft yet strong and authoritative.

One BELIEVES Idris could have been an Etonian /Royal Navy veteran, whilst being credibly capable of infiltrating lower order terror networks /criminal cabals. And throwing in the occasional quip with one liners softening the brutality and signposting the inevitable romantic seduction of Bond’s counterpart women. Class meets credibility: a versatility /adaptability they looked for in spies during the ww2 /cold war eras, whereby one’s charm and attractiveness were weapons in a social arsenal.

The theatrical /cinematic counterpart craft = the KIND of star power one needs to play James Bond.

Call the quality ‘it’. Sean Connery had it; that panther like walk and purr of competence.  George Lazenby had it: watch him punch! Roger Moore mastered it and alternated comedic /romantic with colder dimensions of professionalism, depending on which of his 7 film run you watch. Timothy Dalton at once eschewed awkwardly and thereby embodied it. Pierce Brosnan is a walking advert for self assurance and poised, polished professionalism. Daniel Craig just has IT.

And you know what? So does Elba, Idris Elba. But few other rivals for the role seem to (James Norton an exception that proves the rule: see him in Grantchester where it’s all tea and vicars then switch to Happy Valley where he is a force of nature in violence..then War and Peace where he has an aristocratic charm). Idris has an edge, though and box office clout to match and is better than many because of his age, rather than despite it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sure, Idris WOULD be an ‘older’ Bond. And yes, multi picture action franchise deals TEND to be for stars in their 30s. Makes sense; logically and commercially. Allows for a long tenure and some occasional breaks, whilst ensuring physical fitness and appeal to multiple demographics. But what if, post Craig, the idea is to move AWAY from that trend? Timothy Dalton himself foresaw that, years ago. ‘why have one actor play it for years? make it like theatre; have a different Bond every other film and a new version / take /period/style‘ . That may sound radical although it is now a sound business model in an Amazon /Netflix world.

What IF, post Daniel Craig, whenever that might be, we do NOT simply crown ONE new actor to play James Bond indefinitely? But instead, a kind of rolling, revolving door style arrangement; with each film akin to a DC ‘else-world’ project that can either become its own series on streaming platforms, or exist as a one off experiment?  It is not beyond the bounds of possibility. And in THAT context, Idris Elba as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 is not only possible..but probable..indeed, NECESSARY, INEVITABLE?! A one or two off with Idris as a late era, pre retirement /promotion 007? Absolutely! No excuses. 



JAMES MURPHY WILL RETURN. He is NOT too old to start playing 007. Just saying..





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