19 April 2021 537 Views

James Bond has lost two of his greatest villains. You just might not know it yet..

by James Murphy

Helen McCrory and Paul Ritter. RIP. 


If you are a regular reader (thanks for staying, btw) then you will know I am particular about casting. Mine are very fixed notions about what works on film /stage. Some have read, with interest, for example, my views on the casting of Indiana Jones 5. Shame some turned nasty and others missed my point entirely! But such is life today especially if one chooses to ‘blog’ either as hobby or income source or bit of both.

My sense of what makes a star is by no means an exact science. That being said, I do understand the trade: having advised, on semi regular yet off record basis to people in the business of movie production, at top level. Your first and even second or third choices might become unavailable. A new vision or contract spin can change things, overnight. Draft scripts get amended. Funding deals fall through. All manner of machination and Machiavellian master plan can come into play or be undone in a narrow time frame.

That is PRECISELY what happened to JAMES BOND. Even he in all his IP strength, cannot always read the trends and trials of the notoriously fickle film industry.

Where am I ‘going’ with this? How might it link to my headline? We lost two outstanding actors in the last few weeks. Both are 007 alumni.

First, Paul Ritter. Second, Helen McCrory. Their sublime gift was to blend into character, such that, while you knew who they were, their performance always served the utility of the story. THAT is what acting is about, whether one is a day rate extra or star power name du jour.

Ritter will be remembered best for Chernobyl and Friday Night Dinner. Helen’s most recent, prominent work is undoubtedly Peaky Blinders. All related properties somewhat lost without them. 007, of course, continues, indefinitely. Indeed, part of James Bond’s DNA is the ability to regenerate every bit as surely as Doctor Who (in which MccRory once guest starred, though sadly nowhere near as prominently as deserved).

If you look back: both Quantum of Solace and Skyfall set up, it appears, Ritter and McCrory as potential Bond villains. Ritter plays Guy Haines: a lobbyist and fixer, seen by our hero at the opera. Blink and you miss him, except you do not miss him because in his split second scene, he conveys real menace, mystery and purpose. An alternative cut of the film has James Bond meet Ritter’s character in the closing scenes and kill him. As to why that scene was excised, one can only speculate.

I think it made sense to retain Ritter for a future encounter. If QUANTUM was simply swallowed up by SPECTRE, that left brokers of power still in the wings and plotting revenge on 007. But for the silly ‘it was me james your foster brother’ twist, I suspect we would therefore have seen Ritter as a member of SPECTRE HQ, alongside Waltz as Blofeld.

McCrory plays a civil servant /politician in Skyfall. Her interrogation of M is one of the catalysts in the film’s signature set-piece as a rehabilitated, rejuvenated Bond runs into the rescue at Whitehall. Once again, Helen’s genius is to make that scene matter whilst giving selflessly to the utility of the story. There is a flawless economy and vigor and rigour at work.

The underlying venom is there in delivery and it would have made logical sense to return the character and the actor as an inside player, working behind the scenes to grab Blofeld more power in the British establishment, having facilitated Silva’s assassination attempt on M. 007 could have seduced her or not; her glamour was in the craft.

My theory has some logical credibility, given McCrory’s husband, Damian Lewis, was frequently speculated to be the next James Bond, even while Daniel Craig held his tenure. Damian would be a great Bond. I met him once and did tell him to do more action. He was in the running to play Gustav Graves in Die Another Day. Probably too close a contemporary of Daniel Craig though to go for the actual Bond role, now?

So perhaps said speculation /betting tips etc came from certain traffic online (given how nefarious hackers and leaks can be) with messages back and forth about his wife’s availability for more Bond films? Just a theory. In any event, the lady was spoken for by Peaky Blinders and there was no way her role in a Bond film could be recast. Nobody did it better!

Had they returned for more 007 movies, Ritter and McCrory would have added vital continuity to the otherwise meandering contrivance of the Daniel Craig era.

Their legacy of work, across media, will live forever. Is it sadder that the deaths came as such shocks? Sure. But consider this. We are all very new to the era of telling all and sharing every stage of a crisis whose end point can go either way. Some still choose to keep their illness secret from us so that they and indeed we can strive to the last, for the greater good, whilst enjoying rather than bemoaning every last glimpse of life.

I cannot begin to summarise Helen’s many great strengths. So I will leave that to her grieving widower, Mr Lewis. It’s a most moving and beautiful read.

John and Helen: we will all remember your great work. Even with a quick fix of James Bond: matter of fact about life and death; making the most of everything and always facing forward. RIP. Condolences to the families. x



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