I know, I know. EVERYONE has a favourite 007.
We all spout theories on which actor is the ‘best James Bond’. Fact is, none gave a perfect performance. And the ones you THINK are the ‘Fleming’ Bond..are in fact, not.
Brace yourselves, readers!..I will get controversial here, naturally 😉
Why has the James Bond series endured, on film? The character himself has little if anything to do with the success, either on page or screen.
He’s Bulldog Drummond via Simon Templar who happens to capture a zeitgeist, better. Yes, the man has style (itself nabbed from the author, Ian Fleming) but even that only goes so far.
The plots are clever variations on adolescent public schoolboy fantasy via fairy tale twist and nods to whichever geopolitical big bad wolf stalked the world at a given point. Baddies are ghastly caricatures and the women impossibly alluring though by no means at odds with a feminist notion of strong and independent sisterhood.
It’s a lifestyle product rather than super-hero adventure or character study in complexity. James Bond is somewhere in between those worlds, thereby crafting his own universe, propped by distinctive visuals, music, action and charisma that drove the cinematic iteration.
But if you MUST do the whole actor comparison thing? Fine!
Sean Connery is the biggest star, bar none.
THAT intro in DR NO is cinematic charisma, personified: pure class, confidence and a measure of threatened violence beneath a veneer of civility and seduction. He maintained that through to THUNDERBALL then, imho, kinda gave up.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is an insult to the character, the series and indeed, ironically, an act of self sabotage rather than advancement. Sean is settling a score with the Broccolis and continued on that road with Never Say Never Again.
If you really want to see his ‘older’ Bond, watch THE ROCK (1996), where he is 007 in all but name and even the backstory sort of matches up, chronologically, give or take a few years.
Connery IS JAMES BOND. He’s just not the ‘Fleming’ character.
George Lazenby is the best hand to hand combatant.
This is not a man you would want to fight. He’s also very convincing as a playboy who enjoys golf, a good ski, cocktail and general awareness of the world around him.
This is a gentleman, a renaissance man, an everyman. A MAN. Seriously, even today? George has a look that just says ‘do not mess with me and do not bullshit in my company’. Mr Machismo! Typical Australian!
I remember as much when, at a signing for Bond fans circa 2002 (the ticket was a gift ok..honestly am not a nerd ;)), Maud Adams and Lois Chiles remarked that I looked like a ‘young Pierce Brosnan’. George looked at them, then at me, and shrugged. I loved that moment. And I have enjoyed social media exchanges with him, subsequently.
Point is: was he a readied actoooor for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE? No, not quite. Too much Prince Charles via Alan Partridge in his delivery (he is Alan’s fave 007: fact!).
But it was a promising debut and but for studio politics, a pup decision to leave and the need for a hasty Connery return, I think Lazenby would, could and should have matured into ‘Fleming’s Bond’.
Timothy Dalton was and is the TRUE heir to Laurence Olivier, whether he likes it or not.
So many inferior pretenders sought and somehow adopted that mantle when Tim was there, all along, shunning his own theatrical destiny. The drawback to his thespian talent is that it comes across best on stage. I had the privilege of seeing him perform A TOUCH OF THE POET in 1988 and we met, afterwards.
A thorough gentleman, Dalton patiently answered my precocious line of questions, all the while rocking a fisherman’s sweater. He did copious research into Fleming when preparing both THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and LICENCE TO KILL.
That is why, to some extent, those entries exist not only as solid Bond adventures but also just as engrossing thrillers on their own merit. His battle with Robert Davi’s Sanchez is a work of genius and both of Timothy’s outings are the best work from Director John Glen.
I hosted Mr Glen and his lovely wife, Janine, at a dinner once in New College, Oxford. They treated me to many a behind the scenes anecdote and especially from the 1987/89 efforts: the finest in John’s 5 Bond movie record canon. The action choreography has never been topped in any subsequent 007 outing.
But even Timothy Dalton at his very best, in action, is still not quite ‘Fleming’s’ 007, imho.
I must confess, it’s still my personal favourite iteration to watch, possibly due to admiration for Dalton. It’s just that, objectively, his manner is that of a stage actor, onscreen. One too many nervous laughs, vengeful looks and studied movements. He conveys a core of raw, unfettered emotion.
Bond of course showed that in moments of the books. But that’s just it: MOMENTS. Would 007 have avenged his mates and sabotaged drug lords? Sure. IF it fitted mission boundaries. Yes, he had the occasional near breakdown in the novels but the recovery is just as swift and clinical. Because Bond values his career above all else. Dalton’s take does not ‘get’ that. And his dress sense is far too casual, too. Nevertheless, I restate. Timothy = my favourite Bond. A good 007. Just not quite as Fleming-esque as made out by consensus.
I have been known to do a solid impression of the man’s very distinctive voice on occasion. I especially love mimicking his ‘NO. We leave FIRST THING in the morning’ line (if a date is losing interest or turns out to be a SPECTRE agent /Russian spy, naturally..as they frequently do with me..yep.. ;))
DANIEL CRAIG is the best actor to take the role, to date.
You ‘buy’ the idea that this man has seen action in wartime. His world weary charm is there, onscreen. Weathered masculinity, honed and refined by public school poise married to slight identity crisis chip on shoulder wannabe working class pretension.
Perfect approximation of what Fleming tried to merge on the page. Except we never really get a sense that this guy has any FUN? He’s just too busy asking questions and contemplating the philosophical side of his role in the world. Yawn.
Sure, the guy wears a toight fitting Tom Ford suit to show off his bulges. Great. Except we never see him ask for a new suit or get tailored. Yes, he sports a white tux and knows the recipe for a Martini. But that’s literal window dressing, if the character is never shown experimenting in styles and flavours in his downtime between missions.
That said? We are certainly getting damn close, now. There is a sense that the Daniel Craig Bond personifies the written word in his manner, delivery of dialogue and worldview on occasion.
And I suspect we may see more literal extensions of that in NO TIME TO DIE, wherein 007 will be seen boating and doing up a Jamaican retreat. THAT is Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Finally.
But Dan’ was beaten to the mantle, just, by..and here is the surprise..
ROGER MOORE and PIERCE BROSNAN:
IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND(s)
Yes, their Bonds are saddled with some of the campest, silliest scenes. Hovercraft Gondola. Kitesurfing Tsunamis. Yes, they verge on the flippant thereby undermining the sense of tension and pointing the audience towards the absurdities of the piece.
But there are no attempts at 2 and a half hour self indulgent marathons of moral meditation on relevance. They do the profound stuff in the briefest of ‘look’ or pause (Rog at Tracey’s grave; Pierce in a hotel room, prepping his silencer while sipping shots etc: pure Fleming!).
They make it very clear, explicitly so, that Bond can be ruthless and cold as an assassin IF he must. But he takes no pleasure in doing so unless it’s to slay the demonic dragons of terror. Pierce and Roger as 007 ARE ‘Cool Britannia’, personified: handsome, civilised, polished, leading men; relishing the role.
These Bonds give us boys’ own adventure fun, with occasional dips into the darker textures from which the fantasy emerged. Via distinct aesthetics and a confident, capable, assured style.
These are the kind of David Niven/Cary Grant/James Mason templates that Fleming had in mind for Bond onscreen. And no, I do not count Niven as a canonical 007 as his Casino Royale from the 60s is a spoof: sorry!
IE: Viewers get the perfect fusion of book to film. Brozza and Rog’ were carrying the series’ strengths. Thereby honouring, whilst curtailing Fleming’s limitations without ever truly abandoning the essence of the character and his lore.
James Bond is a man out of time and of his time, at once. The printed page has him effectively replaying WW2 on a Cold War stage. And in like manner, Roger and Pierce play against old school threats, exaggerated to fit what were then and to an extent are still, global concerns.
Drugs, energy crises, population control, renegade Russians, exploited India: Rog’ faced all of those and still managed to help us escape into a fantasy.
International crime, media as power block, race for oil reserves and rogue North Korea: all addressed in Pierce’s movies.
And each onscreen battle, again, stands alone as glossily vicarious lifestyle advert.
Pierce and Roger are very polished, very gentle-men. They show deference toward authority (occasional exceptions, aside) and an healthy respect for women, save occasional laddish misfire.
At the same time, there is a genuine relish around beauty. And though both portray 007 as more libidinous than necessary, there is no malice or nastiness to it.
Pierce’s Bond is tender, warm and loving, even humorous in bed with Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya in GOLDENEYE. And it’s genuinely moving when Roger cooks a quiche for Stacey (Tanya Roberts: beautiful, RIP) in A VIEW TO A KILL.
Do they get it wrong, sometimes? Sure. Course they do! Pierce’s scenes with Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH are cringe-worthy in places when he tries to ‘do’ tough.
Ditto, Roger when playing Bond’s darker sides. These are good actors, btw, if you look at their other work. They just chose to keep their 007 as accessible as possible.
And fact is, they do play those more complex scenes, nonetheless. These men ‘get’ how to portray vulnerability without weakening the character and both age rather gracefully from film to film.
However flawed their final outings in the role, A VIEW TO A KILL and DIE ANOTHER DAY could be credibly viewed as retirement pieces, for tenure and star.
They have their own style; neither is a slave to fashion and indeed, their wardrobe is as distinctive as any in the series.
Pierce’s Brioni suits are like a corporate armour of the 1990s: he is the Tony Blair 007!
Roger gets a lot of stick for safari gear but at least it is ‘his’, same way Bond in the books favours ill advised short sleeved shirt, woollen tie and sandals.
You buy into these iterations as ethical hedonists, living life to the very fullest because today could be their last on earth.
Yes, there is some huffing and puffing in the action scenes. But YOU try say, I dunno, #parkrun when it resumes and you too will breathe heavily on reaching a personal best. Trust me 😉
Even off the running track, my voice sometimes slips into a Pierce impression, as we both have that English/Irish via transatlantic twang syndrome..plus I copied him a lot..in the mirror..to master the manner. I know. Terrible.
I think I may well have sat the Oxford interview with a dash of Pierce in my vocal stylings. Passed between several Colleges, I had the radio on in my downtime.
Brosnan was promoting a Bond film at the time: ‘good script, good story, nice girls, Omega watches’..
Oxford Interviewer: So James, why Oxford?
Me: Nice College. Good subject. Lovely buildings. Nice Girls. Omega watches..
(ok not quite but..). I maintained the habit, subconsciously, until caught out by a very Fleming worthy lady frien-emy.
‘James, why are you ordering your food in a Pierce Brosnan voice?’. Wonderful girl. At least she never spotted my Roger Moore arched eyebrow. I digress..
..Back to it..THESE ACTORS ARE FINE IN THE ACTION SCENES!!
Moore is adept as horseman and convinces as a ski expert / diver. Pierce’s films depict a very athletic, speedy field agent. They hurt, bruise and still look immaculate, afterwards.
See Rog’ in the space simulator for MOONRAKER or Pierce after his torture scenes in DIE ANOTHER DAY. Witness THAT fight with Sean Bean in GOLDENEYE or the shark attack / mountain climb in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Take yer pick!
Sure, both Roger and Pierce flirted with abandoning the 007 association. Brosnan was fairly public, even petulant, in his criticisms of the Broccoli regime after his initial departure. Moore never avoided the chore of providing some harsh criticism of successor films where he felt appropriate.
Yet they bounced back and became firm humanitarians whilst evangelising the 007 brand with joy.
‘More men have walked on the moon than played James Bond’, remarked Brosnan, noting the privilege bestowed on those who land the part. A man at peace with his life, work and legacy.
That sense of evolution, adaptation and survival against the odds, backed by a suave assurance and competent work ethic IS the essence of Fleming’s James Bond. Roger and Pierce were born to play the role.
FEEL FREE TO DISAGREE, NICELY. JAMES MURPHY WILL RETURN. HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!