When we think of James Bond, we either find ourselves arguing with others over who should rightfully take the role for future movies or picture the macho portrayal of the iconic character by Daniel Craig. The most recent Bond actor in the long canon, Craig has worn the spy’s shoes for the most recent movies, namely Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die, which is to be released at the end of September.
However, before Craig took on the iconic mantle of the rugged MI6 agent, there were many other actors who depicted the character, all of whom added unique little quirks to make their iteration a little different from their predecessors.
When fans think of ‘retro Bond’, their thoughts immediately drift to the likes of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, who were two of the first actors to portray the smooth-talking secret agent. However, there have been many actors who have played the role incredibly well.
Probably the most unknown of all the names who portrayed Bond is David Niven, who took on the role for the 1967 film Casino Royale, the first Bond film to be a non-Eon production, as well as being a spy parody. Niven had been chosen by Ian Fleming directly, believing the man to be an exact likeness of his beloved character. Niven’s characterization was that of an elderly, retired Bond – completely differing from the daring action man that Connery portrayed before him.
Although the film was a box-office success, critics panned the storyline for being too convoluted, so Niven’s Bond wasn’t thrust into the limelight like many of his successors. In contrast, the rebooted Casino Royale of 2006, featuring Craig, went on to be regarded as one of the best-loved Bond films in the series.
The film was set in the luxurious decadence of a Montenegro casino, where the protagonist takes part in a traditional-style poker tournament. Smartly clad in a suave suit and adopting a steely poker face, a substantial part of the movie covers the antics at the felt table.
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It’d be slightly lacklustre if Bond’s main face-offs with the antagonist Le Chiffre were conducted over a live poker game over the phone, so for obvious reasons, the movie preserves the tropes of the classic Bond figure in a classically stylish setting.
Known for being the actor who played Bond in one film only, Lazenby portrayed the character in the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Critics thought Lazenby was ill-suited to the role and the reception from fans was generally mixed. Most of the criticism was directed at Lazenby being “dull” in comparison to Connery, however, some people believed Lazenby to be a credible version of the character.
Interestingly enough, Lazenby brought an emotional gravitas to his version of the character, allowing Bond to fall in love and be a little more vulnerable – especially during the climax of the film when his bride, Tracy Vicenzo, is murdered during their wedding day.
Timothy Dalton portrayed the famous character in The Living Daylights and License to Kill. Much like Craig’s eventual Bond, Dalton’s portrayal was less of a womanizing character and more of a fighter – emotional, serious, and ruthless – with many believing his incarnation to be a little too dark, ironic given how similar his portrayal was compared with Craig’s.
Given that Dalton’s portrayal of the character was the most like the actual character of Bond written by Fleming, it’s a shame that his contract expired before a third film was made for him, which could have been the break needed for him to be as remembered as Connery and Moore.
With Craig retiring from the Bond mantle this year, it’s interesting to think about who will take on this amazing role from now on. Will we have underdogs taking the lead part, or will it be another familiar British actor? Only time will tell.