Now Listen Carefully 007...
So we finally have a new James Bond. What a relief. In what feels to have been the longest casting session since David O. Selznick went looking for his Scarlett O'Hara, there have been so many names bandied about the last couple of years there came a point when you felt no one was ever going to be cast. We had the possible (Clive Oven, who in Closer showed he could very easily play a cold assassin), the absurd (Ewan McGregor, of whom I am a big fan but would have been utterly miscast), the cavalier (Colin Farrell) and the bland (Hugh Jackman). Eric Bana was not handsome enough apparently (which just goes to show I have no idea what it is the opposite sex look for as I personally consider him to have a more open face than Craig's) and strangely Robbie Williams just wasn't what they were looking for, no matter how many heavy hints he kept dropping. In the end it was apparently Barbara Broccoli who tilted it in Daniel Craig's favour, Michael G Wilson still not certain. I think, looking at the press conference yesterday, they made a pretty good choice.
That said, I think Brosnan had one more film left in him and would have liked to see him make up for Die Another Day, but very early on it was clear that was never going to happen. The curse of the last Bond picture has hit him too - technically speaking, of the five actors who have played Bond thus far, only George Lazenbury's last (and, yes, only) appearance in the role has even come close to being an acceptable entry in the franchise (anyone who says Never Say Never Again will be treated to a withering glare).
But let's hope the casting of Bond puts a seal on the PR mishandling of both of the search and the slight negativity that has surrounded preproduction so far. I fully applaud the decision to go back to basics - as a fan of the Fleming books, I had long given up hope of ever seeing a film based around the literary Bond rather than the movie character - and the necessary replacement of writers Wade and Purvis (who get a lot of stick, but I believe did a almost-great job with The World Is Not Enough before spoiling it all) is to be applauded, while it'll be intriguing how new scribe Paul Million Dollar Baby Haggis handles the assignment.
I have a lot of hopes resting on this film. Casino Royale is one of my three favourites of the Fleming novels. It has arguably the best card game set piece in the entire canon in the centrepiece Baccarat confrontation between Bond and the book's villain Le Chiffre (Bond's mission in the book is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, who has been trying to win back squandered funds in the casino), as well as a famously nasty torture sequence that goes on for an uncomfortably long time. Neither of these elements, both absolutely crucial to the book, are particularly in keeping with the franchise's recent instalments, which makes the announcement that the film would take a "back to basics" approach more feasible and even rather encouraging. There is some stuff in the book that we're used to seeing the onscreen Bond handle - there's a car chase after the girl, Vesper Lynd, is kidnapped, and a camera bomb. Perhaps most intriguingly Bond in the book, despite starting out as the most emotionlessly cold character he would ever be in either medium, ends up falling in love with Lynd, and even decides to ask her to marry him, a whole six years and nine books before Tracy di Vicenzo ever entered his life. I wonder how much of that will be put across?
Of course, no matter how much distance the film version tries to put between itself and the overblown excesses of Die Another Day, we can't expect a straight-forward literary adaptation ala From Russia With Love, and frankly we wouldn't want it: the book is fairly short with a slightly clumsy structure (Le Chiffre is dispatched - in a rubbish way - two thirds of the way through, the final portion of the book being devoted to Bond and Lynd) and a pure version on screen would be unsatisfactory. What would be nice, however, is if some of the elements detailed above did make it in more or less intact. Die Another Day played with the idea of torturing Bond but in the end sedated it, hiding the sequence behind obscuring imagery and a terrible song. Wouldn't it be nice to actually put Bond through his paces for once, really? Get the audience really squirming? Make their eyes water. Wouldn't it good to finally have a really repugnant villain rather than the cartoons we've had for so long now. Le Chiffre in the book is described as short and ugly, and has an unpleasant habit of using an inhaler at the card table. Hopefully we can have that: let's make Daniel Craig's first villain a memorable one.
I fear, though, that in the end Broccoli and Wilson and Campbell will play far safer than we might hope. I loathe internet postings about films before they come out decrying why they're going to be rubbish so I'm going to be careful, but certain creative decisions already taken do not bode well. The most crucial of these is the choice of Campbell as director. Campbell did a stunning job in relaunching the franchise in 1994 with the best Bond in nearly twenty years but paradoxically that's the very reason I was disappointed when he was hired again. It's a safe choice (although, given his propensity to turn out the occasional stinker among his otherwise entertaining output, perhaps not that safe) and if this is the reinvention of the franchise it should be shouldn't we have a new director, a younger one who has fresh ideas? It's also unclear whether he can handle the more intimate moments: he's fine for the boy's-own stuff, but can he make us believe Bond can fall in love?
The other is the return of Judi Dench and John Cleese. This is a relaunch, for goodness sake! The start of a new Bond! And not only that, but one with a much younger Bond too, one just starting his double-oh career. It is not sexist to say that his M should be a man - the mythos of the Bond character demands it. Bond is a cold, ruthless assassin, who uses women but doesn't even think about respecting them. Even in the more recent films, with their Jinxes and Wai Lins, he is a very male character. Originally the casting of Dench was an ironic plot point, her speech in Goldeneye telling him he's a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur" setting the agenda for the entire Brosnan era(although, to be fair, only Goldeneye succeeded fully in dealing with this conflict, but don't get me started on the greatness of Goldeneye, seriously, I get boring). With the casting of Daniel Craig, this now is a new era, with a new agenda, let's get back to the character's roots. And the characters roots have to be, must be that his boss is a man. He is a male in a male's world. Only it's not. It's Judi Dench. And I love Judi Dench and she was one of the best things about the Brosnan films, enlivening every film she was in, but I really really wish she wasn't in this one.
I also wish John Cleese wasn't, but that's because his casting was a half-thought-through joke that only ever worked because of Brosnan's wry playing of their scenes together. Campbell told us in a recent interview that Casino Royale would see an end to the cheesy one liners, which presumably means that this will be a more serious interpretation of Bond, so goodness only knows how he will interact with this most buffoonish of quartermasters. But then, I would break my own rules here and dearly wish dear old Desmond Llewelyn was still alive to play the part so what do I know? (On the subject of gadgets: Bond uses the odd gadget in the book, so it's entirely in keeping to have them in the films. Just as long as they don't make anything invisible.)
That said, I am still very much looking forward to the film in the spirit of hopeful optimism. The rumoured decision to change the game of Baccarat to Texas Hold Em makes the fan in me cringe (especially given the fact that a lot of the drama of the book revolves entirely on the technicalities of the other game) but it is actually an eminently sensible tack to take, given the recent explosion of interest in that form of Poker over the last few years. Daniel Craig, too, seems a good choice - he certainly looked the part yesterday and has shown in the past he can do mean well. Indeed, when I sit in the cinema in just over a year's time to watch his first adventure, I really only have two hopes: that we get another launch equal to (though not stylistically similar) to Goldeneye, and that Bond really does get his balls whacked in a little room in Royale-les-Eaux. They have one shot at giving us Bond's first adventure - let's hope it lives up to the occasion.
Now that's not too much to hope for, is it?
Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:32:51