Film... From Craig to Connery: The many faces of James Bond
Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30
Seven months before its scheduled release, the Bond film Spectre is already grabbing plenty of column inches. A recently released trailer had the fan base all in a tizzy, and then there's the possibility that this could be Daniel Craig's last outing as 007, and that Sony are considering Idris Elba as a possible replacement.
Were that to happen, Elba would become the first black Bond, and the actor has admitted he'd love to play the role. Not if Sir Roger Moore has anything to do with it, however. The 87-year-old former 007 landed himself in very hot water last week when, during an interview, he seemed to suggest that the very idea was preposterous.
Talking to a journalist from Paris Match, Moore said that "although James may have been played by a Scot, a Welshman and an Irishman, I think he should be 'English-English'," and added that casting Mr Elba was "an interesting idea, but unrealistic".
The effect of this was most unfortunate, as Mr Elba was born and bred in London's East End, and Moore was rounded on by the moral majority for appearing to suggest that James Bond ought not to be black. Personally, I feel a little sorry for the old chap, who later tweeted that his comments had been "lost in translation".
And who knows, perhaps they were. Lord only knows what Bond's creator would have thought of this latest development, however, because Ian Fleming wasn't even all that thrilled about the idea of 007 being played by a working class Scot.
When he originally dreamt up the character in the early 1950s, Fleming had imagined him as a suave but rather bland functionary, whose violent actions were made all the more shocking by his apparent ordinariness. The ever-modest Fleming had himself in mind when creating him, but also Hoagy Carmichael, the raffish and elegant American composer and band-leader.
Above all, Bond would be a suave and socially adept former public school boy, a man accustomed to the finest things in life, who could blend in absolutely anywhere. And when producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman got around to making the first 007 film in 1962, Sean Connery was no one's first choice to play him.
Broccoli and Saltzman wanted Cary Grant, but he was crossed off the list when he would only agree to sign up for one film. They also considered David Niven, and Dr. No's director Terence Young favoured English character actor Richard Johnson. He turned it down, and so did Patrick McGoohan. Fleming himself is said to have favoured Dublin-born character actor Richard Todd, and a young Roger Moore was apparently also considered before being dismissed by Cubby Broccoli as "too young, perhaps a shade too pretty".
No one, I suspect, would have dared call Thomas Sean Connery pretty to his face. Born in the tough working class quarter of Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Connery was a former body-builder and hard nut who'd drifted into acting in the 1950s with only limited success.
When first invited to meet Broccoli and Saltzman, Connery arrived in scruffy clothes and affected an arrogant, devil-may-care attitude. They were impressed, but Ian Fleming was not so sure.
"I'm looking for Commander Bond," he said huffily, "and not some overgrown stuntman". The writer thought Connery unrefined, but once the Scotsman was cast, Dr. No's urbane and sophisticated director, Terence Young, helped knock the edges off him.
"Terence took Sean under his wing," Lois Maxwell, aka Miss Moneypenny, later remembered. "He took him to dinner, showed him how to walk, talk, even how to eat."
This crash course in etiquette undoubtedly helped, but it was Sean Connery's physical presence, charisma and air of suppressed rage that really caught the eye when Dr. No was released. His Bond was suave and superficially charming, but the eyes were cold and his credentials as a state-sponsored killer were all too believable. In short, Connery looked like he'd kick your head in.
In Dr. No, Bond's cinematic entrance was brilliantly handled by Terence Young and his writers. He appears in evening dress at a baccarat table, and when a glamorous player asks his name, he stares at her and lights a cigarette before answering languidly, "Bond. James Bond". Then Monty Norman's iconic 007 theme kicks in, indelibly linking character and music. And that character was, for many, most memorably personified by Sean Connery.
Even Ian Fleming was impressed, and sufficiently won over to create a half-Scottish heritage for James Bond in future novels. Fleming, who died suddenly in 1965, only lived to see Connery star in two more Bond films, From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964), but they are, by common consensus, two of the very best ever made.
In fact, From Russia with Love is often cited by critics as the best Bond movie, with its Cold War ambiance, exotic locations and two memorable villains in Robert Shaw's burly maniac Donald Grant, and Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb, a wonderfully wicked Russian assassin who wore a permanent, wintry frown and had a switch-blade hidden in the tip of her shoe. Connery's visceral fight scene with Shaw in a cramped train carriage is justly celebrated, and has inspired many action film-makers since.
The Bond franchise made Sean Connery a huge star, but he quickly tired of the role. His friend Michael Caine, who'd once been touted as a possible 007 himself, said that if you were a friend of Connery's in the 1960s "you didn't raise the subject of Bond". He hated being dismissed as a one-dimensional action hero, and wanted to prove himself as a serious actor.
During the filming of You Only Live Twice, in 1967, Connery told the producers he was quitting the role, and he was replaced in 1969 by an unknown Australian model called George Lazenby. Lazenby did okay in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but his co-star Diana Rigg described him as "bloody impossible" on the set, and he stepped down as Bond before the film was even released.
Sean Connery returned for a hefty paycheck on the humorous and tongue-in-cheek 1971 instalment Diamonds are Forever before quitting again, leaving the field to a very different kind of Bond.
Roger Moore would play 007 for over a decade in seven Bond films that essentially took up where Diamonds are Forever left off, softening the Cold War edges of the early films and replacing them with humour, campness and deliberately infeasible action sequences and stunts.
A suave and charming actor with a background in television, Moore was 45 when cast as Bond. He was determined that his 007 would be very different to Sean Connery's, and Tom Mankiewicz, the writer on Live and Let Die (1973), adapted his screenplay to include more comic scenes and a skittish approach that reflected Moore's screen presence.
That film proved a great favourite, and Moore followed it up with The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979), hit films marked by outrageous stunts and camp humour.
Moore's minimalist acting style, amused grin and arched eyebrow were much imitated, but his approach sometimes made Bond seem like a harmless cartoon character, and the edginess and danger which Connery had brought to the role was lost.
In 1985, after the critical and commercial disappointment of A View to a Kill, Roger Moore either retired, or was fired from the role, depending on whom you believe.
Into his shoes stepped Timothy Dalton, a dark, intense, classically trained actor who restored some of 007's volatility, and menace. In The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989), Dalton's portrayal of a lean and focused Bond was praised by many critics, though his characterisation was a little too touchy-feely and politically correct for some.
But the Welshman was unlucky in a couple of respects.
Firstly, the scripts of his two Bond films were dour and humourless: and secondly, the camp excesses of the last few Roger Moore Bond films had damaged the brand and sent it tumbling out of fashion. After Licence to Kill, a five-year hiatus ensued during which the future of the franchise - not for the last time - seemed in real doubt.
By the time GoldenEye was made in 1995, Timothy Dalton had withdrawn from proceedings and Pierce Brosnan had stepped in.
The Navan man did surprisingly well in a film that revived the franchise's financial fortunes in some style, and seemed to combine the best qualities of his predecessors. He had Moore's charm and comic touch, but some of Connery's ruthless energy too.
Brosnan also had the great good fortune to be cast opposite a new and very different boss. Judi Dench's schoolmarmish M chided Bond at every opportunity, and dismissed him as a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur". Dench was terrific, and would continue to play M for 17 years.
Pierce Brosnan appeared in three further Bond films, and inhabited the role most convincingly.
But creative differences among producers and directors were a telling sign that the formula was tired and in need of radical reinvention.
That shake-up came in 2006, after Brosnan had reluctantly departed and been replaced by Daniel Craig. The then 37-year-old Englishman beat rival candidates like Henry Cavill and Clive Owen to a role that was seen by some as a poison chalice for actors with designs on a long career as a serious movie actor.
In fact, Craig himself was reluctant to take on the part until he read Casino Royale's screenplay and realised he was being presented with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Because Casino Royale was a daring reboot based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, and set out to explain how 007 became a rootless, ruthless killer.
Craig's Bond was young, confused and even vulnerable, and not yet the hardened assassin he would become. But he also restored to the character the steely toughness and intimidating physicality that had been absent since Sean Connery's departure.
He's only got better in subsequent outings, and there are those who maintain he's the best Bond of all.
He'll certainly be a hard act to follow.
The best Bond film
The spectacular, back-to-basics 2006 film Casino Royale successfully rebooted the ailing series and established Daniel Craig as the best Bond since Connery. In a story based on the first ever Ian Fleming Bond novel, 007 is a young and impetuous secret service agent whose trigger-happy nature has caused an international incident and lands him in hot water with M (Judi Dench). But she sees his talent, and decides he's up to the challenge of facing down a master criminal called Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game.
Eva Green co-starred as the love of Bond's life, treasury agent Vesper Lynd, who's assigned to accompany him to middle Europe for the game. He falls for her, but her allegiances are divided and Bond is about to learn some very painful lessons.
Directed by Martin Campbell, the film belts along at breakneck speed, and Craig is compelling as the ultra-violent agent. His physical presence in the action scenes is formidable, but what's most refreshing about Daniel Craig's 007 is his self-doubt, and vulnerability. In Casino Royale, we're left with the feeling that Bond is a man at a crossroads, about to be turned to the bad by rotten luck, and heartbreak. From Russia with Love is good, but for me this one's even better.