Well, this is not how I envisaged things would work out, sat in the Tudor picture-house in the one-and-nine-pennies. By things I mean life – admittedly I was seven years old so accurate predictions about that were always going to be tricky – but also involved were James Bond and his film franchise.
Of course, cradling my Kia-Ora as I hid under my duffle-coat out of range of the usherette’s fierce torch so I could thrill to the Doctor No/From Russia with Love double-bill all over again, I didn’t know what a film franchise was. No one did back then. But if you’d asked me at the time, I’d like to think I would have whispered this response: “That guy up there, 50ft tall, I love his shoulder holster and right now I yearn for my own more than anything, but I won’t want one forever and, half a century from now, won’t need to be watching his films.”
And yet here we are in 2019 anticipating the 25th instalment. Bond doesn’t only live twice, you see. The world is not enough and nor are 24 previous editions of kiss-kiss, bang-bang. Tomorrow never dies? Presumably Bond will eventually. Presumably he will die another day although just not yet. Unless, of course, it’s not just diamonds that are forever ...
What a thought. It’s bad enough, I think, that there’s to be a 25th outing for our oversexed undercover agent. And I don’t think I’m the only one who’s grown weary of the guns, the gadgets, the cars, the glamour, the double entendres and the epic showdown with the big baddie in his supposedly impregnable lair. Daniel Craig would seem to be another.
Four years ago, while promoting Spectre – his fourth outing as Bond – Craig was asked: “So Daniel, roll on No 25. You must be excited about it already, yes?” The spectre of this appalled him. Admittedly he was in Junketland, that strange state of semi-being for actors where they’re shuttled across many different time-zones to sit in overheated five-star hotels and drown amid over-plumped cushions while answering the same tedious questions ad nauseum. “Never again,” he said. What he actually said was: “I’d rather slash my wrists.” But what he actually meant was: never say never again.
Did you see the photos of Craig at the latest movie’s launch, staged among the over-plump sand dunes of Jamaica? It was far from being the toughest gig in the world and yet he didn’t look happy. He wore a suit but not with any semblance of Bondian style. He matched it with his scruffiest trainers which, next to the high heels of his female co-stars, just seemed rude. The pumps may have been a statement: “I’ll talk about your silly film but you should know that, ethically and artistically and philosophically, I’m dead against it.”
Which would be fine if he hadn’t declared that he’d only play 007 a fifth time if the producers made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Which they did. Maybe for this they drafted in the ghost of Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun and perhaps, paraphrasing the hired assassin’s most famous line from that film, he challenged the reluctant star thus: “Come, come, Mr Craig, you get as much fulfillment out of £18.4 million paydays as I do.” (That’s if he didn’t sign for £37 million or maybe even £50 million – all three figures have been mentioned).
Fifty million to play a dinosaur? Nice work if you can get it. This is what Bond is now and why he should be potted heid already. The Carry On films have stopped carrying on. Benny Hill no longer chases women into forests full of bra-snaring trees. The Confessions of ... flicks have ceased, so too the Emmanuelle ones. And if Miss World still exists at all it’s not on primetime TV where a compere who used to read the news with BBC gravitas asks the competitors to turn round so their bums can be inspected. This used to be Bondworld and, apart from him, it’s completely vanished.
There’s no point in him hanging around anymore. He’s already been labelled a dinosaur – a sexist, misogynist one, by Judi Dench’s M in Goldeneye – so that line can’t be repeated. He can’t battle political correctness because that’s what the Bond spoofs do. And, please God, let’s not change him any more than he’s been retooled already. I don’t want to see a woke Bond or a #MeToo Bond or an electrically powered Aston Martin-driving Bond. And I probably don’t want a Fleabagged Bond either.
You know Fleabag – it’s a great show. But Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s comedy is fundamentally a celebration of women who underachieve, muck up, say the wrong things. Ordinary human frailty is not what’s been wanted from Bond these past 57 years although, as she proved with Killing Eve, Waller-Bridge can also do fiendish death.
What next, a female Bond? The producers have dismissed the idea as just a “stunt”. Maybe it would be interesting if she was the product of the most improbable union in the series’ history – 007 and Rosa Kleb, the boot-faced villainess in Russia with Love who kept knives in her sensible shoes. But, sorry, Bond as a woman would send me diving under my duffle-coat never to re-emerge.
It was Craig who requested the hiring of Waller-Bridge and the star has reportedly become all-powerful on set. Maybe, like one of those megalomaniacal crazy guys from down the years, he wants to blow up the franchise. The time for this feels right. Original director Danny Boyle quit after admitting he wanted to kill off Bond and the first scenes to be shot – involving a chase across a frozen Norwegian lake – had to be scrapped when the ice melted.
Goodnight, Mr Bond – and goodbye.