My son was bemused. “You said you were bored with James Bond, you said you didn’t like Daniel Craig. The movies were clunky, the concept tired, the hero a dinosaur. That’s what you said, Dad, all the time we’ve been waiting for this film.
“And Craig annoyed you just by walking. ‘How can he make a grand entrance in black-tie in an impossibly glamorous resort look like he’s trudging round a retail park in a shellsuit on a grey Tuesday afternoon?’ That’s what you said, Dad, so why are you now blubbing like a baby?”
Why indeed. Was it being at a public event again, still thrilling after just two gigs, a couple of football matches and now No Time to Die?
Was it being at the flicks again, having fallen out of love with the cinema because of formulaic plots, hot-food smells, the cost of babysitters and, crucially, the second golden age of TV?
Or was it Keir Starmer? Tediously, the Labour leader has been asked his view on the future for 007, post-Craig, and, tediously, he’s offered up an answer his PR fluffers hoped would get him into the page-three basement slot at least in most newspapers. “The next Bond should be a woman,” declared the man whose party have still to trust a female with the top job, issue her with a metaphorical Walther PPK and the power to boot the lunatic fringe off speeding trains, albeit figuratively.
It was probably a combination of all of these things that made me react the way I did in the 163rd and final minute of Craig’s swansong, but I have to admit it had been an emotional week going into the screening, what with failing to make the black-tie grand entrance I’d hoped at a press awards night.
Normally for such occasions I borrow my brother’s swish gear. Lockdown and the proximity of the fridge to my home-working station had put too much strain on the seams, and all I could think about was that report about how, unless you can fit into breeks you wore at 21, there’s a serious risk of type 2 diabetes. No time to diet? That can’t be the excuse anymore.
The film quickly settled on a soulful and elegiac tone. Gone were the days, reflected M, that a secret agent could get the enemy in the same room and look him straight in the eye.
“Now the enemy is in the ether and we don’t even know what he wants.” But Bond, being Bond, was able to revive the ancient tradition, being so close to his supervillains he could have touched their hideous scars. One of them told him: “We’re two old men in a hole, trying to work out who’s playing tricks on us.” If you were already feeling soulful and elegiac about your waistline then these conversations sounded like guys round a campfire lamenting not just the end of macho movies like the Bonds but the end of men.
Who’s playing tricks on our hero? What do they want from him? Phoebe Waller-Bridge, part of No Time to Die’s writing team, isn't demanding a woman in the role and neither is Boris Johnson.
So why is Starmer? To make him appear radical, edgy and, in response to those who complain he isn’t, different from Boris? This does seem spin doctor-contrived, rather like Gordon Brown’s stated fondness for the Arctic Monkeys as a morning accompaniment to a chest-expander workout and prunes. Or perhaps Starmer had little option after his remark a couple of days previously that it’s “not right” to say that only women have a cervix, though he’s stopped short of suggesting a remake of an earlier Bond, to be called The Womb Is Not Enough.
That’s it: the character has to be female. Black, certainly. Why not gay? The argument has been raging for a while over where 007 goes from here but being of the generation who grew up with Sean Connery in the one-and-nines at the local flea-pit I’ve always felt sorry for Bond being criticised simply for being Bond, a man of his time.
The author Lee Child revealed recently he was asked to write a new adventure but struggled to make a character born during the decline of the British Empire interesting for a modern audience. “He was a proxy to get a certain type of English person through a very difficult time in the 1950s,” Child said. “[Lord] Palmerson could no longer send a gunboat to Hong Kong harbour but James Bond could get there on his own.”
Another suggestion is that the films become proper period pieces and stay rooted in the 50s where presumably Bond could carry on being as sexist as he likes. But not forever, surely, and maybe, after No Time to Die has saved cinema, the anti-Bond brigade can dream up alternatives as diverse, inclusive and woke as they like and stop trying to get our man to wear hats which would be as ill-fitting on him as Oddjob’s bowler. And maybe, now that Craig has checked out, Bond should too.
Some reappraisal is necessary: Craig has been required to play a less devil-may-care Bond and much less of a bastard, and he’s done a noble job of portraying his alter ego’s conflicts and – ghastly word – humanising the man, never more so than here. Thankfully, fears he’d be glimpsed pushing a buggy haven’t come to anything and right now, while I’m still raw about not being in sufficiently good shape to step out in that tux, this feels like the greatest-ever Bond.