James Bond: Only the double entendre can save our favourite double-O agent – Aidan Smith
I was young, possibly still in short trousers for these continued until I was 17, and my parents were watching with me.
They laughed often – father snorting, mother tittering – and I didn’t understand why. Eventually, while being made to wait an inordinate length of time for the next car chase or explosion, I asked them what was so funny. “It’s a bit tricky to explain right now,” they said. “You’ll find out eventually.”
This was the double entendre. Double-o-seven would have been pretty much impotent without them. Silencers enlarge guns and hoary old gags engorged with innuendo enhance pleasure when you’re sitting in the dark with a bunch of complete strangers. Or at least they did until Daniel Craig came along.
Dame Judi Dench, our leading actress who was M in eight Bonds, reckons the films in the Craig era have become too “gloomy”. I don’t think she’s criticising Craig himself – terrific actor and all that, brilliant in Our Friends in the North – but he’s been a very sombre, very stern Bond.
Yes, he’s probably following instructions, what the scripts say and what the directors want, but it’s as if he’s put everything into the beach bod and those Popeye-pumped pecs, with no spare room in his spray-on trunks for a Walther PPK, far less any attachments. Possibly he doesn’t have the stamina after all that bench-pressing to raise an eyebrow in tribute to Roger Moore, but neither is there the inclination. Craig is a more serious actor than we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the role.
So if Dench, whose words carry weight, is demanding less gloom, does that mean she wants instead a lightness of touch, a heel-clicking Bond with a wacky side, more humour, more jokes and – fnar, fnar – the return of the double entendre?
If this Bond turns up in No Time to Die, the 25th in the series due this autumn, then that will be quite something. After all we’re in the age of wokery and not jokery of the kind where women answered to Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole and Holly Goodhead. It’s the time of #metoo rather than takes-what-he-wants.
Oh the pressure on this movie, this hero! Look at the mountains he must climb (then drive his Aston Martin right down the other side). First, he must save the world. That’s bound to be the plot, it always is.
Then he must save the blockbuster. So often overhyped and invariably underwhelming, the genre needs a big hit and, with cinemas shuttered for most of the past year, it needs one soon. The oversexed undercover agent, overdoing the understatement, could deliver.
Also, there’s the harm done to blockbusters by Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister pinched one of the sacred texts – the great white shark-defying speech by the mayor in Jaws – to paint himself as a brave, lone voice challenging scientific reason and dull orthodoxy, only to emerge as a libertarian bampot. If there are any more mentions of the libertarian bampot in charge of Amity’s beaches then the inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic is gonna need a bigger room.
Finally, Bond must save cinemas. The world, if it’s watched new films at all in the time of Covid, has streamed them directly into the home. This may be a tough habit to break, and much tougher than persuading us to return to, for instance, gig-going.
Concerts relayed to your TV are a poor substitute for the real thing and live music provides communal joy in being with others. Down the local multiplex, though, fellow patrons can spoil the experience with their eating, chattering and worse besides.
Bond resists streaming like he resists modification to, or – ugh – modernisation of, the cut of a tuxedo, the creation of a martini cocktail, the old ways basically. But if after so many delays the October opening of No Time to Die does not make serious inroads into the £110 billion the pandemic is estimated to have cost the film industry then 007 won’t seem quite so invincible, or able to call all the shots anymore.
So, if it’s not the time to die, is it the right moment for double entendres and a revival of the ridiculous smut that served Moore, Pierce Brosnan and the greatest Bond of them all, Sean Connery, so well?
The script for the new film will come with a heavy sprinkling of Fleabag. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of the sex comedy du jour, was urgently recruited to the production during some difficult early months. Her idea of a double entendre thus far has been “What’s your favourite period movie? Carrie”.
That’s clever, and a reminder that Mae West, Benny Hill and Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served? didn’t have a monopoly on the double entendre and that Shakespeare and Chaucer were fond of them, as were the Bellamy Brothers, they of the 1979 hit “If I Said You Have a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me?”
So, yes, let’s have No Time to Die groaning with clunky, corny, Carry On-esque quips. New ones but also a megamix of golden oldies from Goldfinger and the rest: “Just keeping the British end up, sir … I think he’s attempting re-entry … Tell him to pull out immediately! … You always were a cunning linguist, James.”
It’s Craig’s final outing as Bond so this would be like the last day of school when toys and board games are allowed. And let’s have him do the entire film in the little baby blue Terrycloth beach-romper onesie worn so iconically by Big Tam Connery. I’d go back to the cinema to see that.
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