Over the last two weekends we have watched, as a family, the most recent pair of James Bond movies, “Skyfall” (2012) and “Spectre” (2015). They were broadcast on ITV2 (lots of ad-breaks), we recorded them on our multi-channel box and watched each of them within 24 hours of recording. The children, aged 11 and 13, are just about ready for them.
James Bond, Agent 007, with his Licence to Kill, must count as Universal Knowledge for anyone over the age of 10 who has access to the web, but, just to clarify, we are dealing here with the fictional spy created by Ian Fleming, the lead character in 24 official Bond films. He is in the news regularly these days, with speculation about the next project (so far unnamed, usually referred to as “Bond 25”) and about who might play the character after Daniel Craig. Idris Elba? Tom Hardy? We probably won’t find out for a while. The rest of this piece (a further 1500 words) reflects on my memories of the movies and theme songs, with plenty of trivia thrown in. James Bond is a regular subject on TV quiz shows and I will post a separate piece gathering together a selection of questions from the last couple of years’ worth of viewing. Many of the answers can be found in the paragraphs that follow.
The British Board of Film Classification website shows that both the Bond films we have watched this month passed uncut here in the UK. “Skyfall” was rated 12A, and “Spectre” has a 12 certificate, so in theory our 11-year-old daughter is still too young (by 50 days) to watch the latter. While we were watching, I did my own bit of censorship, standing in front of the TV and suggesting that non-adults look away during a scene that I thought might play on their minds. (Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t seen either film yet and are planning to watch them sometime soon.) It was that bit in “Skyfall” when Silva (Javier Bardem) removes his upper teeth, reveals the full horror of what the cyanide capsule has done to his face and invites M (Judi Dench) to look upon her work. If anything was going to give them nightmares I figured it would be this scene, especially as it appears towards the end of the picture. I was also hovering over the pause button during “Spectre” when Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) was torturing 007 (Daniel Craig) in his desert HQ, but it didn’t take up as much screen-time as I’d remembered. We didn’t have to wait too long for the exploding watch to do its job and allow Bond and his companion (Léa Seydoux) to escape.
The first Bond movie I saw was “Live and Let Die”, the first of Roger Moore’s seven (or 007) outings in the role. The title song was the first Bond theme to be recorded by a band (Paul McCartney and Wings) and the first to be sung by the person who wrote it. It was also the first one we ever had a copy of at home, as a 7” single on the Apple label. Later in the 1970s I caught up with Sean Connery’s films as Bond (most of them released in the 1960s). They were on TV and screened in double bills at places like the long-gone Shepherds Bush Odeon and that big cinema in Twickenham. Over the last year there have been regular Sunday afternoon screenings of these earlier movies on one of the ITV channels. The children and I have caught the odd 20 minutes here and there but had never sat down to watch a whole Bond movie until this month.
In the mid-1970s a neighbouring family took me to see “The Man with the Golden Gun” when it came out, at the Odeon Kensington (another ex-cinema, like those mentioned in the previous paragraph). It was Roger Moore’s second Bond picture and I realize now that I never saw any of his later appearances on the big screen, only on TV. His third outing, “The Spy who Loved Me” was, apparently, the last film that Elvis Presley saw before he died, which helps me to remember that it came out in 1977. Carly Simon’s theme song for it, “Nobody does it better”, made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, as did “Live and Let Die” in 1973. The only Bond theme to make it to the top in the US was Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” in 1985, which accompanied Moore’s last appearance in the role. In the intervening years came “Moonraker” (1979), “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) and “Octopussy” (1983).
The chronology of the Roger Moore years has been fixed in my mind for decades, aided by the differing chart performances of the theme songs, but memories of the films themselves are rather muddled: a third nipple here, an octopus tattoo there, a shark released into a tank that has a few drops of Bond’s blood in it. That sort of thing. Three of the theme songs from those years didn’t make the UK charts: Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” (from “Octopussy”, lyrics by Tim Rice), Shirley Bassey’s “Moonraker” and (I’m surprised to find) Lulu’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”. I thought that one had at least made the top 40 but it didn’t. Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only”, less than a year after her chart debut, made the Top 10 here and in the US.
The order of Sean Connery’s six Bond pictures was not as clear in my mind as the seven featuring Roger Moore, but I have noticed that the first five releases chronologically are also in alphabetical order: “Dr No”, “From Russia with Love”, “Goldfinger”, “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice”. After that came “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, George Lazenby’s only appearance as 007, and then Sean Connery’s last official Bond movie, “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1971.
Despite being a completist in so many things (Oscar winners, Shakespeare plays, Booker Prize winning novels) I have not “completed the set” with Bond movies, having seen only parts of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and Timothy Dalton’s two appearances as Bond, after Roger Moore had hung up his Walther: “The Living Daylights” (1987) and “Licence to Kill” (1989). There was a six-year gap before the next Bond, Pierce Brosnan in “Goldeneye”. I have only seen parts of it, on TV, but have spent a few hours (which is longer than the movie’s running time) playing the pinball table based on it.
I have seen the seven Bond films released since then and particularly enjoyed watching Jonathan Pryce as the baddie in “Tomorrow Never Dies”, and (please forgive me for using this rather outdated term) the “Bond girls” from the next two releases: Sophie Marceau (in “The World is not Enough”) and Halle Berry (in “Die Another Day”). My wife and I saw the latter at the O2 Centre in Finchley Road in late 2002, before we had children. It was the first time I had seen Bond on a big screen since the 1970s. My wife’s nephew, then aged 12, joined us. We all suspended our disbelief through most of the action, but there’s a bit towards the end, when Bond is stuck below the ice in a frozen lake and still manages to find a way through. He pushes a huge chunk of ice upwards, from below the surface. At this point our 12-year-old companion said, “That’s ridiculous, he’d never be able to do that”. All the other unlikely escapes – and even the invisibility shield on the Bond mobile – seemed plausible, but this was a step too far. It reminded us of a favourite catchphrase related to movie-going, “A real Terminator wouldn’t do that”.
There was a four-year gap before Daniel Craig’s first appearance as Bond, in “Casino Royale”. By this time both of our children had been born. It was released a week after our son’s second birthday. Our daughter was a few weeks old. We didn’t watch many movies in those days, but we made a point of watching this one when it was first available on a movie channel. I missed about 20 minutes while putting our son to bed. His godmother was watching with us and couldn’t give me quite as much detail as I wanted about the missing scenes.
And that was it until last year. “Quantum of Solace” (2008) received unfavourable reviews, suggesting it was all rather ponderous, too psychological, and there wasn’t enough action. I should have ignored them. There was more than enough action for me and my wife when we stayed up uncharacteristically late to watch it last summer. We especially enjoyed the scene where Bond and Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) check into a hotel in South America. As part of their cover they’re supposed to be teachers on sabbatical, on a budget way below what 007 is used to. Bond refuses to stay at the cheap hotel that she has selected and when they arrive at his preferred alternative (way beyond their price range) he says, in Spanish, “We are English teachers on sabbatical … and we’ve just won the lottery”. It’s probably my favourite Bond line.
The theme songs to Daniel Craig’s first two Bond movies have different titles to the films themselves: “You Know My Name” (from “Casino Royale”) by the late Chris Cornell and “Another Way to Die” (from “Quantum of Solace”) by Jack White and Alicia Keys. The latter is the only Bond song credited to a duo. Adele’s “Skyfall” and Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” (from “Spectre”) are the only Bond themes to win the Academy Award for Best Song, and the latter is the first to reach #1 in the UK. “Skyfall” and “Spectre”? This is where we came in. I suspect we’ll be watching, and re-watching, a whole lot more 007 before “Bond 25” hits our screens.