The licence to thrill
The Beatles’ first hit Love me Do, the first James Bond film Dr No plus the franchise, and I all turn 50 this year: 1962 was more memorable than I thought! Okay, no more feeding off reflected glory. Of the lot, it’s the Bond franchise that impresses me the most. After watching Skyfall, you have to admire the way the story about a misogynistic, violent, superior, witty, chauvinistic British spy has retained the world’s interest and reinvented itself long after his creator and the great empire he sought to protect have become dust.
Skyfall, more than any other Bond film in recent times, is a British film. In fact, they should have released it somewhere around those jubilee celebrations and the London Olympics —, which would have made the queen-jumping-off-a-helicopter stunt at the opening ceremony like the film’s premiere. They had Daniel Craig anyway. Much of the film takes place in London and the dramatic end is in Scotland.
Sure there was Istanbul and Shanghai and some exotic island or the other, but there was so much Big Ben, London Eye and Houses of Parliament that at times I felt I was watching a combination of Doctor Who and Sherlock!
Is Skyfall the best Bond film ever made? I don’t know and I’m not qualified to answer. I have many favourites from the oldies and through the 1970s I most blasphemously thought Roger Moore was hilarious: urbane, slapstick, silly and witty all at the same time.
But Daniel Craig has given Bond another dimension and let’s face it, he’s the sex magnet here. Doesn’t need all those prancing women around him. In fact, the biggest female role in Skyfall is M, played superbly by Judi Dench. She is the lodestone around which both Bond and the villain Silva — Javier Bardem — turn. In fact, Bond’s sex interest was rather tepid, no brains or bosom and no match for M, frankly.
Voldemort was a bit villainous in the beginning, even though this time Ralph Fiennes had a nose, but became a boring good chap later. It’s good to have Q back though and as a young nerdy man who gets his comeuppance from the older generation...
Craig makes Bond both vulnerable and manly and therefore irresistible. Wit has changed a lot since 1962 of course, but Craig gives it his dry best shot. Funnily while the cars are there — including that old Goldfinger Aston Martin and Adele’s Skyfall sounds a lot like Shirley Bassey’s title song for that film — Skyfall the film doesn’t really need all those customary Bond gimmicks. Craig had said in Casino Royale to the “shaken or stirred” question,“Do I look like I give a damn” and if you blink you’ll miss the vodka martini in this one.
The ability to make Bond last is what is commendable, however. The Beatles had their time and their infectious genius has carried them through the decades and out to the stars in time capsules. I will not comment on the other products of 1962. But Bond has managed to change with the times and yet retain its core. This film was steeped in nostalgia but still had enough action to make it contemporary.
There is a tragic point to be made for Mumbai though. If whatever is showed in the film is a realistic representation of Shanghai then we can laugh ourselves into our deathbeds waiting for Mumbai’s transformation to happen! Better to be happy with our higgledy-piggledy organic mess and pat ourselves on the back for being a better democracy than whatever China is or claims to be…
And as for the pretensions of 1962, a short trip into the poet Philip Larkin puts it in its place. As he said in Annus Mirabilis: “Sexual intercourse began In nineteen sixty-three (which was rather late for me)-Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban And the Beatles’ first LP.” Those were the days? '
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona