You might be shaken, but this Bond
won't leave you stirred
You might be shaken, but this Bond won't leave you stirred

Tim Adams is a lifelong aficionado of 007 movies. Last
Friday he was one of the first critics to see the superspy's
latest incarnation. This is his verdict

Sunday November 5, 2006
The Observer

Give or take the odd Octopussy, I suppose, like all of us,
I've pretty much seen them all. My first, memorably - you
never forget your first - was a rerun of Thunderball at a
Gaumont in Birmingham, which in my memory was in the
process of being demolished. I'd have been eight, and the
most dramatic big screen extravanganza I'd seen previously
was Swiss Family Robinson, so Bond came with something
of the force of revelation; I went home to re-enact Sean
Connery's underwater fight with Largo's men with a single
rubber-suited Action Man in the bath.
My first on its proper release, not long after, was The Man
with The Golden Gun, complete with Lulu's soundtrack. I
had nightmares for a while about Christopher Lee's
Scaramanga, and recall trying to join in with playground
discussions about the voluptuous merits of Britt Eklund's
Mary Goodnight in relation to Pussy Galore, a name whose
reference was possibly still beyond me. I was, in any case,
hooked, for a long time secretly thinking Roger Moore was
the best Bond, a fact which would have dismayed my Dad
who properly held out for the more spartan virtues of Sean
Connery, and my Mum, who would sometimes make an
impassioned, slightly flushed argument for the missed
opportunity that was George Lazenby.

Anyhow, with some of this in mind, I went along to the
Odeon Leicester Square on Friday night for the first
screening of the new Bond, the Daniel Craig Bond. Most of
the other balding, paunchy one-timeschoolboys in the
queue seemed to have a similar not quite cynical sense of
expectation. There'd be chases, and gadgets and gags - the
last Bond line I'd heard in the cinema, was also one of the
best: Pierce Brosnan, on the Bosphorus with Dr Christmas
Jones at the end of The World is not Enough: 'I've always
wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.'

Hopes were high. If nothing else, there would be John
Barry's theme, which, as I joined the line to have my mobile
phone confiscated - an emasculation I could never imagine
007 submitting to - was already dun-de-dunning in my
head. The word before this screening was that Daniel
Craig's Bond would be a purist's Bond, dirtier and grittier
than recent smoothies. Casino Royale was the first of
Fleming's books, and the only one, for contractual reasons,
never previously filmed except in the Peter Sellers spoof. It
would return James to his roots, the cold-blooded killer, the
ex-wartime Commander, before fast women and invisible
cars turned his head. It begins, after a title sequence
involving the designs on the back of playing cards, and
diamonds coming out of guns and writhing croupiers in
silhouette - you know - in exactly that retro spirit,
apparently in black and white, in Prague: Bond is in the
shadows surprising a double agent rifling through a filing
cabinet. Craig had effectively auditioned for Bond in Layer
Cake, in which he played a cocaine dealer out of his depth,
and we cut to what looks like a scene from that film - the
very un-Bond-like graphic violence of Craig murdering an
informer in a white-tiled public lavatory, holding the man's
head underwater in a cheap sink. This, we are led to
understand, was Bond's first kill, the most traumatic, his
007 status still pending, before the quips set in. His second,
of the double agent by the filing cabinet, with a silencer, is
more straightforward, and prompts a wry smile.

That grainy preamble over, Craig is in colour and up and
running - straight through a staged cobra and mongoose
fight in a market in Madagascar, over the odd trashed car,
past plenty of startled villagers carrying unlikely dry goods,
up some serious scaffolding scattering hard-hatted building
workers, and on to a crane tower over the impossibly blue
ocean in pursuit of a scar-faced villain with a bag of
explosives. Who wants backstreet grittiness when you can
have fights with guns that run out of bullets at opportune
moments at high altitude?

Craig is the first Bond since Connery who looks more than
capable of doing his own stunts, he runs like a streetfighter,
falls credibly from great heights and has been practising his
free running. This is pre-Q Bond; the closest he gets to a
gadget is a decent mobile phone; he spends a good deal of
his time chasing fast cars on foot in a manner Roger Moore
would have deemed far too keen; to start with he doesn't
even seem to have his own motor. Worse still, he hasn't yet
earned Barry's theme, except in odd mangled chords.

The best preface to Casino Royale is Simon Winder's
wonderful book The Man Who Saved Britain, out in
paperback to coincide with the release of the film. It's the
comic history of an obsession with Bond, both his own and
our own - an unravelling of all the curious hang-ups about
posh drinks and hat-throwing and casual misogyny that
takes in the demise of imperial ambition, post-war austerity
and Fleming's taste for torture. It's a brilliant
deconstruction of those staples of British life that Paul
Johnson, writing long ago of Bond in the New Statesmen,
denounced as 'sex, snobbery and sadism', (this before
Johnson moved to the Spectator and discovered the
pleasures of the same).

You rather wish Cubby Broccoli and the rest had studied
Winder's memoir before embarking on Casino Royale. One
of the things his book argues well is that the explosion of a
gas tanker is no real substitute for vaguely plausible
plotting or some notion of contemporary relevance - a key
element in Fleming's thrillers was his sharp move from
villainous former Nazis, to Cold War paranoia.

In attempting to flesh out the idea of Daniel Craig's Bond as
backstory to subsequent Bonds - trying on his first dinner
jacket for size, tripping over his chat-up lines to Eva
Green's gorgeous Vesper Lynd, replying when asked if he
wants his martini shaken or stirred, 'Do I look like I give a
damn?' - almost everything else seems to have gone out of
the window (along with various not particularly sinister

I'm quite happy for Bond to live in a continuous present,
but the time frame of the film is perplexing. After the grainy
Fifties Prague opening, there is the predictable Seventies,
Whicker's World rush of destinations, taking in Uganda,
Madagascar, the Bahamas and Venice, while Bond, who we
are presumably supposed to believe we have never come
across before, suggests from time to time that he is in
2006. Judi Dench as M, seems more than usually unsure
about the wisdom of her role or which era she's in. She
speaks at one point of her nostalgia for the Cold War, before
outlining the plot, such as it is, which involves an attempt
to manipulate the stock market using terrorism, bringing in
the first and only reference to 9/11. You don't expect
Casino Royale to be 24, quite, or Bond to be Jack Bauer, but
it seems bizarre to be employing a mix of Albanian and
Swiss and African and Italian financial terrorists when you
might think there are more real current fears to explore.

Director Martin Campbell is also unsure about how much of
the glamour of violence he wants to strip back. There are
unusual 007 moments in which Bond lets us know he's
human, sitting soaking in the shower in his blood-drenched
dinner suit comforting Vesper after she has helped him kill a
man; or, oddly, screaming in pain. Raymond Chandler
praised the original book of Casino Royale for its brutal
description of torture, exposing genre-fiction to a new
realism. The scene that Chandler singled out is reproduced
here, with Bond tied naked on the frame of a chair while his
exposed scrotum is whipped with a knotted rope. Craig is,
not surprisingly, in more obvious pain than any previous
Bond , but having put him there, the only way to remove
him is through a comically unexplained ambush; by the next
scene, like the Bonds of old, he is recuperating by the
Italian lakes, his tenderized tackle magically restored.

The problem with making Bond more real, is that everything
around him then seems even more fake than usual. Craig,
always a charismatic presence, often looks unsettled by
that dislocation; his sex scenes are more energetic than
those of his predecessors but even less convincing; he is
hardly allowed any comedy. As a result, by the end of a
curiously back-to-front film, when he finally gets his theme
tune and introduces himself - 'Bond. James Bond' - he, like
the creaky franchise itself, seems profoundly unsure
whether he is coming or going.