To mark the 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time and with filming now complete on James Bond’s 23rd official outing in Skyfall due for release later this year, I have been tasked with taking a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
Following Roger Moore’s departure from the lead role after starring in the previous seven films, the fifteenth James Bond film, The Living Daylights, was seized upon as an opportunity to reboot the series with not only a new Bond but a new approach to the franchise that had become rather formulaic over the past 25 years. Taking the title from one of Fleming’s short stories, writers Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson took the character back to his roots making a conscious decision to make this Bond the harder edged spy from the original novels eschewing the throwaway humour that had become a trademark of the Moore years.
The search began for a new Bond with many up and coming actors considered for the role including Mel Gibson, Christopher Lambert and Sean Bean but only four actors would make the final shortlist; Timothy Dalton, Sam Neill, Lewis Collins and Pierce Brosnan. Dalton had been considered as Sean Connery’s replacement back in 1968 but declined the offer feeling he was too young for the part at the time. During the 1986 casting sessions he soon became the producers’ first choice for the role once again however due to his involvement in other projects he turned the offer down. After Neill and Collins failed their screen-tests the focus turned to Pierce Brosnan, the young Irish actor who had first come to producer Albert R. Broccoli’s attention during the filming of For Your Eyes Only when he visited his actress wife Cassandra Harris on the film’s set. In 1986 he was attached to the NBC television series Remington Steele which was scheduled to be cancelled due to falling ratings but when the press announced his potential involvement in the Bond franchise interest in the series suddenly surged and NBC renewed his contract for another season meaning he would be unavailable for Bond. In a last ditch attempt to hire an actor from the original shortlist, Dalton was approached one final time and this time the answer was a resounding yes.
Timothy Dalton’s approach to the character was strikingly different from Moore’s from the outset. This Bond marked more of a return to the early days of the series, in particular Connery’s From Russia With Love. It was a Bond straight from the pages of Fleming’s novels, a cynical Bond with a hardened intelligence and a sly disregard for authority. Dalton’s Bond would be grounded in reality, unafraid to show his feelings through the tender love story that develops to the darker side of his emotions when his colleague is murdered. While he still allows room for humour, it is more naturalistic and offers small relief during the film’s more intense moments.
(Referring to the female sniper)
James Bond: Whoever she was, I must have scared the living daylights out of her.
Dalton’s debut is certainly an assured one and proves his decision not to accept the role in 1968 was probably a wise one. He comes to the role with a strong background in theatre, television and film and brings gravitas to the character. He is immediately different from Moore but no less likeable. While many did not take to the change in direction the series would take during the late eighties, Dalton’s interpretation was a necessary requirement to keep the character relevant in a time when Lethal Weapon and Robocop were the action films of choice.