Rebutting Hate#1:Â Timothy Dalton
Ah James Bond! What is there to say about him that has not already been said? Well, nothing new really. For the past lot of decades he has been an example of a cool character that a lot of people across many demographics love. He particularly came into the spotlight last year commemorating 50 years on the big screen with the phenomenal Skyfall. Whether or not we shall take in the novels is another subject entirely. For the most part, people will debate endlessly about who the best James Bond is – comparing and contrasting the different personas and performances – and the best and worst of the Bond movies; maybe even extending to the best villains, gadgets etc.It is all subjective really, but I digress.
The casual Bond fans will probably be able to talk about Connery, Brosnan and Craig as James Bond – although Roger Moore appeared in the most canon movies, his are usually overlooked compared to the Connery-era and some of the more recent outings. An overlooked Bond in a number of ways is that of Timothy Dalton.
Apparently a very good Shakespearean actor especially on-stage (I cannot vouch for that having not known him outside of the James Bond franchise), Timothy Dalton takes an approach to the character which might seem squandered to some. It seems only now that it is all being acknowledged. Before I begin, I will give a brief background to my views. Over the December holidays, I rented every James Bond films from the library (except two that I did not care to rewatch – I digress) because of the new film at the cinema.
I did not watch them entirely in order just to get it out of the way. Some of these films were very good, others were groan-worthy while the majority are an enjoyable means to pass the time. Even not watching them in order I could feel how people felt when it was the end of Moore’s tenure and his successor took over.
Let’s take a look at what was on offer beforehand. The James Bond films of the 1970s and 1980s. There was an apparent change in tone for the James Bond franchise when Connery returned for his last outing as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever. Even die-hard Connery fans will tell you that this is a bad outing for Bond; there are forgettable and bumbling villians, a silly plot and Connery is not as immersed as he once was in the role. Two years later, we had Roger Moore as the leading man.
There are a couple of not-so bad films from the Moore era (The Spy Who Loved Me is excellent and one of the better Bonds, also I can not bring myself to hate Moonraker either), but the majority do not hold up well. I have been told I had to be there at the time to get the vibe though, but I digress. Moore took more of a comedic slant – a mixed blessing. He is not an awful actor by any means, and his James Bond is still good for what it is. To quote Dalton himself on Moore,
“I think Roger was fine as Bond, but the films had become too much techno-pop and had lost track of their sense of story. I mean, every film seemed to have a villain who had to rule or destroy the world. If you want to believe in the fantasy on screen, then you have to believe in the characters and use them as a stepping-stone to lead you into this fantasy world. That’s a demand I made, and Albert Broccoli agreed with me.”
Another aspect is that James Bond always had its slightly silly moments. There is a limit though. After an out-of nowhere (and out of place) Southern sheriff, his return, clown diguises, James Bond doing a Tarzan yell and other baffling choices, what was to come was a breath of fresh air (though I do have a soft spot for this sequence).
The first sequence already indicated a different tone and I was excited before the credits even started rolling. The action was serious, no goofy gimmicks and getting straight to the point. When it got to the main part of the story, it focused on development of character and plot; following up it grounded itself more in reality than previous efforts by having the main plot concern drug trade in Afghanistan. The action sequences in it were brilliant and the occasional silliness (i.e. using the cello as a sled) was not overt.
Licence to Kill was also very good, much darker and grittier. It had the great action sequences as well, taking liberty away from being family-friendly; this might have left a bad taste in many moviegoers mouths.
Both also had Bond girls that were more than one-dimensional and involved themselves in the plot. They had character and personality very different from most of the Moore era and were probably influenced by Pussy Galore then made in a more modern mindset. I say thank goodness for that.
This is certainly a different James Bond then people were used to at the time. Looking back after the dust has settled, this was worth it in the end. Remember after the failure of Die Another Day? Waiting 4 years for a new James Bond, they rebooted it and along came;
This Bond has become the norm, with more nuance in emotion and subtler acting. Here, he does not care much for goofing around and is an angry, cold-blooded man. That really was what Dalton was 20 years beforehand. There was a complex history between the productions of Moonraker all the way through to Goldeneye which ultimately was bad luck for Dalton – he deserved a lot better.
When getting the role, Dalton actually went and read up on Ian Flemming’s novels. He used the characterisation of Bond based on the Bond in the novels. I have not read them yet, but apparently James Bond is not such a wisecracking womaniser in them but more of a nigh burnt-out spy. The missions are often taxing on him and he drinks to diminish the internal poison. Basically, it is a Bond in suffering.
There is not much humour in Dalton’s James Bond as a result. He is focused but still a decent guy at heart – he even defies MI6s orders when it does not agree with him and it does cost him a fair bit. Still odd for the mass-market, popcorn arena of film-making, Dalton’s performing seemed to be more in vain of method and character acting; no pandering to the audience for what they want but will reward the open-minded.
Even more so than Connery’s take, Dalton always had that aura of paranoia in him; he knew that people were out to kill him and was trying his best to evade it. Upon looking back at Licence to Kill, he was being reserved because of that – to blend in from the audience thus making his job effort a lot more impressive.To me, I was sold with this subtle expression.
This looks like a guy I would not mess around with.
Dalton seems to be getting his due finally nowadays where the gritty interpretations are being welcomed with open arms. In defending him and giving a background justification, I will say that he still is not my favourite James Bond actor but he is under-recognised. Different interpretations of iconic characters are always going to be welcomed; there would not be the Nolan Batman’s without that aspect and I would even argue that Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is likewise.
Each portrayal of Bond is different in tone and reflects the time. Dalton came about at an uncertain time in history (note the enemies in the next film). He also gave more dimension to James Bond utilising backstories from previous efforts. All in all, I wish that there would have been more of Mr. Dalton in the leading role but from what we have he makes a surprisingly big impression.
What do others think of Dalton as 007? Does he work or not and if so, why?
Edit: Since writing this post I have gotten around to reading some of Ian Fleming’s novels. What I can say is that they are very different to how they are depicted in the films. Whenever I read them, the Bond I picture is either Daniel Craig or Timothy Dalton.
Also, I have seen Dalton act in other movies: as the villain in Hot Fuzz – where he was having a lot of fun – and his turn as Heathcliff in the flawed 1970 version of Wuthering Heights, for which he was perfect for the part.