I attended the Royal Premiere of Casino Royale last Tuesday, courtesy of my very charming Swedish cousin, Erik Olsson, a Bond fanatic (see the two of us downing an appropriate tipple at the pre-screening party). It’s always a levelling experience to walk along that red carpet across Leicester Square, all dressed up. You are aware of the eyes of two thousand celebrity rubber-neckers momentarily fixing on you, and they raise their cameras, then lower them again in disappointment as they realize you are so un-famous you are not even worth wasting a digital photograph on…
This was the third Royal Premiere I’ve been to – the previous ones were for my own films – in 1985 for Biggles in the presence of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, and in 2004 for Merchant of Venice, with Prince Charles and (the then) Camilla Parker Bowles. Having been lucky enough to meet both Princess Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles, I’ve found them both utterly delightful people – bubbly, bright and good fun.
Shaken Or Stirred? – PJ and Erik
The first time I met Diana was shortly after their wedding when they wanted to meet all holders of Royal Warrants. We were invited because my family business, Cornelia James Ltd, holds the Royal Warrant as Glove Maker To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd. My father had recently died and I accompanied my mother. At first, meeting the Princess was an uncanny experience – there were so many Diana “look-alikes” at that time – just about every blonde in England had copied her hairstyle – and I had to keep reminding myself this was the real one! And what struck me more than anything was how much more beautiful, even, in the flesh she was than in her photographs.
Camilla is an extremely attractive lady, also – few photos really do her justice at all. And she also and exudes huge warmth. In our brief chat before the Merchant Of Venice started, I asked her if she was still smoking, or whether Charles, with his famous anti-smoking views had persuaded her to give up. She replied, with a mischievous smile, “Do you want me to nip outside with you and have a quick fag???” Then she went on to say she had given up, but not because of any pressure from HRH, but because of a bronchial infection.
So Casino Royale – was I shaken or stirred? Well, neither really. I did enjoy it and I’m sure any Bond fan going to this movie will, but this was not the best Bond film ever, for me. At the end of the first hour I found myself looking at my watch – not a good sign, although it did pick up. And I did not warm to Daniel Craig as Bond. He is a terrific actor, and I thought he was brilliant in Layer Cake, but in view he just does not have enough “class” to be come across as a convincing ex-public schoolboy. Ian Fleming wrote Bond as a spiv, but a big part of his roguish charm was because he was an upmarket spiv – part toff, part rogue, part thug. It is important to remember the context in which Fleming wrote his Bond books: It was against a background in which UK villains and thugs traditionally came from working class or deprived backgrounds – and mostly from the East End of London. Bond broke the mould. That was gave him a layer of complexity and interest as a character. I think Craig would be better cast as Bond’s minder.
I also thought the script was lame, with what seemed to me a particularly dud, illogical and unreal scene when, early on, Bond breaks into M’s flat. Why? Can anyone explain it to me? I felt the tension throughout the film was slack, and although a keen poker player ( I even have a game in my first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple) I felt the directing of these scenes wasn’t good enough to engage the audience enough in the games. And I really missed the absence of a Q (but not the John Cleese abomination!). Coincidentally the original “Q”, Desmond Llewelyn was killed in a car smash a few years ago less than a mile from my home in Sussex. I’m a gadget freak. And Q’s treasure chest of brilliant, whacky, big boys’ toys was always part of the fun of every Bond novel and film, to me.
Overall, it needed a harsh re-write and the editing was very slack. Some of the sequences went on, and on… and on… and on… Stuart Baird, the editor, who I know and have briefly worked with, could have judiciously cut out at least fifteen minutes. But maybe he wasn’t allowed to. Or maybe I’m just getting interest fatigue from having watched too many action movies where the producer and director think they can paper over cracks in the script by throwing money at the screen. The culture in Hollywood seems to be to save a couple of hundred thousand dollars on a script rewrite, but then have to spend another twenty million on re-shooting, special effects and editing because the film didn’t make sense or wasn’t believable. Nothing has changed in the film world. Writers have been at the bottom of the food chain for the past hundred years, in film and television. But hey, it already the biggest grossing Bond film yet – so what’s the problem?
(As an aside, Stuard Baird told me a wonderful anecdote about the late Oliver Reed – who I made a film with years ago. Reed performed a very controversial scene in Women In Love, when he wrestled naked with Alan Bates. Apparently, despite his macho image, Oliver Reed had a very small – ahem – appendage, and was all the more uncomfortable because Alan Bates was well-endowed. So Reed had his then girlfriend sitting behind the camera, screened off, who would perform oral sex on him for several seconds before each take, to make his penis bigger! Meantime several members of the crew, who didn’t particularly like him, would taunt him by curling their index fingers at him and hissing, ‘Little winky, little winky….’)
I was one of the lucky people to have seen Dr No fresh out of the box, as it were. When Bond in the carnation of Sean Connery first hit the cinemas, in 1962, I was completely and utterly blown away. There had quite simply never been anything like it before. It was the toughest, fastest, most exciting, most erotic, most glamorous action thriller that had ever been made. It set a whole new standard for movie thriller making. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but I think some of the subsequent Connery Bond films were almost as good.
There are some memorable scenes in Casino Royale – in particular the fight for control of the petrol tanker and the way Bond despatched that particular baddie. Craig brings a depth to his character that I haven’t seen since Connery. I loved both the Astons (of course!) but the much hyped car chase was, apart from the world-record breaking x7 barrel roll, one of the feeblest I’ve ever seen in a movie. The average tv cop drama has a better one. And the leading lady was just not my type.
By far the best line was when the barman asks a dishevelled and somewhat drunk Bond, during the poker game, whether he wants his martini shaken or stirred, and Bond replies, “Do I look as if I give a damn?”
It was a bit how I felt.