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Friday is one of those rare occasions that my home country, the once “great” Britain, gets to blow its own trumpet on the world stage.
It is not for a royal event – us Brits normally need a wedding or Jubilee to get on America’s radar, but another British institution. The US release of the twenty-third official James Bond film, "Skyfall." Nobody has managed to do a film franchise better – Bond’s is now in its fiftieth year.
I like to think I’m James Bond’s granddaughter. The character was created by Ian Fleming in 1953, who said Bond was a combination “of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war.” Men who included my maternal grandfather Tony Hugill, who was even named in Fleming’s Bond novel "The Man With The Golden Gun."
James Bond represents Britain’s best qualities. Bond has always been the ultimate defender of Queen and country, which was why it was a perfect screen marriage when the Queen appeared with James Bond at the Olympics.
The Bond films have in common with the royal family the ability to maintain a basic structure but evolve and adapt over time. Trademarks include the glamorous locations, dastardly villains and of course girls, gadgets and guns galore. All acted out with some wry one-liners over a sweeping musical score.
Bond is also a bonding experience. We all grew up with him, all have an opinion on who played him best. Connery or Craig’s physicality? Moore or Brosnan’s humor? Lazenby or Dalton as most notable footnote?
"Skyfall" marks Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond. In this post Bourne world, he’s certainly severer than Bonds gone by, but the standard pieces are all in place.
The new film’s locations include Istanbul, Shanghai and Macau, although for the first time, most of the action takes place within the UK itself. There’s a stunt on a train over a 400 foot–high viaduct, which is the latest big action scene that tries and still doesn’t outdo "The Spy Who Loved Me’s" ski parachute off the cliff.
A crucial component to a Bond movie is of course the villain, just the right side of camp. Bond films and scoundrels tend to be apolitical – even during the Soviet era they hate East and West indiscriminately. The latest would-be Blofeld – who first appeared stroking a white cat in From Russia With Love, is Javier Bardem, who admirably acquits himself as a cyber-terrorist.
At last count Bond has kissed 61 women and slept with 26. Ursula Andress’s "Honey Ryder" still reigns supreme in the majority of polls, with Honor Blackman’s "Pussy Galore" coming in with an honorable mention for most memorable name. The Bond girls have perhaps undergone the most significant changes as the era of the “sexist dinosaur” ended. Pretty faces they may still be, but they hold their own – from Halle Berry’s “Jinx” in Die Another Day to Skyfall’s Naomie Harris as field agent Eve.
Bond’s one constant companion is his car. In "Skyfall," the Aston Martin DB5 first unveiled in 1964’s "Goldfinger" even makes a cameo. The late, great, Desmond Llewelyn as 007’s go-to gadget guy Q, is now the young whippersnapper Ben Whishaw, who has a smart line in humor, if not exploding pens.
Topping off the Bond concoction of course is the vital John Barry-esque score. Adele belts Skyfall’s theme tune with suitable gusto.
Critics from the London Times to The Hollywood Reporter to the Vatican have been almost united in universal praise for "Skyfall." Much credit is going to the Oscar winning director Sam Mendes and Dame Judi Dench, who first appeared as Bond’s boss "M" in "Goldeneye." Dench’s role has expanded in "Skyfall" and is garnering Oscar buzz. Audiences around the world have already been left shaken and stirred by the film’s 140 minutes – "Skyfall" has made half "Casino Royale's" box office total even before American release.
The likes of Austin Powers and Johnny English may come and go. However good he is, Bourne is going to find it Mission: Impossible to hit half a century. America may be facing a fiscal cliff, Europe collapsing before our eyes, but in a changing, uncertain world, one thing’s for certain.
James Bond will return.