MI6 guest writer David Leigh reports on the Casino Royale World Premiere event and the audience reaction from a British perspective...

Opinion - A Day With 007 - A British Perspective
15th December 2006


The only reason I ever visit London these days seems to be James Bond and my latest trip was no exception. I was lucky enough to have been offered a couple of tickets to the world premiere of Casino Royale in the presence of the Queen, and to me that is an opportunity that is impossible to turn down – especially when you’ve devoted much more time, energy and money to 007 than could be expected of any sane adult.

On Monday morning, having arrived at Gatwick on Saturday in order to spend some time with family and acclimatise, I headed for the West End; sightseeing wasn’t on the agenda though – after all I was born in the capital and until 2001 worked in an office in Oxford Street (incidentally in the building that once housed De Bry, where the literary Bond buys his coffee). And if that wasn’t enough, I forgot to pack my map.

Instead I headed to Leicester Square to see what was going on for the premiere the following day and also to scout the area for the pre-premiere venue. When I got there the gardens were closed and before me lay a chaotic scene of carpentry, lighting rigs, stages, cables and vans.

The following day I headed to Leicester Square again, this time for a rendezvous with some fellow Bond fans. Several hours later my guest and I changed into black tie and we headed towards Leicester Square again for drinks and a pre-premiere dinner at Ruby Blue. Here we met up with a few MI6 regulars amongst the diners, although everyone was keen not to fill up at the bar too much as we were expecting to be seated in the cinema for well over 3 hours. There was a real buzz of expectation in the air with everyone wanting the new film, and the new James Bond, to be a huge success.

The tickets demanded that we were in our seats by 6.45 p.m. with advice to leave Ruby Blue by 6.20. Therefore the anxiety level was a little high when we were invited into the dining room around 5.00. However, the kitchen staff at Ruby Blue pulled out all the stops and the courses were cooked, served and devoured in record time – I don’t know if it was deliberate, but one of the main courses was steak with Béarnaise sauce, which 007 orders in the novel.

We only needed to cross Leicester Square and so were ushered onto the red carpet and through the gardens, barricaded from the thousands of onlookers who turned out for the event. I suppressed the urge to sign my autograph or to wave to the crowd, while they must have been wondering who on Earth these people were to get the red carpet treatment.

While the stars and the Queen were in the Odeon Leicester Square, I had tickets for the Odeon West End, but the entire event was broadcast to the cinema’s giant screen. We were able to watch Daniel Craig arrive, looking relaxed and really enjoying himself; this was his big night. He looked happy to be there, shaking hands, signing and having the time of his life – he was even taking photographs for fans, holding the camera so both he and the camera owner were in the shot.

The other cast members arrived, including Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench, along with celebrities from the world of screen, stage and music. Eventually the Queen and Prince Philip arrived, to be introduced to the cast and crew by Michael G. Wilson. Once Her Majesty had taken her seat the national anthem played and the curtains closed. With the audience’s collective adrenalin racing the curtain opened and the film began.

And what a beginning it is - the pre-titles sequence is a short, sharp shock, a world away from the bloated Brosnan-era films. This really is James Bond as you’ve never seen him before, someone you’d not want to cross. At the end of the film, a real 144 minute rollercoaster ride, the crowd cheered – I’d been waiting more than just four years for this film, and many of the people I spoke to felt the same.

All that was left to do was make our way back to Ruby Blue and have a few drinks while discussing what we’d just seen. On the way I saw Judi Dench - amongst others - being chauffeured off to the post-premiere party and before reaching the entrance I was stopped by some bystanders eager to know what the film was like. The bar was buzzing with excitement again while everyone discussed what they’d just seen. I chatted with some of the MI6 regulars and stuck around until midnight, at which time it was time to get to the underground and home.

I don’t want to give too much away and spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but there are many, many differences to the recent Bond formula. One of the big positives is that the script is full of much more subtle humour and there is not a single groan-inducing pun to be heard. Daniel Craig plays a Bond who is clearly a killer, with the most brutally intense fight scenes ever seen in a James Bond film; after the wham-bam pre-title sequence the film continues in the same line; Bond is a completely ruthless killer who relies upon just his wits, fists, guns and knives - and anything else that may come to hand, including luck - to deal the death blow. And you really believe he could do it.

We’ve never seen Bond suffer like he does in Casino Royale either – he bleeds, gets bruised and scarred and bleeds some more. This helps make James Bond a much more real person and someone we can relate to – instead of dusting down his suit he reaches for the first-aid kit.

But, how does it rate with the other Bond films? The truth is that it is so radically different that there is little point in comparing either the film or Daniel Craig with what has gone before. Some critics have likened Craig to Sean Connery, but there is no way I could even begin to compare them - go and see the film and make up your own mind. Just be prepared for a piece of cinema that leads you on a tough and sometimes emotional journey that lets you leave the cinema knowing that James Bond really is back. The countdown for Bond 22 has begun...

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