Moonraker Radio Play - Review
22nd June 2018
Matthew Kresal reviews the latest offering from Jarvis and Ayres, an adaptation of Fleming's third novel
With adaptations having been aired almost annually since 2014, none followed in 2017. Instead, Jarvis revealed in an interview that the next one would not air until 2018. It was on the 31st of March that the latest adaptation aired in the form of Moonraker.
Once more adapted from Fleming's novel by Archie Scottney, the radio play is by and large a faithful adaptation of the novel. Set in 1954, it opens with Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced to Parliament that the Moonraker missile promised by Sir Hugo Drax is ready for test launch before segueing into the opening credits and Bond's meeting with M. Readers of Fleming's novel will recognize many of the sequences portrayed within including the Bridge game at Blades where Bond beats a cheating Drax, Bond and Gala Brand nearly being killed by a cliff fall, the revelation of Moonraker's real purpose, the missile's launch, and the final scene that sets the novel apart from much of the Bond canon. For those who have craved a faithful adaptation of the original novel rather than the science fiction driven plot of the 1979 EON film, it is everything one could have hoped for.
Not that Scottney isn't afraid to make changes when necessary. To get the plot moving, for example, the novel's opening chapter depicting Bond's office life is deleted while the exposition-heavy chapters that follow are neatly presented with the help of a Movietone clip of Drax being interviewed followed by Bond, M, and Q laying out the basics of the back-story. The nighttime chase involving Bond's Bentley and Drax's Mercedes is similarly curtailed by is present nonetheless. Churchill as well didn't appear in the original novel but his inclusion does help to establish the time and place of this production rather neatly, as does the inclusion both of Movietone and BBC Radio broadcasts around the Moonraker's launch. Scottney neatly covers all of the novel's highlights but is also largely faithful to other elements of the novel even if he has to curtail them.
The performances are solid all around. Now playing Bond for the seventh time, Stephens seems quite secure in the role. He plays the various facets of the Bond character nicely from playing drunk to lull Drax into a false sense of security at Blades to his attempts at courting Gala Brand right down to a sense of only slightly hidden disappointment in the final scene. Like with the character of Fleming's novels, Stephens' Bond is not a superman but a human being which the actor brings to life very nicely indeed.
The supporting cast is equally solid. Samuel West brings Fleming's Hugo Drax to life and while no one ever mentions the red hair or scars he had in the novel, West brings the character to life splendidly with his sense of being humble in public to a loud, almost vulgar figure in private. The production also marks the first time Lisa Dillon hasn't appeared in the Jarvis & Ayres adaptations with Katherine Kingsley bringing Gala Brand to life in her place, bringing one of Fleming's most interesting female characters to life suitably throughout. The reoccurring cast of characters at MI6 all return suitably in their roles with Jared Harris being a nice addition as Brand's Special Branch boss Vallance in a handful of scenes. Patricia Hodge (who herself played Ian Fleming's other in 1990's Spymaker) plays the role of physicist Professor Train in a couple of scenes and brings to life a character who delivers nothing but exposition with a great deal of wit and charm. The rest of the cast play multiple roles including Nigel Anthony and Simon de Deney while Martin Jarvis as Fleming once more supplies the occasional bit of narration. It's as solid a cast as any of these adaptations have had before, highlighting some of the UK's best voice actors.
Whether an audio drama succeeds or fails often relies on its soundscape conjuring up the settings for the listener. While Moonraker might not be as expansive a tale as Goldfinger, feature the ski chases of On Her Majesty's Secret Service or the underwater battle of Thunderball, it presents challenges all of its own. Challenges that the production overcomes rather nicely as it creates the sounds of everything from the Blades club to the Moonraker's silo. The latter is an interesting mix of sound effects that capture a sort of retro-futurism that itself can be found in Fleming's novel. The production also features a nice set of original music from Mark Holden and Michael Lopez who once more show that it is possible to do a solid Bond score even without having access to Monty Norman's James Bond Theme. The result is a solid audio drama all around that immerses listeners into the world of Fleming's classic novel.
There is no indication yet if or when another Jarvis & Ayers Fleming adaptation might air. There are still five Fleming novels the company has yet to adapt including the previously adapted You Only Live Twice as well as the two volumes of Fleming short stories. Could we see another novel adapted for radio before the release of Bond 25 or maybe for broadcast in 2020?
Like so much in the world of Bond, it's a matter of waiting and seeing. Or hearing as the case might be.
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