Ben Williams inspects the new Sky Atlantic biopic of 007's creator, 'Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond'
"You see mister Bond, we are not so different, you and I." No, it's not a line from one of the nefarious villains Fleming's 007 adventures, but the underlying theme of Sky's new miniseries, "Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond".
Whilst it is true that there are many similarities between Bond and his creator, "Fleming" strives to underscore this notion at every turn, drawing parallels between Fleming and Bond and leaving us with a script that positively drips with dramatic irony.
Having said that, Sky have clearly put a lot of effort into this production, and it shows through in each aspect of the production, from the production design and the costuming, to the cinematography and the direction. For instance, the interior of Fleming's flat in Edbury Street is wonderfully realised, as is Room 39 at the Admiralty. Somerset House does seem to stand in for one too many locations, but this will probably be missed by the majority of viewers and no doubt made up for by the use of the real Goldeneye and the actual exteriors of Edbury Street and the Admiralty building. Perhaps as expected, the score doffs a hat to Barry, but bereft of the bombast, and there are many familiar musical motifs woven in. There are one or two moments where the visual effects appear to let the show down, particularly the shots of war torn London and CGI aircraft, but these are really just niggles.
On the whole the performances from the leads are strong, particularly from Lara Pulver as Anne, who strikes the balance between manipulative sexuality and emotional fragility perfectly. It's clear that Anna Chancellor has fun as Monday, a character based on Fleming's secretary Patricia Ridsdale, who herself was the inspiration for Miss Moneypenny. Annabelle Wallis is sweetly seductive as Muriel Wright and looks particularly good in her dispatch rider's leathers. Samuel West makes a good fatherly Admiral Godfrey and Lesley Manville's turn as Evelyn Fleming is enjoyable to watch as she cuts all around her down to size.
As to Dominic Cooper's Fleming, there is no doubt that he can act and has a good deal of charm, but many Fleming fans are likely to be disappointed in his casting. Ian Fleming had a certain aloofness to him, a certain detached snobbery that Cooper simply cannot bring to the table, preferring to play him more as a loveable rogue with a total disregard for authority. On top of this, it must be mentioned that physically the two share very little in common. Fleming was a tall, lean, and cruelly handsome man, whereas Dominic Cooper, whilst not unattractive to the ladies, is much shorter and possesses more rugged looks when compared to Fleming's more refined countenance. This said, he delivers a fine performance, but it is difficult to ever really invest in him as the embodiment of Ian Fleming.
In their efforts to make Fleming as Bondian as possible, there are several times when the narrative veers wildly from fact and commits firmly to fantasy. Of course, biopics often necessitate the changing of characters and events to tell a more concise and accessible story, and "Fleming" is no different. However, the many factual inaccuracies are played off with the same kind of dismissive charm Fleming often employed when asked about the accuracy of his descriptions.
So, does "Fleming" show us the man behind Bond? Does it lift the curtain on Ian Fleming? Perhaps the best answer to that is the quote by Fleming that precedes every episode: "Everything I write has a precedent in truth". This seems to underscore the tone for the entire production. Are we presented with a wholly faithful and accurate telling of Fleming's life? No. But, as Dominic Cooper's Fleming says in the final episode "It was a really good story, wasn't it?"
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