Being James Bond: A Review
by Peter Sheldrick
Being James Bond (2021), the recently released Apple TV special that focuses on Daniel Craig’s fifteen years in the iconic role of James Bond, is not a documentary, per se… Instead, it’s something more: it’s a retrospective and triumphant celebration of the actor himself.
Instead of a traditional documentary that includes interviews with the actors and directors, producers and stunt crews; instead of scripted lines that we’ve heard hundreds of times before and a performative staginess from all involved, the director of Being James Bond, Baillie Walsh, very craftily, invites us to eavesdrop on an intimate conversation between three very close and dear friends: Ms. Barbara Broccoli, Mr. Michael G. Wilson, and Mr. Daniel Craig.
There are no cameras on this trio- which allows them to just have a chat. And while they do this, scenes from Craig’s films and TV roles play on the screen (everything from Mother, Some Voices, Our Friends in the North, Elizabeth, and; many scenes (and behind the scenes), from Craig’s James Bond films). Without having to perform for the camera, these three were just able to genuinely discuss- and vent- about this fifteen year journey they took together- starting with the casting of Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, 007.
It’s the authenticity of these three that makes Being James Bond quite a special retrospective. We may be eavesdroppers, but listening to their tales, we also realise we are a part of something uniquely special. We walk away from this film with a better understanding of the man inside the tux. And that’s what makes this project so brave: James Bond is NOT the star of this film. Daniel Craig is.
Being James Bond– because of its nature of generosity and authenticity- didn’t shy away from the darkness that befell the actor when he was cast. It leans into it. It reveals how relentless the worldwide media was, and; it discloses the pressure Craig felt once he became a celebrity- a celebrity who was carrying the weight of a franchise that started way back in 1962…
After beating out hundreds of actors for the role, London-based actor Daniel Craig immediately endured gut-wrenching attacks. The media became predators and vultures wrapped into one: they hunted him, attacked him in swarms, and then they wanted to pick away at his carcass.
And it’s clear that, more than fifteen years later, both Broccoli and Wilson, and their leading man, still feel the pain from these relentless assaults. When Craig describes the bombardment (on his looks, height, hair colour, his character), it almost pains you to hear his voice as he re-calls it being “hate-filled”.
Luckily, like any great story, our hero overcomes these obstacles and, as Craig puts it, he said to the production team, “c’mon, lets crack-on”… And did he ever. The first step was with his physical transformation…
Original creator and author of James Bond, Ian Fleming, described his agent as a “blunt instrument” (M, as played by Dame Judi Dench, paraphrases this in Casino Royale when she says to her new Double-O: “Bond, this may be too much for a blunt instrument to understand, but arrogance and self-awareness seldom go hand-in-hand.”), and it seems that Craig took this as his cue to start building the character: the blunt instrument.
Once he had discovered his “in”, he ran with it: he trained seven days a week, quit his rollies and bacon sandwiches, and built a body made from steel…
But this was only the start…
Daniel Craig developed James Bond into something not seen before in this franchise: Bond’s inner life, his emotional life. As Broccoli says, Fleming wrote about this part of the secret agent, but it wasn’t explored in the films before- or at least not in great depth. Daniel Craig insisted that this be a part of the character.
The intense involvement and dedication the actor had (has) for his craft, and his commitment to the character, led to -as Barbara Broccoli describes it- “one of the most beautiful scenes in cinematic history”: the infamous shower scene with Vesper; the moment that these two characters fall in love.
In the original script, this scene was written with a little more of the traditional sexiness found in the Bond pictures. However, Craig- who was firmly devout in grounding James Bond insisted Vesper was in shock from the murders she had witnessed Bond commit just a few scenes before. Craig made a stand: Vesper and Bond should remain clothed whilst in the shower.
In the end, this is the way it was shot and it certainly gives it far more of an emotional punch and genuine depth.
Earlier in Being James Bond, the producers admitted that no actor came close to landing the role of 007. They only wanted Daniel. Their gamble in him paid off in spades with the shower scene alone.
After Casino Royale became a worldwide smash-hit, in large part due to the man in the tuxedo, Being James Bond takes another dark twist… How does a character actor from the London stage and screen deal with the immense pressure that comes with fame?
Not well. At first.
After dealing with the painful onslaughts to his character and looks, suddenly Daniel Craig was the toast of the town. And just as suddenly, paparazzi were now hiding in trees near his home. As he describes it, he’d shut the curtains and not go out.
It got to be such a circus that by the time the next Bond film was gearing up (Quantum of Solace), Craig threw himself into every conceivable stunt- almost as some kind of masochistic punishment for reaching this height of fame, or; that through the pain of those stunts (in which he severed the tip of a finger and tore his rotator cuff), he was forcing himself back down to earth, or; a mixture of both.
The three “narrators” of Being James Bond didn’t shy away from the less successful films they made together; namely Quantum of Solace (full disclosure: this writer still considers Quantum to be a top-ten Bond adventure; Craig gives a raw, touching, and yes, even dryly humorous performance (teachers winning the lottery is one such scene …)); Broccoli and company see this film as one that didn’t quite come together- mainly because of the WGA Writer’s Strike that occurred just before filming started. Broccoli recalls that the writer marched into Pinewood, delivered the draft of the script, strolled out, picked up his placard and started his strike!
Loaded only with an early draft, the production team, led by Ms. Broccoli and director Marc Forrester, still had to deliver a film. With the clock ticking, and the lead actor suffering an existential crisis (and so lost himself in performance and stunts), Quantum of Solace was produced on time. Unfortunately, it was received with a very mixed reception. However, as Craig admitted, nothing could top Casino Royale, so this “Second Album Syndrome” was perhaps doomed from the start, no matter which film ended up being produced.
And of course, a little failure is good for the soul; the follow-up film to Quantum would be the smash hit, Skyfall… This was a time in history that was lightning in the bottle for the franchise: Skyfall was the 50th Anniversary film of the series, the Olympics were being played in London, James Bond and Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, joined in the festivities by sky diving into the opening ceremony; Adele- the hottest musical talent at the time- would sing the theme song, Oscar winning director, Sam Mendes was set to direct, and Oscar winning actor, Javier Bardem would play the antagonist… All of this led to the most successful box office for Mr. Bond yet: an enormous 1.1 billion dollars earned… Not bad for this fifty year old franchise!
Being James Bond really does harken back to the mythology of the Heroes Journey: in this case, our Hero (Mr. Craig) rejects his Call to Adventure (“becoming James Bond”), finally accepting his fate; dodging the assaults and obstacles, reaching his lowest points and, finally, rising, resurrecting and triumphing.
That is The Heroes Journey, and that is the journey Craig has been on for these last fifteen years.
His final ascent and triumph was shown when, on the last day of shooting his scenes for No Time To Die (his final film as agent 007), Daniel Craig felt the weight of his decade-and-a-half of service. He addresses the crew that supported and lifted him over the years, and he breaks down with tears. It’s at this point he parallels with the character he re-created, “I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me…”.
Daniel Craig has now bid adieu to 007. After all of the attacks for being too short, too prickly, too ugly, who lacked character and charisma; he’s the last man standing.
Being James Bond is a retrospective, and a meditation, on the triumph of overcoming fears (both internal and external), believing in the self, and, in the words of the great man himself, resigning and being humble and saying “f*** it, let’s crack-on”.
Close to the end of this film, Barbara Broccoli says, “I couldn’t imagine Bond without Daniel”…
Neither can this writer. And with a heavy heart, I salute the beautiful work he’s created while embodying this character, and the lessons he’s taught us while completing his mission…
‘Being James Bond‘ is available to stream free exclusively on Apple TV from Tuesday, 7 September to Thursday, 7 October, 2021.