Mr Dalton and me
The year was 1987, and we were introduced to a new James Bond film: The Living Daylights, and a new 007: Timothy Dalton. Now being completely honest with you, I do not remember this film coming out as I was only five years old. Little did I know that this film and the legacy it left would be part of my life for a long time.
The Eon series has always been part of my life; some of my earliest memories relate to the films being on television. When I was very young, my favourite 007 film was Live and Let Die, and I would watch it over and over again. I loved the title track by Paul McCartney and Wings. For years that was it. 007 was Roger Moore, and Roger Moore was 007.
Then something happened, something big — our family got Sky TV. Now I know for a lot of people in the present, satellite TV and thousands of channels now don't mean diddly-squat. You have to appreciate that back in the 1990s; this was something amazing. It gave me access to films and television from across the world, which I would not usually have seen.
Flicking through the film channels one day after school, I came across James Bond clinging to the top of a Land Rover. I was surprised. This was not Roger Moore. This was a younger man with jet black hair, a steely determination, and an edge which I was unfamiliar with.
I was even more blown away when the theme song by A-Ha kicked in. This was snappy — not the music I was used to from the Connery and Moore eras. The extreme realistic edge continued with the action in Austria, with a Bond who was readying himself to undertake an assassination. His dinner jacket was outfitted with Velcro to ultimately allow him to blend into the darkness — no more safari suits for 007.
After the film finished, I eagerly waited to find out more about the film and looked for repeat showings on TV. I watched The Living Daylights whenever I could. Some days I rushed home from school, knowing it would be on. When they stopped showing the film, I badgered my grandmother to get me the VHS from WHSmith for my Christmas present.
Come Christmas Day, I watched the film, soaking in every detail — and I still have the VHS safely stored in my loft. Later in life, the film became one of the first DVDs I ever owned (before I even had a player). I was blown away by the documentaries, the music video, and all the little details I learned about the making of the film.
Before this, I have happy memories of getting the soundtrack when it was released on CD and listening to it with my best friend — I suspect repeatedly. For me, 007 was Dalton. A return to realism. Dalton has mostly been maligned as 007 — judged as being dull, not cool enough, humourless, and some even dared to say he had a goofy grin.
In my opinion, Dalton is too good an actor to be 007. I am not belittling the role, but Dalton is a Royal Shakespearean classically trained actor. He is not what one would consider an action star, something James Bond had become. When he took on the role, Dalton stated he wanted to get back to the Bond of the novels, and show that Bond was not a superhero but was a man.
Examining James Bond, you see he is a man being asked to undertake a tough and dangerous job. Dalton and director John Glen gave us Fleming’s Bond. They also gave us a template for what Bond would become in the future (Die Another Day aside).
We see the women introduced in the Dalton films to be real people with realistic names. We don’t see the flight of fancy character of say, Pussy Galore or Plenty O’Toole. In Kara Milovy, we meet a naive cellist who is someone you could believably meet on the street. Kara is a character he seems to actually romance, rather than bed after a few moments of meeting.
Dalton brought a hard edge, which has since been used to significant effect in future films — notably the work of Daniel Craig. This can be seen at its best when following the aborted assassination of the ‘sniper’. Dalton snaps at Saunders that he can report him to his superior and 007 will happily take the repercussions.
The emotional reaction to the death of Saunders (their man in Vienna). The burning intensity in his eyes as he chases the believed would-be assassin, only to be shocked to find a child and mother.
His eyes narrowing upon the realisation that Kara appears to know the people involved in the murder of his fellow agents.
We see this hard and realistic edge of Dalton in a scene that was re-written for him: Bond holds General Pushkin at gunpoint, stripping his other half to distract a protection officer. The original scene was written with Moore drinking champagne with the KGB head.
Future template: in Licence to Kill, we see 007 go rogue to avenge an attack upon his friend Felix Leiter by a ruthless drug lord. This isn’t some crazed man wanting to create earthquakes. Robert Davi plays Sanchez with a chilling ferocity; a criminal who will stop at nothing to get his way. Once more, we saw a return to the Bond Fleming wrote with Leiter being partly fed to a shark and his bride being brutally raped and murdered.
With no other option open to him but to defy his orders, Bond resigns and strikes out on his own, albeit with some assistance from an informer and retired pilot: Pam Bouvier. He is also provided with some support from Q branch, although it is off the books and requested by the doting Miss Moneypenny (the woefully underutilised Caroline Bliss).
The final climactic struggle between Bond and Sanchez gives us yet again another dose of realism with hand to hand combat and an explosive ending — quite literally. Sanchez burns to death; inflated men with air pills a distant memory. We see an exhausted Bond almost broken, sitting on a rock, taking stock of what he has done, and almost wanting to stop. Then I believe his amoral side engages, shutting off emotionally to what he has done.
Then everything came to a shuddering halt. Legal wrangling led to the series being put on ice. Timothy Dalton has since explained that he wished to return to do one more film but was told he needed to push forward with several. He decided it was time to bow out.
He was replaced by Pierce Brosnan, who premièred as 007 in GoldenEye, a film where we again saw a Bond with emotional issues — a script initially written with Dalton still in the frame. However, the Brosnan era became ever more fantasy ending a successful run with Die Another Day — a film containing characters genetically changing their race and invisible cars. It makes Moonraker look tame.
Heir to the throne: if we are to look at the work of Dalton we surely see his true successor in Daniel Craig. Craig was initially seen as an odd choice for James Bond: blond hair, under 6ft, and not what one would call classically handsome. He was written off by many before he even began, and many said it would be the end of the franchise.
Yet what we got was a 007 who was one of the most realistic. Able to also show his human side and free of outlandish gadgets. For me, one of the greatest scenes where I can draw a parallel between Dalton and Craig is the killing of Sanchez and the drowning of a man in a sink. For a second, you see a flutter of humanity in Craig's eyes and facial muscles, then the amoral killer kicks in, and his emotions shut down.
Going rogue is now something we have seen Bond do in several films in succession under the tenure of Craig. Before Licence to Kill and Timothy Dalton, this was uncharted waters. If reports are to be believed, Bond 25 will see a former 007 who is married and retired. Bond will be forced from this life, and may well be on a personal mission of revenge. This sounds familiar but was unimaginable as a formula until Timothy Dalton came into the role.
Sadly, we never got a third Dalton Bond film. Various rumours have suggested it was going to be set in China, may have had cyborgs in it, and could have seen a return of the beloved DB5. As much as I would have loved to have seen a third Dalton adventure, part of me is glad we only got the two realistic films he gave us.
Mr Dalton, we thank you.
Bond fan James Stafford is also a podcaster, voice over artist, and photographer, and can be found on Twitter @JSTheVoice1