The Daily Telegraph
Can Boris save Bond?
James Bond has turned his back on Britain. It is hard to draw any other conclusion from the news that Eon Productions has once again postponed the release of the latest film, No Time to Die – it was meant to be next month, now it’s been knocked all the way to April 2021.
Britain’s cinema companies have all recently found themselves turning into Miss Moneypenny, feverishly counting down the minutes until Bond puts in an appearance and gets bums back on the reduced-capacity seats. But the delay has spelt instant disaster for Cineworld, the UK’S major cinema chain, which has announced the indefinite closure of all 127 of its UK cinemas on Thursday. Others are likely to follow suit.
It is all particularly dispiriting because the attitude of the studios and Bond producers – MGM, Universal and the Eon supremos Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are behind the decision – seems to fly in the face of the values we associate with Bond.
The raison d’être of Bond is to come along and save the day in the nick of time. He could have added cinema’s salvation to this name, now he’s got wreckage. He could have helped the British people shed a few of the uncharacteristic safety-first habits they’ve acquired this year and take the small risk of watching a film on a big screen (the stats have it that not a single Covid case has arisen in Britain from those attending cinema screenings).
One rather sad aspect of this whole scenario is that it has created an association between Bond and money-grubbing thanks to the launch date flip-flopping in the quest for greater returns. Bond would never have sunk so low.
As Ian Fleming specified in the original novels, in the Fifties Bond earns “£1,500 a year, the salary of a Principal Officer in the Civil Service” – something less than £50,000 today, which I suspect compares rather unfavourably with the earnings of most of his fellow old Etonians.
Hardly danger money, then, and yet Bond repeatedly risks his life for Queen and country. If, for example, Bond can run the suicidal risk of venturing into Blofeld’s mountaintop lair in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to save Britain’s agricultural economy (Blofeld is brainwashing people into smuggling crop and livestock pests into Britain), why can’t MGM and Eon take a bit of a hit to save our cinemas?
Still, business is business, and in the view of many people the real villains of the piece are the Prime Minister and Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, for failing to provide enough financial aid to tide our beleaguered cinemas over. Boris Johnson has called for people to support their local cinemas, but the bail-out has so far arrived piecemeal, and insufficient.
It seems to me like offering a sticking plaster to somebody who’s been on the business end of Rosa Klebb’s right shoe. What Mr Johnson should be doing is setting up negotiations with MGM and Eon to get Bond out. Instead he looks like he’s backing away from a fight.
Mr Johnson could make some vague noises about withdrawing some of the extremely generous tax relief offered to companies that make films in Britain – for where would a Bond film be without a London backdrop? But, even if he’s worried that his eye will start to bleed like Le Chiffre’s if he tries to bluff, he could simply re-emphasise a simple truth: Britain needs Bond and Bond needs Britain.
Bond is soft power. Visitbritain has organised campaigns around the release of the last two Bond films, with the slogan “Bond is Great … Britain”. The Queen consented to let Daniel Craig into the vicinity of her corgis and to (sort of) jump out of an aeroplane in the London Olympics opening ceremony promo because she knew that the Bond films present a positive image of Britain as a player on the world stage.
He should be setting up meetings with MGM and Eon to get Bond out
The Bond films are not set in Britain as a favour – both benefit from the relationship
And it suits the film’s producers for the movies to have a very British sensibility. In the old days, there were jokey scenes involving double-decker buses, traffic wardens and the Millennium Dome; and in the more serious Craig era, Skyfall in particular, is a conveyor belt of great British landmarks.
The international audience recognises and appreciates Britain’s distinctive culture, or the version of it refracted through the Bond films. They enjoy the stereotype of the Englishman who learnt the value of fair play on the playing fields of Eton, and the piquancy of the fact that he learnt something else in bed with one of the Eton chambermaids, and was expelled for it. They love the films for their quasi-classy veneer, for the elements they have in common with Downton Abbey as much as with the Bourne movies.
The Bond films are not set in Britain as a favour to us, in other words, but rather because Britain and Bond both benefit from the relationship. If it flounders, both will suffer – the fact that the Queen will never again agree to take the part of a Bond Girl will be the least of it.
So please, Mr Bond, help us in our time of need. There’s a phrase they must surely have taught you at Eton: cometh the hour, cometh the man.