The Year of the Spy

Rob introduces his Year of the Spy! Continue reading “The Year of the Spy”

Podcast: World Book Night Live!

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World-book-nightJoin us in celebrating World Book Night, the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, and our first birthday! In a special extended live show, there is poetry, Shakespeare, readings from the selected World Book Night books and more! Continue reading “Podcast: World Book Night Live!”

Happy World Book Night!

WBN Casino RoyaleDid you know it’s World Book Night tonight?  For the third year running, on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and death, millions of books will be given away by book-lovers around the world to encourage people to try something new or get back into reading again? Continue reading “Happy World Book Night!”

His And Hers: Skyfall Review

His:  “We will stand tall, Face it all together, At Skyfall…”

Adele’s lyrics from her rather divisive Bond theme seem hauntingly appropriate once the credits roll on Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007. With an unusually dramatic and profound ending to a Bond film, one with real consequences to the future of the franchise, director Sam Mendes has delivered a thoughtful, intelligent Bond film that mixes character development with rather stunning action scenes. After the dip in form of Quantum of Solace, the series is back on form and firing on all cylinders. 

First things first, as a self-confessed Bond nerd, I loved it. Ticking all the required boxes, this felt closer to the classic Bonds of years past, channeling Connery and Fleming himself with a modern twist. The hard, grittier edge of Casino Royale, badly needed after the bloated nature of the Pierce Brosnan films, is softened slightly with more humour and playfulness than any of Craig’s previous outings, yet never straying into the eyebrow raising silliness of the Roger Moore era. The pithy one-liners don’t feel out of place and show Craig’s Bond slowly getting back into the swing of things after a rather forced ‘time-out’ from MI6.  

The producers must find it hard to deliver the required elements of a Bond film in new and interesting ways –the pre-credits sequence, girls, cars, stunning locations and stunts, villains and gadgets – but they manage it successfully, breathing new life into the series. The stunts and set pieces are impressive, in particular the opening section in Istanbul, where the chase escalates and escalates as it hurtles towards its bloody conclusion. Despite MI6’s brief to only operate on foreign shores, Skyfall is the first Bond with large sections of the film set on home soil, with Britain becoming Great again under Mendes’ excellent direction as many famous British locations, in and out of London, are used as the plot unfolds. 

Acknowledging the history of the series, Craig’s Bond is a hero with a past – even if it is now a little muddled – with dead parents, a family home and Sean Connery’s car. With the fiftieth anniversary of Bond on the big screen there are plenty of subtle references and nods to films gone by but thankfully none are as excruciatingly blatant as the winks and nods that littered the last anniversary in Brosnan’s Die Another Day.

With the supporting cast, Ben Whishaw’s Q is no longer there to merely supply some well thought out gadgets and a little light relief – here he plays an important role in the film assisting Bond while Javier Bardem gets closer (ahem) to 007 than any other Bond villain, at times even channeling Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. Naomie Harris’ Eve and Berenice Marlohe’s Severine have small but intriguing roles, but the main Bond girl here is Judi Dench. Her M is one who is plagued by bureaucrats and politicians wanting her to retire yet vowing to stay in office as MI6 comes under attack. 

Some critics have pointed fingers at the plot, calling it boring or lacklustre in its ambition. But for a series celebrating its anniversary, it seems appropriate for it to be based on M’s actions and decisions made in her past. It becomes about the legacy that one leaves behind while also looking forward to the future. Javier Bardem is no longer simply a megalomaniac villain with a private army trying to take over the world one more time. Instead he comes across as truly damaged by his past and becomes all the more dangerous because of it.

With its blockbuster box office and rave reviews, James Bond will definitely return and not soon enough. – Rob Chilver

Hers: As a relative novice when it comes to the Bond canon, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the film released in Bond’s 50th anniversary on screen.  However, I was looking forward to seeing Daniel Craig’s third outing as Britain’s most famous spy, having really enjoyed the way he inhabited the role in Casino Royale and the much maligned Quantum of Solace.

For me, Craig is Bond; alongside Connery, he’s the definitive portrayal of the agent, exhibiting brutality and violence where needed, as well as humour, strength, charisma and a cool head under pressure. As well as this, particularly in Skyfall, Craig shows us Bond’s self-destructive side, tempered only by his love of country.

Watching the film, I felt that Bond had, in some ways, come full circle, back to the quips and cold-blooded murders of the first films, albeit without the all-pervading misogyny. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Skyfall is feminist – M is cast very much as a mother figure rather than a boss, Bond suggests to Eve that he’d feel safer in the field knowing she was behind a desk, and Bond girl Severine is incapable of escaping the clutches of her male captors, despite her obvious intelligence and ample charms. However, these women are all strong figures whose talents are acknowledged, even celebrated, which is infinitely preferable to, for example, the treatment of women throughout From Russia With Love.

Sam Mendes clearly wanted to draw from and build on the wealth of heritage from the last half century when making Skyfall. Nothing illustrates this respect for history better than the opening sequence of the film, a chase through Istanbul, a classic Bond destination combining the familiar with the exotic and unknown. We begin in familiar territory – a car chase with plenty of jostling and some exchange of fire through a busy marketplace – but Mendes quickly ups the ante. Soon, Bond and his quarry are on motorbikes, riding through alleyways and then, spectacularly, over the roofs of the old Bazaar, until finally they make a seemingly impossible leap onto a moving train. This, to me, is textbook Bond, yet I didn’t feel it was cliched or tired – the action is fast, fresh and grittily real.

Throughout the film, there are echoes, tributes and references to Bond film history, balanced by dialogue and events that could only come from 2012. When Bond visits the casino in Macau, I particularly enjoyed the hissing Komodo Dragons awaiting their next meal, and what Bond villain would be complete without a secret island base? And, of course, later in the film, the ultimate Bond car returns and certainly makes its presence felt. But Skyfall lives in the now too – M is subjected to a Leveson-style enquiry into her department’s performance and the world of cyberterrorism looms over proceedings. This reflection of modern concerns, as well as the film’s unsentimental treatment of Bond himself, saves Skyfall from descending into a nostalgiafest unpalatable to all but fanboys.

There has been some criticism of the plot is Skyfall, especially with regard to Bond’s antagonist, played exquisiteness by Javier Bardem. It turns out that Raoul Silva is not out to blow up the land and force us to live underwater, irradiate Fort Knox, or just plain old take over the planet. He doesn’t even want a ransom. He just wants revenge. What could be a more basic motivation than this? With Bond’s apparent death and resurrection via the rushing river and the underworld of the beach bar, and Silva’s Oedipal “Mommy was very bad”, perhaps Mendes was thinking of Classical Greek archetypes, rather than Bond versus Blofeld.

Despite my newbie status, I thoroughly enjoyed Skyfall. The pace, plot, and balance of old and new were perfectly judged. In my opinion, Mendes has given us the ultimate incarnation of 007, synthesising heritage and innovation to produce the strongest Bond offering I’ve seen. – Kate Neilan