Secret Agent - The James Bond Story

The James Bond Story is a 1999 documentary film all about Fred Dibnah and the amazing world of steam. Of course it's not. This is a 52 minute (mean with the running time) gaze at the arena of James Bond with narration by Miranda Richardson of Blackadder II.
Did you know that Jane Seymour was cast in Live and Let Die when the producers saw her in The Onedin Line? That Man with the Golden Gun star Christopher Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming? That George Lazenby convinced the 007 producers he was the man to replace Sean Connery when he misjudged a punch during his screentest and bloodied the nose of a stuntman? That Cubby Broccoli invented the Pot Noodle?
Bond fans will already know most of what this documentary flings in their direction and have longer and more extensive documentaries on the shelf with the James Bond DVDs they own. Shortcomings aside, and to clutch at straws, there is some good archive material on offer and it is worth blowing the dust off the cover and switching on your DVD player for this reason.
The documentary (which only goes up to The World Is Not Enough) is completely out of date but you are spared any mention of the Jason Bourne reboot of the series. It's bad enough listening to Barbara Broccoli on the old Bond DVDs talking about the Pierce Brosnan films as if they masterpieces rife with ingenious political subtexts.
The James Bond Story is broken into ten short sections - Origins, Bond, James Bond, Sex, Violence, Right and Wrong, The Original Spy, True Brit, Gadgets, Weaknesses, and The Future. The origins part is reasonably interesting with some footage of that very refined duo Ian Fleming and Noel Coward.
Coward was Fleming's neighbour at GoldenEye in the West Indies where he wrote the books and would often pop round for a Jammie Dodger and cup of tea. When deadlines loomed, and Ian Fleming hadn't been to Sainsburys, they had to make do with Bourbon Creams.
Coward believed that James Bond was Fleming's fantasy version of himself. He did, as the documentary touches upon, imbue Bond with some  human qualities. He was more interested in hard boiled American pulp than old fashioned British adventure heroes like Biggles. Bond is a drinker, gambler, womaniser, and hopelessly addicted to Bingo.
There are interviews with Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton plus a few snippets with Pierce Brosnan as the documentary was released as part of the campaign for Michael Apted's The World Is Not Enough. Brosnan is required to ponder how Bond has been modernised for the nineties and seems bored by questions he's probably been asked before.
Timothy Dalton comes across as the most intelligent and thoughtful speaking about the character. He's the one that you believe wasn't fibbing about reading all the books and had an understanding of what Ian Fleming was about. Not that it did him much good in the end.
Dalton did more of his own stunts than any other Bond actor but modestly said it was only because he didn't want to look like a wimpy idiot in front of the macho stunt crews. Roger Moore is his usual deprecating self and as usual entertaining company. I enjoy his reccurring joke that he only did the Bond films for so little money because it involved traveling around the world and mingling with beautiful women.
Sean Connery can be a cold fish but it's never less than engaging to hear him talk about his time as James Bond because of the unique ringside seat he had at the inception of the franchise. The James Bond films shook up the cultural landscape at a time when musicals and romantic comedies were still a relatively large staple. Cinemagoers in 1962 had never seen anything quite like Dr No before.

There are interviews (through archive or shot for the documentary) with Lewis Gilbert, Michael G Wilson, John Glen, Jane Seymour, Andrew Lycett, Terence Young, and, um, Mariella Frostrup, that world famous authority on all things James Bond. Frostrup speaks movingly about the ten long years she spent renovating the slide whistle from The Man with the Golden Gun's bridge jump after finding it abandoned and unloved in a muddy field near Tunbrigde Wells.
Archive interview snippets also include Diana Rigg, Christopher Lee, and Donald Pleasance, plus many more wittering heads. The flaw is that the modest running time of the film doesn't allow much time for anyone to say much. Eon's vaults are a treasure trove that you want to explore.
The behind the scenes footage is fascinating but you might have seen parts before in other documentaries. Like how the croc stunt in Live and Let Die went wrong with the first take and one of the crocs managed to snag the stuntman's shoe. While I'm here I'd also like to complain about the crappy DVD cover picture montage, which looks like it was thrown together in ten minutes by someone on a VIC-20.
The extras are hardly worth bothering with. Web links, filmographies, and trivia. The James Bond Story has some very interesting footage but there have been far better (and longer) 007 documentaries than this on television. It's a long way from the definitive James Bond documentary.
- GH

c 2016 Alternative 007

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