Okay, I’ve heard it all before – “Dalton was crap”, “Don’t tell me you’re a Tim Dalton fan”, “He was worse than George Lazenby” etc etc etc.
I’m bored of it.
With Skyfall on its way, I felt now was a good time to offer why Tim Dalton isn’t just the strongest Bond, but why I consider the Living Daylights one of the best three Bond films ever made. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make this long and boring – and I’m not going to whitter on about the plot details of TLDs either.
But rather than go on ploughing your Connery, Moore, Brosnan and Craig furrows (sorry for the omission George, but nobody cares), isn’t it time you put your prejudice to one side and re-discovered the best and most complicated Bond portrayal to date?
A little historical context to set the scene; Dalton was asked as a 22 year old stage actor to play Bond in the movie On Her Majesty Secret Service. Dalton turned down the opportunity because he thought he was to young to play the character (note the respect for the role). We know what happened next.
Dalton was asked twice more, For Your Eyes Only(1981) and Octopussy (1983). It wasn’t until 1986 that he finally felt he looked mature enough to play Bond and was offered a three picture deal.
Dalton’s take on the character was to create a screen version of the brooding and methodical assassin envisioned by Ian Fleming in his original stories. Dalton was a RADA trained Shakespearian actor and certainly had no intention of smirking and punning his way through the role. He chose to go his own way. Goodbye super-villains hellbent on far fetched world domination plots, and hello to arms dealers, Afghan resistance fighters, complicated double-crosses and political assassinations. The familiar elements were preserved – the car, the locations, but anchored in a real cold war setting. The whole thing shifts along with an urgency that would have been a fantasy in any of Moore’s efforts but it asks a lot of the viewer to keep up. I can imagine myself as a kid trying to watch this, and I would have hated it – where were the spaceships? Hell, he even stays with just one woman throughout!
However, the short and long of it is that Dalton suffered a very mixed response after the extended stay of Roger Moore. Now listen, I grew up with Moore as Bond, and loved him at the time. But I was a kid. I find his Bonds un-watchable now. When The Living Daylights hit the big screen, global audiences were still in mourning for Moore’s bond, and found Dalton humourless. It seems that heady excesses of good story, three-dimensional characterisation and real world setting were too challenging for most. After all, where were all the puns and the evil bloke who plans to ravage the planet with some deadly plot? Where were Jaws and Grace Jones?
I’ll summarise my feelings by saying that Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond, so universally acclaimed (and of which I am a fan), is an echo of Dalton’s harder edge. While Licence to Kill was a weaker film, Bond had never been so tough (until Craig). You sense a seething anger in his characterisation, which bubbles just below the surface in every scene. It’s important to remember that Craig has hinted that Dalton’s brief stay in the role is his own favourite, elements of which he has built into his own portrayal (You don’t see him cracking many one-liners do you?).
Timothy Dalton was scheduled to play in his third instalment as Bond in the planned The Property Of A Lady (one of only 3 original Fleming titles yet to feature in the movie franchise by the way), when the film was canceled during pre-production due to legal wrangling between EON and MGM. After five years, Dalton’s contract obligation for a third film was over. He was asked once more to play Bond for Goldeneye but turned it down. To date, no one was ever asked to play Bond without a contract more than twice.
So listen, take a chance to check out Tim Dalton in one of the best Bond films ever made, and look up a copy of The Living Daylights (distinguished by being the last Bond to feature a score by the legendary composer John Barry, who had been with the franchise all the way (and it’s as strong as any in the series)). The film really is better than you think, remember, or have been told (if you’ve never seen it).
However, if you’re someone who doesn’t like grown up spy thrillers, with an intelligent plot, a complex leading character capable of cruelty and single-minded obsession when pursuing a mission, combined with a fine piece of acting, then maybe you should give it a miss and watch Spy Kids, Stormbreaker, or A View to a Kill instead.