Shaken Not Stirred

Whishaw and Craig as Q and 007

Skyfall

If there’s one brand, one film franchise, one name even, that sums up the very best of British creativity and industry (and which holds no relation to anyone of a royal title or an olympian) it is Bond. James Bond. Oh the images are filling my mind and I’m making no attempt to close the flood gates; martinis, Aston Martins, sophisticated black suits. Femme fatales, incredible dresses, guns, blood, Judi Dench, gadgets, the unmistakable theme tune. Fast cars, crazy billionaires, sharks and the hairiest escapes known to man.

It is perhaps serendipitous that I first began writing this post weeks (alright, two and a bit weeks) before the amusement of the Queen’s film cameo at the opening ceremony, where Bond deservedly made the entrance of the century to the roars of 80,000 people. Serendipitous as I had the unplanned pleasure of attending The Barbican’s current exhibition “Designing 007: 50 Years Of Bond Style”. It was, quite easily, the very best I have ever attended.

It was one of those afternoons that wasn’t mapped out and jam-packed with events; my family and I were to see the double bill of the plays “South Downs” and “The Browning Version” at the Harold Pinter Theatre and then take it from there. On exiting someone suggested a leisurely stroll from the West End, down Fleet Street and up to EC2 would offer the perfect opportunity to walk off the false sense of tiredness that descends in the heat of the theatre. It was clearly meant to be as my brother, utilising the wonderful invention that is the mobile phone, booked tickets enough for the four of us as we stood outside the stage door and no sooner had the crowds descended to queue for cabs than we were marching off into the distance.

Now, I am a Bond fan in the way that one whiff of a royal engagement gives way to a nation of crown lovers. I’m not a hardcore Bond brainbox but I’ve always enjoyed the slick Britishness (now I’m really not making sense) of the films and delight in the intricacies of the costume design in particular. Having not watched anything Bond related for a considerable amount of time therefore, the section of my brain reserved for the very best things in life was immediately saturated with the world of espionage the moment I stepped through the double doors into the first stage of the exhibition.

The Barbican had clearly made use of someone trained in the art of creating a practical, memorable and ultimately enjoyable memorabilia exhibit fit for public consumption. The level of detail exercised across the entire display was so scrupulous that upon exiting the final of the three stages of the spectacle (which was held across three floors of The Barbican requiring tickets to be retained and stamped on entry into each new level) I glanced down at my ticket only to smile at the numbers “007”; made up of the three consecutive stamps I had received.

My personal favourite of the outfits on show was Eva Green’s glorious evening dress, worn for her role as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. In contrast, I was appalled to discover that the ragged black dress donned by Olga Kurylenko as Bond’s accomplice Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace was in fact couture Prada and worth several thousands of pounds! On that note, was I the only one underwhelmed by Sévérine, Skyfall’s obligatory Bond girl? Without giving too much away, I like to think that her character was written without any real solidity to enforce the strong theme of the character relationship between Bond and M. Judi Dench triumphed, as did Ben Whishaw as Q who shall be returning to grace our screens in series 2 of The Hour TONIGHT on BBC2 at 9pm. I thoroughly recommend both The Hour (series 1 of which I wrote about here) and Skyfall – both are rich in glamour, espionage and good old-fashioned wit.

Ben Whishaw as Q

Q

White Heat: A Tangled Web Of Revolt

1960s: L-R Jack, Charlotte, Lilly, Alan, Jay, Orla, Victor

White Heat: a piece of original British drama starring seven young actors; six of them relatively unknown and emerging from obscurity in one of the finest adaptations the BBC has produced in recent History. Spanning five decades – each of the six episodes set several years on from the previous part and with appropriate costumes, props and hairstyles to reinforce this – the series follows the trials and tribulations of seven students who have descended on London to begin their undergraduate degree courses, all aged eighteen and from an assortment of different backgrounds.

There’s Charlotte – finely acted by Claire Foy (of Little Dorrit and Upstairs Downstairs fame) who leads the gallant band of fine young thespians (both acting and character-wise) – a resolute middle-class girl from Buckinghamshire, eager to experience the freedom the Big Smoke has to offer, whom embraces the sixties as if it were up for auction to another century and revels in the liberty it affords her. There’s a particularly memorable scene in one of the early episodes in which Charlie (as she quickly becomes  known to the gang) has a stand-off with her father on the steps outside the flat after he interrupts her New Years Eve party. He showers her with insults ranging from jibes about the shortness of her dress to his disgust at her new-found smoking habit.

A deep-rooted theme of the six-part drama is women’s rights – a cause which Charlotte and fellow feminist and flatmate Lilly (Myanna Buring) campaign for in their own thrilling way by covering adverts (and sometimes people) with stickers proclaiming “this man degrades women” before being chased away by the police. Lilly, an art student, is forced to endure a battle with her none-too-impressed parents who look unfavourably on her chosen career path and would instead prefer her to return to Yorkshire to work in her auntie’s shop. She also faces personal crises with catastrophic consequences both for her and the remaining six, although these disasters are somewhat softened by the presence of Alan (Lee Ingleby), who adores her from the very first time the seven sit down for dinner in the flat.

Of all the themes White Heat encapsulates in the total six hours of its existence, it is those of feminism and rights which grabbed me most and made me sit up and listen. It is strange to see women such as Lilly and Charlotte fighting for their reproductive liberty and egalitarianism when, for many countries in the western world today, abortion is available practically on demand. It is unfathomable, at least to me, why some people (and this includes men as well) don’t use their vote after the dedication of so many lives to the cause resulted in forced feeding, imprisonment and even death. Although this thread is a little off topic, if White Heat had been set at the turn of the 20th century I can guarantee the chief aim for the female characters would have been Votes For Women.

If you’re interested in reading an actual review I can heartily recommend this article from The Guardian which presents a perhaps more balanced perspective of White Heat. All six episodes are available on iPlayer until Thursday and if you want to read up on the characters before watching you can visit the BBC’s White Heat Homepage. One final push required to beat you into viewing submission? I can reveal that all seven students are played by not one but two actors. Episode one actually begins in 2012 when the gang regroup after the death of one of them requires the flat to be cleared and sold, with the older Charlotte being played by stalwart of British acting Juliet Stevenson and Lilly by the equally formidable Lindsay Duncan. They’re performances alone make White Heat worthy of a viewing, however sceptical that viewer may be. Let me know what you think.

1970s: L-R: Jack, Alan, Charlotte, Victor, Lilly, Orla, Jay