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

The Hour Is Upon Us

Bel in Blue

Romola Garai As Bel Rowley

In the words of William Shakespeare:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

This line from Macbeth, or The Scottish Play to any actors out there, may seem sorrowful and somewhat pessimistic, but there is an element of truth in hidden within it – that in the grand scale of human existence a single life represents an actor upon a stage, who in his hour in the limelight is known and applauded by his contemporaries, but is soon forgotten once he has departed from view. The old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” appears to ring true, but there is also a moral in there, or more than one depending on how you look at it. The message about making the most of your life is the more obvious of the two, which, for me, was reinforced on stumbling across this quote from Charles Darwin: “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. Reading it I felt immediately humbled and instantly regretted every moment I had ever wasted because I would never be able to reclaim it.

Hector, Bel and Freddie

Hector (West), Freddie (Whishaw) and Bel (Garai)

The second, however, can be interpreted as Shakespeare’s way of reminding us that if we want to be remembered we should live our lives in a manner that enables us to make a difference – however big or small. That could mean anything from painstakingly researching and discovering a drug that cures a serious disease to campaigning for women’s rights in countries which have oppressive regimes. We shouldn’t sit back and relax and let everyone else get on with it whilst we watch and comment on their progress – we should be a part of it. Don’t think I’m preaching – I’m not suggesting that everyone resigns from their jobs and jumps straight on a plane to East Africa to help aid workers (although that would be an extremely admirable thing to do) – because it isn’t or everyone and I accept that.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t help someone, somewhere though. Even just donating unwanted household items to a good cause or buying Christmas cards whereby all of the proceeds go to charity can improve someone’s quality of life. If anyone ever asks me what I think the meaning of life is I say this: “to make a difference”. World affairs are in a very bad state indeed at the minute – from the violence in Libya to the East African famine and the terrible Norwegian shootings and bombing. The human race needs to pull together – we all need each other to get through this.

The Shakespeare quote seemed a perfect way for me to describe the way I don’t want the fortunes of the current BBC Drama series ‘The Hour’  to pan out. It may seem rather dramatic for me to have to quote Shakespeare to make known that I don’t want ‘The Hour’ to be a one series wonder, but considering the state of television at the moment and how momentous an occasion it is when a well thought out series with a quick, witty script and a strong cast comes along (not to mention highly commendable costuming skills), I think I’m allowed to go a bit over the top.

Romola Garai as Bel Rowley

Romola Garai as Bel Rowley

Although I may seem to be stating the obvious by saying it, the series feels really very British. From the superbly convincing backdrop of the BBC Lime Grove studios to the witty exchanges between the characters and the 1950s silhouette of London being the centre of everything – the theatre, engagement parties, government rulings, mysterious murders – you name it, it was happening in London in the fifties.

Having a cast who can merge together to form something both appealing and believable whilst maintaining the strength of the characters they are playing is a huge part of succesful drama. Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw demonstrate this to perfection with their portrayals of producer Bel Rowley and reporter Freddie Lyon – best friends, confidantes and soulmates. Neither of them could continue without the other, a fact which, deep down, they both know. Nevertheless, Bel’s attraction to ‘The Hour’ frontman Hector Madden (played superbly  by Dominic West) – a Cambridge graduate from a distinguished family with just the right amount of charm – leaves Freddie confused at what she sees in him and sad that she does not feel the same way about him as he does about her. Their relationship has a certain ambiguity which leaves the viewer thinking “Will they, won’t they?” at the end of each episode and willing them to address the unclear-ness of it.

'The Hour' Team

'The Hour' Team

Aside from inter-character relations the scenery, props and dialogue can be lingered over with both a forlorn feeling that back then the world seemed so much more exciting, but also a wave of gladness that in 2011 a woman can become a television producer without having to be told by a government official that her “maternal instincts” mean she’s “wasted in news” and that on trying to decode a crossword we would be able to google “brightstone”. For me, the costumes were an instant lure to show and I haven’t at all been disappointed – you only need to look at the images of the cast I selected for this post to appreciate the attention to detail in them.

I am not a person who watches much television, always being either too busy to or non-plussed by the shoddy array of programmes that are being shown at prime viewing time, but when something like ‘The Hour’ comes along it reminds us all that the BBC do have the ability to create decent dramas that people will actually want to watch, rather than them being something to sit in front of because there’s nothing else on. Sherlock was one of these (and thankfully still is after the first series was repeated on the BBC over the past three works and a second series has been filmed to be broadcast in 2012), as was the political comedy/drama The Thick Of It. The only time of the year when we seem to have a case of there being too much watchable television around is Christmas. Surely if the BBC can do it then they can do it all year round?

'The Hour' Full Cast

'The Hour' Full Cast