Sky1’s Fleming has succeeded in distilling novelist Ian Fleming’s life into a nice cocktail with a hyperrealist kick. Fleming is one part James Bond homage, one part family drama, a measure of sex, and topped off with some lovely visual effects. Dominic Cooper (Sense & Sensibility and Captain America: The First Avenger) portrays the potboiler author whose imagination brought forth secret agent James Bond (and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car).Lara Pulver (Robin Hood, Spooks, and Sherlock) plays the object of Fleming’s obsession and eventual spouse Ann O’Neill. Though Cooper and O’Neill’s smoldering looks earns them top billing, Director Mat Whitecross also deserves a co-starring credit because without his visual this series would not look so rich and lavish. Helping Whitecross to concoct this cocktail are writers John Brownlow and Don Macpherson.
Director Mat Whitecross immediately shows off his chops by opening the first episode with a gorgeous underwater scuba diving sequence. For 007 aficionados this sequence may evoke comparisons to the film Thunderball. This is just the first in a number of scenes throughout the episode that pays homage to James Bond films. While on a ski trip with Peter Fleming (The Village’s Rupert Evans), Ian attempts to ski over the roof a house, with disastrous results. This spoofed the ski jumping scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Whitecross ends the episode with a visually spectacular scene that reminds viewers they are venturing through a hyper realistic world in which James Bond (excuse me, Ian Fleming) always gets the woman. This hour of television will definitely be on Whitecross’ CV if he is angling for the director’s chair on future 007 films.
James Bond is typically portrayed as an alpha male. However in many ways the character is somewhat of a douche, especially in the way he interacts with women. Could Bond’s more reprehensible personality traits have originated from his creator? Based on the contents of Fleming the answer is yes! Women such as Muriel Wright (Peaky Blinders’ Annabelle Wallis) and the unnamed sexual conquest Fleming slaps on the rear are disposable. Even the Moneypenny stand-in Second Officer Monday, the always brilliant Anna Chancellor (Spooks and The Hour), is a means to an end. However Monday acknowledges that Ian is pompous, transparent, but has his uses. Like 007, Dominic Cooper’s portrayal of Ian Fleming is engaging enough that audience members overlook or minimalize the character’s worst aspects.
One aspect of Fleming that keeps it from becoming full blown James Bond fan service is its emphasis on family drama. The tension between the Fleming Brothers is put on display from their first scene together. Peter Fleming is a best-selling author while Ian is the womanizer who lives beyond his means and is barely able to maintain employment. Amplifying the tension between the two brothers is their mother Evelyn Fleming (Cranford’s Lesley Manville). Manville’s Evelyn Fleming displays the perfect amount frustration, snobbishness, and self-righteousness. Evelyn Fleming is not afraid to display her disappoint in Ian, including outing her son’s bout with gonorrhea. No matter how much Evelyn rails against Ian, she does not give up on her son. Ultimately mommy dearest used her family connections to secure Ian a position with Rear Admiral John Godfrey (Mr. Selfridge’s Samuel West)’snaval intelligence unit.
Fleming is an engaging (yet hyper realistic) look at the parallels between Ian Fleming and his creation James Bond, thanks in part to Cooper, Manville, and Pulver’s acting. They are aided by Mat Whitecross’ spectacular directing. This episode was by no means perfect. At times it feels as though the James Bond references overpower the story being told. Dominic Cooper is more than capable of portraying a well-rounded Ian Fleming with smidges of 007 inter-mixed for good measure. Hopefully future episodes will correct this imbalance. Personally, this reviewer would enjoy seeing more clashes between Evelyn and Ian Fleming. Also, the make-up department could do a better job of aging the characters. I am sure a few grey hairs and wrinkles would emerge between 1939 and 1952.
Fleming Continues Wednesday’s at 9.00pm on Sky One.
Contributed by Mo Walker