‘Fleming’: The spy who’s not easy to love – episode 1 spoiler-free review

High gloss but low opinion

Fleming

© Justin Downing

I’m not a Bond fan, I’ve always found it to be sexist male fodder.  Nevertheless, I was looking forward to watching Sky Atlantic’s new Ian Fleming biopic, purely out of curiosity about the writer who not only creates a character known the world over, but continues to engage readers and cinemagoers alike long after his death.  That is until I saw Fleming

The character of Bond, played very convincingly by Dominic Cooper, is basically modelled on Fleming’s real life around the time of the beginning of the second World War.  With a little help from his well-connected mother he’s recruited by Naval Intelligence and goes on to be responsible for many outrageous counter intelligence missions, which consequently provided the inspiration for his 007 and the surrounding characters.  Surprisingly after my earlier opinion, Bond’s unlikable qualities are watered down to make him more likeable (which obviously failed in my case) – because in this biopic Ian Fleming isn’t likable at all!  In fact not many of the characters are.

Ian is portrayed as an arrogantly privileged and misogynist man who is bored with life after failing to achieve like his war hero father and his brother – a successful travel writer.  He spends his time drinking, collecting first editions of erotic literature and seducing women.  Supposedly a womaniser, he’s actually more a predatory stalker of women.  He likes to use women purely for sex, he barely remembers their names, and doesn’t really care if they have a brain as he discards (or ignores) them when he’s tired of them.  There are several scenes where Fleming is seen to forcibly push, block, pin and sexually dominate women.  There’s a disturbing scene with Lara Pulver, where he’s sexually assaulting her until she relents and becomes compliant before they’re interrupted by her husband.

When I first watched the episode I was perplexed as to why Sky Atlantic would want to show such an unlikeable character?  It would seem Dominic Cooper had the same concern “He comes across as a bit of a bastard”, says Cooper. “We don’t want to watch four episodes of a bastard. I find it quite hard – everything was different – his upbringing was very different from mine. His education couldn’t be more different, and as for his treatment of women…”  To Cooper’s credit though he is very convincing in the role for an actor who comes across as very pleasant and likable.

The production – which was mainly filmed in Budapest – adds to the grandeur of the period sets and costumes which look stunning.  It’s filmed very high-gloss, very Bond. There’s a swaurveness to the colours and camerawork which certainly helps to set the scene.  Unfortunately no amount of grandiosity could make up for the slow start to the episode in which it takes twenty minutes for the story to really begin.

The women get a raw deal.  Yes, it was an earlier time and attitudes were different, but I’m sure they still had the power of thought.  Lara Pulver is cold, and emotionless and spends the entire episode throwing alluring looks at Fleming or being dominated.  Annabelle Wallis fares even worse, who meekly falls at Fleming’s every sexual whim, confesses she’s falling in love with him despite his apparent disinterest in anything but her body.  Anna Chancellor as Lieutenant Monday – who was the inspiration for Miss Moneypenny – fares better, but even she appears to be charmed (and ignored at dinner).

If reports are correct aspects of writers John Brownlow and Don MacPherson script is very accurate to the man.  But like Cooper said; Do I want to return to watch another three episodes about such a reprehensible character?

Fleming airs tonight (12th February) at 9pm on Sky Atlantic