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Editors' Blog: Skyfall & 007’s debt to theatre

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It can hardly have escaped the notice of any theatre fans watching new Bond film Skyfall just how many luminaries of the British stage are involved.

Already projected to be the most successful Bond film of all time, Skyfall provides a near-perfect example of the debt owed by the film industry to its theatrical ancestor.

There are no less than four leading actors in Skyfall who’ve played Hamlet to acclaim on the London stage: Rory Kinnear (National Theatre 2010), Ben Whishaw (Old Vic 2004), Ralph Fiennes (Almeida 1995) and Albert Finney (Old Vic 1975).

And that’s not counting the theatrical pedigree of Bond himself - Daniel Craig started off at the National Youth Theatre before graduating to the National and Royal Court - and, of course, the film’s grand dame Judi Dench, whose myriad theatre credits need hardly be repeated.

Rory Kinnear, Ralph Fiennes & Judi Dench in Skyfall

In fact, you can see M (Dench) and Q (Whishaw) sharing a stage together next year in Michael Grandage’s production of Peter and Alice - which is written, incidentally, by John Logan, who co-wrote Skyfall and has already been signed to script the next two Bond films.

Speaking of Grandage, he of course recently stepped down as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, where he succeeded its founder Sam Mendes. And what was Mendes’ most recent project? Ah yes, Skyfall.

This may seem an obvious point to make but, in the climate of cuts, it’s worth pointing out the extent to which the talent that goes into making an intelligent (and hugely profitable) blockbuster like Skyfall has been nourished by British theatre – particularly the subsidised sector.

As a longstanding fan of both theatre and Bond - I even wrote my University thesis on Goldfinger - it heartens me to see how much the latter has come to be fed by the former. Mendes has brought a touch of class and complexity to the franchise, tackling the psychology of Bond with a Shakespearean sensibility. Who else would dare to include a scene hinting that Bond has a homosexual past? Or allow M to quote Tennyson?

As Danny Boyle recently demonstrated with his stonking Olympics Opening Ceremony (not to mention his raft of hit movies), mainstream success comes not from a mythical place located somewhere in the Hollywood hills, but from a good old fashioned appreciation of storytelling and character. And there is no better school for that than the stage.

There are more direct examples of the theatre-film relationship - Skyfall is preceded by a trailer for another forthcoming British blockbuster, the long-awaited film adaptation of Les Miserables - while others are more subtle (see Alain Resnais’ recent You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet).

But from the European refugees who created the Hollywood golden age to the Mendes, Boyles and Denches of today and tomorrow, the message is simple; the stage and the screen are as inseparable as Bond and a well shaken dry martini.


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