Shiny Shelf

Best Bonds: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service & The World is Not Enough

By Eddie Robson on 08 November 2002

I’m sure that any Bond geeks have assumed that I’ve put these two together because the 1999 film derives its title from the 1969 one. However, that’s not the case at all. I picked these because, on leaving the cinema after seeing ‘The World is Not Enough’ I clearly remember saying that it was the best Bond film since… when? I paused and cast my mind back, discarding some films after careful consideration, others without a second thought. To my surprise I found myself declaring it to be the best Bond film for thirty years.

My experiences of watching ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was very different. I first discovered Bond when ITV showed a random selection when I was about nine years old. They were very much the weaker ones – I remember the first two as being ‘Octopussy’ and ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ – but I thought they were ace. I didn’t like the 60s ones so much, probably because they were old and I was nine, and they hardly ever showed ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ on TV. A friend at school told me it was rubbish because the bloke who played Bond in it was rubbish. I eventually saw it one Christmas Day and didn’t remember much about it.

Gradual reassessment of OHMSS as a grown-up has led me to believe that it is, in fact, the best one. A common trait in Bond films is that they abruptly change direction halfway through, usually because of the need to change locations, and this is not always convincingly effected (witness the completely pointless stud farm plotline in ‘A View to a Kill’). OHMSS, however, flows beautifully through its plot and sustains it for longer than any other Bond film (it’s over two-and-a-half hours long). This is partly because it has such an excellent script, showing that you don’t have to play up the inherent daftness of Bond for it to be a success, and partly because of the virtuoso direction of the late Peter Hunt. Having edited the first five films in the series and pioneered a new style of action sequence in the process, Hunt carries his experience over and the result is spectacular.

I’m not claiming that George Lazenby is the best Bond but I’m not going to make any excuses for him either, because he doesn’t need any. He’s easily good enough, and people who claim that he’s wooden and has a limited range should try watching some of the Moore films. I’m fast tending towards the view that Pierce Brosnan is presently doing a better job of playing James Bond than anybody else ever has.

Brosnan brings a more human touch to the role than any of his predecessors. He can play the suave ladykiller but he also has moments of doubt, irritation, childish amusement and so on – all of which Brosnan communicates with the nuances of his performance without sacrificing the air of cool control and self-assurance that makes Bond so appealing. Within the first ten minutes of TWINE he adjusts his tie underwater, just to assure us that this is the James Bond we’ve come to see.

TWINE has two major things in common with OHMSS. One is that TWINE is also very well plotted indeed, moving from location to location entirely logically (there are no plot holes that I’ve noticed). The other is that TWINE is also a real downer, which I didn’t really notice on the first viewing. OHMSS is famous for being the only Bond film which doesn’t end with Bond enjoying a girl and a joke. Instead, his girl’s dead – and, bitter irony, this time he actually loved her – and he’s emotionally shattered. TWINE does end with the traditional innuendo as Bond gets some action but the rest of it is pretty bleak. It’s essentially about a very, very hard choice that M had to make a long time ago and the horrific repercussions of it. Bond finds himself used and spat out for a change. We see characters who have become emotionally numbed by their experiences, symbolised by Renard, a man who cannot physically feel anything.

I didn’t mean to pick two such depressing movies, but it looks like I have. Never mind, they’re both ideal for Christmas.

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By Eddie Robson

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