James Bond in the UK

Spoiler warning: minor plot points may be revealed.

James Bond is a secret agent for MI6, an organisation that has a mandate for overseas espionage. Therefore the bulk of the Bond film series is set in other countries. (In reality, 007 would be legally barred from operating domestically.) However, it does still have sequences that take place in Britain. Obviously, there are briefing scenes at MI6’s HQ in London. We see Bond’s home life now and again. And some movies go a lot further…

So let’s rank all the films in order of how much of them are set in the UK. (Timings taken from the region-2 DVD releases.)

24. You Only Live Twice (1967) – 0.00%
UK: N/A. Total running time: 112 minutes 3 seconds.
This is the only movie in the entire series with no scenes whatsoever set in the United Kingdom. Bond is always in the Far East while M, Moneypenny and Q fly out there to brief him.

23. Licence to Kill (1989) – 0.57%
UK: 44 seconds. Total running time: 127 minutes 41 seconds.

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The only UK-set scene is a very swift moment in Moneypenny’s office. M tells her about some typos in a letter, then reassures her that the on-the-run Bond will be okay. She then makes a call to Q branch. James spends the entire movie in the US and Central America.

22. Moonraker (1979) – 2.38%
UK: 2 minutes 53 seconds. Total running time: 121 minutes 11 seconds.

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Just a few quick scenes in M and Moneypenny’s Whitehall offices, including the typical Bond-is-briefed-by-M stuff (which also features the Minister of Defence).

21. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – 3.10%
UK: 3 minutes 44 seconds. Total running time: 120 minutes 26 seconds.

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Because the plot involves submarines, Bond gets given his mission by the Minister of Defence at a Royal Navy base in Scotland. We briefly see M’s office In London as well, though James isn’t present.

20. Live and Let Die (1973) – 3.78%
UK: 4 minutes 24 seconds. Total running time: 116 minutes 34 seconds.

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M visits Bond’s London flat at 5.48am to brief him on a mission; Moneypenny comes along too. It’s the only scene in the film that doesn’t take place west of the Atlantic.

19. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – 3.87%
UK: 4 minutes 27 seconds. Total running time: 115 minutes 7 seconds.

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Bond’s briefing takes place in the office of a diamonds expert, so again the film never visits M’s office. There’s then a scene at Dover hovercraft port – where even Moneypenny gets to play dress-up – and later a quick cutaway to Q’s lab.

18. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) – 4.56%
UK: 5 minutes 28 seconds. Total running time: 119 minutes 57 seconds.

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Bond gets briefed by M in Whitehall and flirts with Moneypenny. After a quick mission in Egypt, he pops back to London to talk to Q. If haven’t noticed, this list has now had all five movies from the 1970s in a row. They consistently have between two and five per cent of their running time set in Britain.

17. A View to a Kill (1985) – 4.95%
UK: 6 minutes 12 seconds. Total running time: 125 minutes 9 seconds.

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A large portion of the UK scenes is a sequence at a horse track: Bond, M, Q and Moneypenny get dolled up for a day at the races. There’s also a scene in M’s office.

16. Casino Royale (2006) – 5.30%
UK: 7 minutes 20 seconds. Total running time: 138 minutes 30 seconds.

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M catches Bond breaking into her Canary Wharf apartment. We’d earlier seen her ranting about politicians in a parliamentary committee hall, and later there are several cutaways to M (including a scene of her in bed) and the MI6 medical team.

15. Octopussy (1983) – 6.16%
UK: 7 minutes 43 seconds. Total running time: 125 minutes 22 seconds.

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After the by-now-familiar sequence in Moneypenny and M’s offices, there’s a big scene set at Sotherby’s. There’s even location filming outside the real auction house on New Bond Street in London.

14. Quantum of Solace (2008) – 6.25%
UK: 6 minutes 22 seconds. Total running time: 101 minutes 53 seconds.

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There are scenes in a rainy London as Bond and M search the flat of an MI6 traitor then head back to their super-shiny new headquarters. After James has gone abroad on his mission, we get a few cutaways to M and Tanner back in London (including a scene shot at the Barbican and one set in M’s bathroom). Incidentally, this is shortest ever Bond film.

13. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – 7.37%
UK: 10 minutes 3 seconds. Total running time: 136 minutes 21 seconds.

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James shows up in Whitehall to flirt with Moneypenny (even grabbing her arse) and talk to M. After an argument, Bond heads to his office (the first time we ever see it) to have a snifter. Then, after some spying, 007 returns to London and visits M at his country pile. They discuss the case (and lepidoptery), then Bond goes to talk to Sir Hillary Bray at the Royal College of Arms in London. Much later there’s more stuff at MI6.

12. GoldenEye (1995) – 7.63%
UK: 9 minutes 31 seconds. Total running time: 124 minutes 40 seconds.

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All the UK-based scenes at set within the MI6 building. Bond wafts into Moneypenny’s office for some classy flirting, then spends a lot of time in an ops room with M and chief of staff Tanner. A little later, James and M have their famous ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ talk. Bond then heads down to Q’s lab to learn about the latest gizmos.

11. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – 7.86%
UK: 8 minutes 59 seconds. Total running time: 114 minutes 19 seconds.

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Bond’s pre-titles mission in central Asia is intercut with M and others monitoring the mission from London. A little while later Bond is with a fancy woman in Cambridge, then gets recalled to the capital, where he’s briefed by M and Moneypenny while they bomb round the streets in a fast car. During the film’s climax, we cut back to M at MI6 a few times.

10. Dr No (1962) – 9.90%
UK: 10 minutes 25 seconds. Total running time: 105 minutes 13 seconds.

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The UK-based section of the first Bond film is a continuous chunk near the start of the movie: people in an ops room realise something’s wrong in Jamaica, then we cut to James Bond flirting with a woman in an upmarket casino. He’s recalled to HQ, chats with Moneypenny, has a meeting with M, is given a new gun by the armourer, then returns to his flat – where his new girlfriend is waiting.

9. The Living Daylights (1987) – 10.27%
UK: 12 minutes 53 seconds. Total running time: 125 minutes 25 seconds.

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When James pops into Q’s lab for some information, we’re shown that it’s housed in a building just off Trafalgar Square. Later there’s a lengthy sequence at a country estate run by MI6 as a safe house. After things go belly-up there, Bond and M discuss what to do in the latter’s office; then Bond visits Q again to collect some gizmos and a car.

8. From Russia With Love (1963) – 10.31%
UK: 11 minutes 22 seconds. Total running time: 110 minutes 16 seconds.

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Bond has a riverside date with his girlfriend Sylvia (the woman he picked up in Dr No), then heads to Whitehall for the briefing with M. He also meets Q for the first time. Later in the film, there’s a comedy cut to M’s office as he, Moneypenny and others listen to a recording Bond has sent them.

7. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – 10.85%
UK: 13 minutes 18 seconds. Total running time: 122 minutes 36 seconds.

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This movie is topped and tailed by UK-based sequences. The entire pre-titles sequence is uniquely set in Britain. Bond lays some flowers at his wife’s grave, then flies over east London in a helicopter. And the film ends with some very silly cutaways to Margaret and Denis Thatcher (played by actors, obvs) in their kitchen at 10 Downing Street. In between those, there are scenes in the Whitehall offices of the Minister of Defence, Moneypenny, M and Q – although M himself is absent because actor Bernard Lee has recently died.

6. Die Another Day (2002) – 15.36%
UK: 19 minutes 31 seconds. Total running time: 127 minutes 2 seconds.

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Villain Sir Gustav Graves meets some journalists outside Buckingham Palace – he arrives via parachute – then Bond seeks him out at a gentleman’s club called Blades, where they have a scrap. James then goes to see M and Q in the latter’s secret laboratory. It’s housed in a disused Tube station, Vauxhall Cross, which is accessible by a real-life door near the London Eye. This sequence features a scene seemingly set in MI6 headquarters, but which is actually a virtual-reality simulation. There’s then a scene that actually takes place in the HQ as M briefs a double agent. Near the end, Moneypenny gets to use the VR headset.

5. Goldfinger (1964) – 15.43%
UK: 16 minutes 16 seconds. Total running time: 105 minutes 27 seconds.

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After encountering bad guy Auric Goldfinger in Miami, Bond is recalled to London for a debrief in M’s office. He also does some flirting with Moneypenny, then Bond and M go to dinner with a representative of the Bank of England. Next, James pops over to Q’s lab and is given his new Aston Martin; then he heads to a golf club to cosy up to Goldfinger.

4. The World is Not Enough (1999) – 18.12%
UK: 22 minutes 18 seconds. Total running time: 123 minutes 4 seconds.

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Before the titles sequence, there’s a massive action sequence on the River Thames, which starts at MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall and climaxes several miles downstream at the then-new Millennium Dome on Greenwich Peninsular. James, M, Moneypenny, Q and the rest of MI6 then decamp to a castle in Scotland for some lengthy mission planning.

3. Thunderball (1965) – 18.34%
UK: 22 minutes 55 seconds. Total running time: 124 minutes 57 seconds.

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Bond goes undercover at a health farm in the English countryside, the bad guys hang out at a nearby pub/hotel, and a nearby Air Force base is vital to the plot. Bond later takes part in a big briefing scene in a grand Whitehall space, while we also see both M and Moneypenny’s offices. After 007 has gone abroad, we cut back to M in London a few times.

2. Spectre (2015) – 27.95%
UK: 39 minutes 42 seconds. Total running time: 142 minutes 4 seconds.

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There’s masses of stuff set in London – often while Bond is overseas. M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner sometimes feel like they’re in a spin-off movie all of their own. We see M’s office, Moneypenny’s office, Q’s underground lab, a Whitehall corridor, a restaurant, and the riverside headquarters of the new Joint Intelligence Service. We also visit Bond’s sparsely decorated flat, while he and Tanner speed down the Thames on a boat. During a mission in Rome, 007 phones Moneypenny who’s at home with a guy in her bed. The last act takes place in central London: the team meet up at a safe house near Trafalgar Square, there’s action in both the JIS building and the abandoned MI6 headquarters, then the final stunt is on Westminster Bridge. By the way, this is the longest Bond film so far – it’s around 40 per cent longer than Quantum of Solace, just two movies ago.

1. Skyfall (2012) – 57.14%
UK: 78 minutes 27 seconds. Total running time: 137 minutes 18 seconds.

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This is the only Bond movie with more than half of its running time set in the UK. While Bond chases a bad guy in Istanbul, M is following events from the MI6 building in London. She then has a meeting in Whitehall – on her way back to HQ, she sees it attacked. Later, she finds Bond waiting for her in her town house. He’s then taken to MI6’s temporary (and underground) London base for assessment and training. He meets the new Q in the National Gallery, then goes abroad for some spying. When he returns we start a near-hour-long chunk entirely set in the UK. While M gives evidence to a parliamentary committee, the bad guy escapes. Cue a long chase sequence on the London Underground (hello, Temple station!). After M’s life is threatened, Bond drives her north – all the way to the Scottish Highlands, where the last half-hour of the movie takes place.

For completeness, the unofficial Bond films:
Casino Royale (1967) – 47.70%
UK: 59 minutes 57. Total running time: 125 minutes 41.
Never Say Never Again (1983) – 21.98%
UK: 28 minutes 12. Total running time: 128 minutes 19.

 

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Climax!: Casino Royale (William H Brown Jr, 21 October 1954)

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

“Live!” a dramatic voiceover declares at the start. “From Television City in Hollywood!” This adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel was the third episode of Climax!, an anthology series shown on American TV network CBS. Without its advert breaks, the surviving copy runs for about 50 minutes – so let’s see how it measures up… It begins with a short introduction by host William Lundigan, who explains what a shoe is in a game of baccarat. It’s nice of him, but I’m not sure why we need an intro. We’re then into an abbreviated version of the book’s plot. The episode is entirely shot on interior sets, a necessity because it was broadcast live, while the script is dialogue-heavy. It’s melodrama, essentially, and not especially engaging. We don’t get to the crucial card game until about 25 minutes in, and when it arrives it’s a drab seven minutes, lacking any tension. Sadly, the stakes don’t feel especially high. Better is the final act set in a hotel room – events turn surprisingly nasty, though it’s a shame that Bond wins by simply nabbing a gun and killing the bad guy. Five razor blades (for slashing purposes) out of 10

Bond: Barry Nelson became the first actor to play 007 on screen, though this is not the character as later defined in the film series. This guy’s American, works for a nebulous ‘combined intelligence’ agency, and people call him Jimmy. It’s not an especially good performance, but to his credit Nelson seems genuinely in pain during the torture scene.

Villains: Peter Lorre plays the bad guy, Le Chiffre, who has bodyguards called Basil, Zoltan and Zuroff. (Basil!) He’s oddly watchable in the classic Lorre style, though the performance lacks the sparkle the actor used in, say, The Maltese Falcon. He seems to be going through the motions. (Presumably the script was tailored once Lorre was cast: Le Chiffre is called a ‘toad-like creature’.) After losing all his money to Bond in the card game, Le Chiffre threatens to torture him to ‘a point beyond madness’. He then brandishes a pair of pliers and does something with them to Bond’s foot. (This is 1950s American telly, so of course there’s none of the novel’s testicle-bashing.)

Girls: Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian) is like a film-noir dame – all tortured and haunted. She’s an ex of Bond’s who now works for the French secret service, but is being coerced by Le Chiffre. She’s basically taking book character Vesper Lynd’s role in the narrative, though she doesn’t suffer Vesper’s fate.

Regulars: Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate) is a combination of two characters from the novel: Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis. After a fun bit of coded business with matchsticks, he and Bond confirm who the other is and team up. Leiter works for British intelligence and gives Bond his mission.

Action: A smattering of gunfire at the start. Bond is seemingly knocked out by a goon, but the key hit comes *during an advert break*. Later, there are a couple of minor scuffles.

Comedy: There’s an amusing bit where Bond and Leiter discuss the case, but have to switch to a jovial chat about baccarat if anyone walks up to them. Later, there are funny cutaways to Le Chiffre listening to the bug he’s placed in Jimmy’s room (Bond has turned the music up loud).

Music: There are a few short bursts of dramatic incidental music, which sound like library cues.

Personal connection: Viewing the episode in order to write this review was the first time I’d ever watched the whole thing through. It was thought lost for many years, but then an incomplete copy was found in 1981. Most of the remaining footage has turned up since.

Two years of reviews…

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Over the last two years, I’ve written 268 reviews for this blog. Most (204) have been about films, while 33 have been about TV and 31 on music. (A full index can be found here.)

A year ago I did a post rounding up the first 12 months, which you can read here. So I thought it’d be fun to do another.

Series-by-series, the reviews break down like this:

* James Bond: 26 reviews
* Steven Spielberg: 31
* Police Academy: 7
* The Coen Brothers: 16
* The Beatles: 17 (covering 21 albums)
* Star Trek: 13, including Galaxy Quest
* Superman/Batman: 20 – eight Superman films, nine Batman films, Supergirl, Catwoman and The Lego Movie
* ABBA: 8
* Carry On: 36
* Dracula: 29
* Star Wars: 13, including Spaceballs
* The Smiths: 6 (covering seven albums)
* Fawlty Towers: 12
* Back to the Future: 3
* John Hughes: 6
* Blackadder: 6
* Blade Runner: 3
* The Omen: 5
* Alien/Predator: 11 – six Alien films, three Predator films and two crossovers

For every review except the Police Academys, I’ve given a score out of 10. The 49 reviews that have gained 10 out of 10 are:

Abbey Road
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Alien
Aliens
Aliens: Special Edition
Back to the Future
Back to the Future Part II
Back to the Future Part III
Blackadder Goes Forth
Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Batman (1989)
The Big Lebowski
The Breakfast Club
Casino Royale (2006)
The Dark Knight
The Empire Strikes Back (actually, because it’s so good I gave it 11 out of 10)
The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Fargo
Fawlty Towers: The Anniversary
Fawlty Towers: Basil the Rat
Fawlty Towers: The Builders
Fawlty Towers: Communication Problems
Fawlty Towers: Gourmet Night
Fawlty Towers: The Hotel Inspectors
Fawlty Towers: The Kipper and the Corpse
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
GoldenEye
Hatful of Hollow
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Jaws
Jurassic Park
The Lego Movie
Licence to Kill
Love
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The Queen is Dead
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Return of the Jedi
Revolver
Rubber Soul
Schindler’s List
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (actually, I gave it 4,000 out of 10, but that’s the same thing)
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Wars

The other scores break down like this:

9.5/10: 1 review (Blade Runner)
9/10: 39 reviews
8/10: 45 reviews
7/10: 38 reviews
6/10: 29 reviews
5/10: 24 reviews
4/10: 12 reviews
3/10: 11 reviews
2/10: Five reviews
1/10: Eight reviews (Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, Batman & Robin, Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest, Carry On Emmannuelle, Carry On Laughing, Dracula Reborn, The Ladykillers, The Star Wars Holiday Special)

That’s an average of 7.16. (It was 7.45 when I did a round-up of my first 128 reviews this time last year.) The most popular years, meanwhile, has been 1979 and 1987 with 11 reviews each.

Thank you to everyone who’s ever read, liked, commented on, discussed, asked me about, or generally engaged with all this nonsense. It means the world to me.

My 10 favourite James Bond pre-title sequences

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After a lengthy consideration (while daydreaming on the tube this morning), here is my list of the 10 best opening sequences in James Bond films… Let me know if I’ve missed out your favourite.

10. Casino Royale. A black-and-white, film-noir-ish prologue is Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond. He dispassionately executes a rogue station chief, while in flashback we see his first kill: a brutal, scrappy brawl in a gents toilet.

9. The Living Daylights. A new 007 is introduced in a fun action sequence filmed in Gibraltar. There’s skydiving, a terrific chase down the mountain, and the main plot gets kicked into gear.

8. Live and Let Die. A moody, strange opening that doesn’t actually feature Bond (so we have to wait until after Paul McCartney’s song before we see Roger Moore for the first time). Several British agents are bumped off in macabre ways.

7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Another 007 debut, as George Lazenby is introduced. He’s talked about before we see him, then shot only in extreme close-ups as he drives along a coastal road. After he saves a woman from drowning, we get a proper look at him. But after he’s had a brutal fight with some goons, the woman runs off. Bond jokes that, “This never happened to the other fella…”

6. Tomorrow Never Dies. A muscular action sequence featuring 007 out in the field and M and others monitoring the situation back in Whitehall. David Arnold’s sustained music cue is immense.

5. Spectre. A stunning, elaborate, four-minute take starts the film very stylishly indeed.

4. Goldfinger. The first prologue to feature Bond, this is a cool little self-contained mission. 007 climbs out of a lake in a wetsuit, sneaks into one of production designer Ken Adam’s flamboyant sets, rigs some explosives, takes off his wetsuit to reveal an immaculate white suit, walks into a busy bar where a sexy woman is doing a sexy dance… and doesn’t flinch as the nearby building explodes. You sense that the Bond movies have spent 50 years trying to replicate this level of audacity. And the sequence hasn’t finished: Bond has a chat, a seduction, a fight and a pithy pay-off before Shirley Bassey takes a lungful of air…

3. GoldenEye. Another debut, as Pierce Brosnan plays Bond for the first time. Like in The Living Daylights and On Her Majesty’s, the direction teases us by not revealing his face at first. 007 breaks into a 1980s Soviet power station, a feat that includes an enormous bungee jump down the face of a dam. The movie’s plot is set up and there are moments of humour too. Great stuff.

2. The Spy Who Loved Me. HE SKIIS OFF A FUCKING MOUNTAIN.

1. The World is Not Enough. The original plan was for the film’s first scene (Bond meets corrupt banker, has a punch-up, then jumps out of a window) to be the pre-titles sequence. However, the scene scripted to take place directly after the titles was so huge in scale and impact that it was moved to before the song. Bond has to chase a sexy female agent, who’s just assassinated a friend of M’s. He jumps in a gadget-heavy speedboat and pursues her down the Thames. The stunts are witty and impressive; the whole thing is really well edited; and the music is tremendous. It’s also fascinating as a historical document – some of the locations (the Isle of Dogs, Greenwich Peninsula) have changed hugely in the last 17 years.

Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

The opening sequence is excellently staged and visually stunning. A prologue set in Mexico City, it features thousands of extras in fabulous Day of the Dead costumes and beautiful make-up. The first shot lasts 234 seconds, finds James Bond in the crowd then seductively follow him into a hotel, up in a lift, into a bedroom, out onto the balcony, across rooftops and finally into his sniper position. There appear to be three ‘hidden’ edits, but the audacity of the scene – the scale, the ambition, the done-for-real image of Daniel Craig jumping from one building to the next – is sensational. The whole sequence is graceful and intriguing, and the music is terrific too. Sadly, the rest of the film just can’t live up to it. Spectre is a basic story about bad guys wanting surveillance technology – hardly cutting-edge stuff. And despite a countdown to the system coming online, no one is really under any immediate threat so there’s precious little tension. It’s A-to-B plotting with Bond stumbling from one vague clue to the next, and there’s some remarkably unpolished dialogue. The fatal phrase “As you know…” is said twice, while Moneypenny gets a clunker in a scene with Bond: “I think you’ve got a secret, and it’s something you won’t tell anyone.” Also, whereas Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall had self-confidence and took risks, this nervously plays to the crowd. For example, it keeps reminding you that you’re watching a film. For geeks, there are *numerous* nods to old Bond movies (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die…); for Joe Public, there are cheesy gags involving sofas and Frank Sinatra songs. After the panache of the earlier Daniel Craig films, it’s disappointing to see the series run home to mummy. It’s Bond, so of course it’s watchable. But it’s also riddled with problems. Seven cuckoos out of 10.

Bond: We see his London flat, which is sparsely furnished. (“Have you just moved in?” asks Moneypenny.) For the first time in the film series there’s significant discussion of what happened to 007’s parents (they were killed in a climbing accident). We also get a look at a psychological-assessment form Bond’s filled in: he’s answered ‘Do you feel scared?’ and ‘Are you regretful?’ with two out of 10; but ‘General temper/mood’ gets six. In this film, 007 never seems to be hurt physically – even when repeatedly battered by a sumo-sized henchman or, you know, *actually tortured*. It’s a shame after the work the other Daniel Craig films did in making Bond less of a cartoon superhero. Given the chance to kill the main baddie at the end, Bond pretends he’s out of bullets, walks away and resigns from MI6. He then drives off into the sunset, perhaps marking the end of Craig’s tenure…

Villains: Assassin Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) features in the pre-titles and is killed by Bond. Andrew Scott plays Max Denbigh, the smarmy head of the Joint-Intelligence Service, an organisation made up of the merged MI5 and MI6. His official code name is C, which is used by the heads of the real-life MI6. Right from the word go it’s clear he’s bad news – and not just because they’ve cast Moriarty from Sherlock. In Rome, Bond spies on a gathering of criminal cartel Spectre. There we meet Franz Oberhauser (a fruity Christoph Waltz), who was Bond’s foster brother during childhood. We’re also introduced to Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista), a mostly mute man-mountain of a henchman. Thanks to something he overhears at the meeting Bond then tracks down Mr White (Jesper Christensen), the shadowy bad guy who worked for Quantum in Daniel Craig’s first two movies. There’s an attempt here to retcon the previous three films and turn the whole post-reboot era of Bond into one grand, unified story arc. It’s not convincing, especially when it comes to the events of Skyfall, while the unpopular Quantum of Solace is notably referred to less often than the others. When Oberhauser re-enters the story at the 97-minute mark (yes, 97 minutes – of 142), it’s at his desert retreat. The fact the base is hidden inside a crater should tip you off what’s going to happen next: he reveals that he’s rechristened himself Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He has a white cat and everything, and plans to control the global flow of surveillance information (yawn). After being caught in an explosion, he ends up with a distinctive scar on his face. The fact that Oberhausen is actually Blofeld was the worst-kept secret in geekdom, but it’s a strange thing to hold back. The reveal has no power in the story. (Man we’ve never heard of now uses different name! Film at 11!)

Girls: In the Mexico City scene, Bond is with a beautiful woman (played by Stephanie Sigman) but we never learn anything about her. His investigation then leads him to Sciarra’s widow, Lucia. Monica Bellucci is appropriately sexy in the role, but it’s a nothing character. In the film for just seven minutes, she sleeps with Bond and helpfully gives him his next clue. After an hour, Bond meets Dr Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), who’s Mr White’s daughter and a psychologist working at an institute in the Alps. She has a few nice moments but – despite all the usual PR guff about her being different from all the previous Bond girls – is a very passive character. She’s a damsel who needs saving/protecting; stands around while men discuss the plot; then wanders off simply so she can get captured. Looks great in an evening gown, mind. There are also a few mentions of the much better Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale – not a helpful comparison.

Regulars: The MI6 team established in Skyfall is back. M (Ralph Fiennes) is again tremendous and soulful. Q (Ben Whishaw) is again classy and funny. Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) is again difficult to like – it’s an example of a film thinking a strong female character has to be cocky and cold. Also returning is Rory Kinnear for his third appearance as MI6 chief of staff Bill Tanner. No disrespect to Kinnear, an actor I like very much, but why go to the bother of reintroducing Moneypenny and then keep Tanner? Having both is redundant. She has nothing to do after the 45-minute mark and it’s embarrassing how she’s reduced to holding folders and sitting in cars. Early on, an uncredited Judi Dench cameos in a video the previous M recorded before her death. She sets the plot rolling without actually giving Bond the key information he needs. Felix Leiter gets a mention. As well as Blofeld in his first Bond movie for over 30 years, his cat also returns.

Action: The pre-titles sequence has a big explosion, a collapsing building and a punch-up in a helicopter. A car chase is Rome is skillfully combined with a conversation about the plot (love the shots of Moneypenny on the other end of the phone, looking in her fridge as she chats to Bond). However, the action takes place in bizarrely empty streets. Rome, one of the world’s busiest cities, is *deserted*. The same problem exists elsewhere too – Bond’s bruising brawl on a train with Mr Hinx doesn’t attract a single other passenger or conductor, while the film’s final act must be the quietest that central London has ever been. In Austria, Bond (in a plane) chases Mr Hinx (in a car). The destruction of Blofeld’s Moroccan base features the biggest explosion ever carried out for a movie – it used 8,140 litres of kerosene and 24 charges, each with a kilogram of high explosives. The film’s final half-hour includes a car crash, lots of running around the old MI6 building in Vauxhall, and a helicopter smashing into Westminster Bridge. Nothing in the film matches, say, the flamboyance of Casino Royale’s foot-chase or the grandeur of Skyfall’s climax.

Comedy: The first laugh comes when Bond slides off a building and lands on a battered old sofa. (When I saw this film at the cinema, a guy behind me laughed so hard I assume he’d just discovered how a joke works.) When Bond visits Q’s lab, Q prepares an injection. “Now, you may feel a little–” he says. Bond yelps in pain as the needle hits. “–prick,” finishes Q. A moment later, Bond is shown a flashy Aston Martin DB10 but then told it’s for 009; instead Q just gives him a watch. “Does it do anything?!” deadpans an angry 007. In a scene where she finds a present from Bond on her desk, Moneypenny is asked by M if it’s her birthday. “No, sir,” she replies, then adds to herself: “That was last week.” During the Rome car chase, Bond tries activating one of his Aston Martin’s gizmos – but accidentally switches on some camp music. In a hotel room with Madeline, James playfully aims his gun at a mouse (“Who sent you?” he says). If you’re a Bond nerd like me, a safe house called Hildebrand will make you chuckle. Near the end, M gets the best line in the film. Denbigh (aka C) has been revealed to be a traitor and pulls a gun on M. He suggests that M stands for moron, but then discovers his gun isn’t loaded. M smiles: “And now we know what C stands for…”

Music: A second James Bond score from Thomas Newman. It’s really good – especially during the action climax when it’s relentless and a bit Dark Knight-ish. The theme song, Writing’s On The Wall by Sam Smith, is amongst the most boring pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

Personal connection: I first saw this film at the Odeon Tottenham Court Road with my pal Fraser Dickson on Thursday 29 October 2015.

My 10 favourite Bond songs

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After a lengthy consideration (on the tube this morning), here is my list of the 10 best bits of music recorded for the James Bond film series… Let me know if I’ve missed out your favourite.

  1. White Knight (David Arnold, Tomorrow Never Dies). The only incidental cue in the list, but I can’t do this blog and not mention the music from the pre-title sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies. David Arnold’s score for the whole film is one of my favourites, partly because it used then-revolutionary electronica sounds. This action cue is more on the trad side, but is as fresh, dynamic and thrilling as they come. Check it out here.
  1. The James Bond Theme (John Barry, Dr No). It’s overused in the film – but, Christ on a bike, it’s an exhilarating piece of music. Terrific guitar sound; pounding drums.
  1. Nobody Does It Better (Carly Simon, The Spy Who Loved Me). Lovely, lyrical piano melody.
  1. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow, Tomorrow Never Dies). Dramatic opening, nice lyrics.
  1. The World is Not Enough (Garbage, The World is Not Enough). A deliberately big, bombastic power ballad.
  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The film’s title sequence is scored by this killer tune, which uses synths to create a pulsing hook.
  1. The Living Daylights (a-ha, The Living Daylights). An 80s-tastic syth classic: mean, moody and magnificent.
  1. A View to a Kill (Duran Duran, A View to a Kill). Another sensational slice of 1980s pop. The video’s cheesy as fuck, though.
  1. Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings, Live and Let Die). Possibly Macca’s best post-Beatles song. A dapper and dangerous track.
  1. We Have All The Time in the World (Louis Armstrong, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Just *gorgeous*. The film’s love theme, and a song so good that many people don’t know it’s from a Bond movie.

My 10 favourite Bond girls

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After a lengthy consideration (on the tube this morning) and much research (ie, looking up the spellings), here is my list of the 10 best female characters in the James Bond film series… Let me know if I’ve missed out your favourite.

  1. Dink (Margaret Nolan, Goldfinger). She’s only in the movie for about 20 seconds. And she gets a patronising slap on the bum from 007. But she’s just so pretty.
  1. Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Skyfall). Again, not in the film a great amount – just a segment about halfway through. But she’s beautiful, looks stunning in an evening gown, and has a terrific scene with Bond where she’s clearly scared but doing a good job of hiding it.
  1. Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike, Die Another Day). As her surname suggests, she’s icy cool. She also gets a spoiler-tastic subplot.
  1. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman, Goldfinger). The first great Bond girl – though the fact she’s patently a ‘woman’ is what makes her so sexy.
  1. Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only). A quietly brilliant character who’s out for revenge. One of the few Bond girls with whom 007 makes an emotional connection.
  1. Tiffany Case (Jill St John, Diamonds Are Forever). A sassy, brassy, wisecracking gal with bags of energy and charm.
  1. Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco, GoldenEye). One of the best ‘real’ characters in the series: a Bond girl who’s tough and resourceful, but not a super-spy so gets scared and anxious too.
  1. Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, Casino Royale). One of Bond’s true loves, she sashays into his life and steals his heart. It’s easy to see why, especially when she’s dolled up for the card game.
  1. Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Played by the best actress ever cast as a Bond girl, Tracy is an enigma. We first see her trying to kill herself, and at first she doesn’t respond well to Bond – but the film then gives us a genuine love story.
  1. Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell, Licence to Kill). I’ve been in love with Pam for, ooh, about 25 years now. Not only is she a smart, sophisticated and sexy woman, but she plays a vital part in the series’s best ever plot.

(Oh, and an honourable mention for the Judi Dench version of M, who was absolutely terrific. She kinda fulfills the Bond-girl role in the plot of Skyfall.)

A year of reviews…

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A year ago today, on 2 April 2014, I posted a quick review of Dr No to Facebook. I’d watched it the previous evening, having decided on a whim to redo every James Bond film in order. The reviews I wrote of the series seemed to go down well, and I was thrilled by the feedback and interaction they generated. So I did the same with every Steven Spielberg movie – and then kept going with various other series.

In January 2015, after a few friends suggested it, I built this blog. I copied across all the stuff I’d already put on Facebook and now post new reviews here as well.

Over the last 12 months, I’ve written 128 reviews of 111 films and 17 albums (well, 21 albums actually: seven were condensed into three reviews). A full index can be found here. Series-by-series, they break down like this:

James Bond: 25, including the two non-official entries, Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again
Steven Spielberg: 30, including Poltergeist, which he’s rumoured to have directed
Police Academy: 7
The Coen Brothers: 16
The Beatles: 17
Star Trek: 13, including – for a laugh – Galaxy Quest
Superman/Batman: 20 – eight Superman films, nine Batman films, Supergirl, Catwoman and The Lego Movie

For every review except the Police Academys, I’ve given a score out of 10. Twenty-five things have received a maximum mark:

Abbey Road
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Batman (1989)
The Big Lebowski
Casino Royale (2006)
The Dark Knight
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Fargo
GoldenEye
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Jaws
Jurassic Park
The Lego Movie
Licence to Kill
Love
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Revolver
Rubber Soul
Schindler’s List
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The other scores break down like this:

9/10: 22 reviews
8/10: 22 reviews
7/10: 15 reviews
6/10: 13 reviews
5/10: 12 reviews
4/10: 3 reviews
3/10: 6 reviews
2/10: 1 review
1/10: 2 reviews (Batman & Robin and The Ladykillers)

That’s an average score of 7.44628099. Or ‘7ish’, as I like to call it.

The most popular year, meanwhile, has been 1989. I’ve reviewed six films from those glorious 12 months – Always, Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Licence to Kill, Police Academy 6: City Under Siege and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. That’s apt: I was 10 years old in 1989 and the huge volume of genre movies released that year played a big role in turning me into a film geek. (In second place are 1984 and 1987, with five each.)

Thank you to everyone who’s ever read, liked, commented on, discussed, asked me about, or generally engaged with all this nonsense. It means the world to me.

My 30 favourite films

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So, a few years ago – in order to complete an Empire magazine readers’ poll – I set about compiling my top 10 films. Narrowing them down that far was too tough, and I ended up with a shortlist of 30. Since that time, I’ve made one change: GoodFellas was reluctantly dropped for the most recent movie on the list.

I’ve added links to any films I’ve blogged about elsewhere on this site, whilst clips indicate my favourite five…

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)

WarGames (John Badham, 1983)

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985)

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1986)

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)

D.O.A. (Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, 1988)

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

The Hunt For Red October (John McTiernan, 1990)

JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)

Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)

Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)

Skyfall

SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

The most recent James Bond outing is tremendous entertainment, full of vim and zip and energy. It’s also an engaging character story that weaves M and Bond’s pasts together for a sensational final act. “Where are we going?” asks M at one point. “Back in time,” replies Bond… The last half-hour is mostly set at Bond’s childhood home, and sees him given two surrogate parents. As the trio defend the house from the bad guys’ assault, the movie becomes some kind of hybrid of Straw Dogs and The A-Team, and it’s gripping stuff. After the clean slate of Casino Royale and the po-faced Quantum of Solace, director Sam Mendes is deliberately embracing classic Bond traits and motifs. We get a new Moneypenny, a new Q, the return of an Aston Martin DB5, and even a belting title song sung by a large-lunged diva. The final few moments coalesce our new team, and the final scene is set in a deliberately 60s/70s/80s M office. But it’s far from by-the-numbers. After a great opening action sequence, which starts in a small dark room then constantly opens up and gets bigger and bigger in scale and ambition, we get surprises galore – M’s moving death, a new M, the new Moneypenny, what the film’s title refers to. Huge chunks of it are set in London, which is great fun and new for a Bond movie, and the whole film looks amazing. Director of photography Roger Deakins gives each location its own colour scheme and feel: Shanghai is bright neon, expensive sheen and glass; London is grounded and everyday; Macau has the soft, warm glow of lanterns and lots of yellows, reds and oranges; the Highlands are desolate and airy, while Skyfall itself on fire at night produces some beautiful and surreal imagery (pictured). It’s such a shame the superstructure of the plot is so poor – when you sit back and analyse Raoul Silva’s plan, it’s reliant on monumental coincidences and him knowing precisely what would happen when far ahead of time. The film loses a mark because of this haphazardness. Nine ceramic bulldogs out of 10.

Bond: In three films, he’s gone from reckless rookie to washed-up veteran. He says “bring me to him” when surely he means “take”. When Silva tries to unnerve him with a bit of homoerotic flirting, 007 acts nonchalant (“What makes you think this is my first time?”).

Villains: Ola Rapace plays assassin Patrice. There are numerous heavies and bodyguards, none of whom is featured. Headline bad guy Raoul Silva enters the story at the 67-minute mark (a beat after the DVD layer change, in fact!). He’s an arch, melodramatic lunatic who knows full well he’s a Bond villain. Javier Bardem plays him camp and cruel, and excels in the character’s brilliant opening scene (he’s introduced with a monologue all shot in one lengthy take as he walks from 30 metres away up to the camera). It’s a shame his plan is head-scratchingly full of plot holes.

Girls: Bond has a beach-hut shag, who we don’t learn anything about, and there are some bob-cut babes working in the casino. French actress Bérénice Lim Marlohe – Jesus Christ, how beautiful is it possible for one human being to be?! – plays Silva’s haunted girlfriend Sévérine. She’s not in the film for long, but it’s a terrific performance. (The less said about Bond twigging she was a sex slave from the age of 12 then shagging her in the shower the better.) Basically, Judi Dench is Skyfall’s female lead…

Regulars: …M has a large and vital role in the story; Judi Dench is excellent, as always. She is absolutely Bond’s equal in their various one-on-one scenes – it’s the best ever Bond/M relationship, butting heads but always conveying underlying affection. Also, Dench becomes the first person in a Bond film to say fuck. Her aide, Tanner, returns from Quantum of Solace. We meet three new characters who will presumably become our new gang of regulars. Eve Moneypenny (her name is held back until a few minutes from the end) is initially a slapdash agent cocking up a mission, then gets grounded and becomes a secretary (anyone remember feminism?). Naomie Harris is distinctly unlikeable in the role, and she and Daniel Craig have no chemistry whatsoever. Conversely, Bond and the new Q (played well by Ben Whishaw) instantly strike up a fascinating relationship of grudging respect. He’s a young, anorak-and-glasses geek who’s clearly off-the-chart clever and a bit stuck-up. Their first meeting is a lovely scene that nods to the past and also inverts the clichés. Finally, Ralph Fiennes (really excellent) appears as Gareth Mallory, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He’s one of the genre’s great you-think-he’s-a-twat-then-he-proves-his-worth characters, and by the end of the film he’s earned both Bond’s trust and M’s job.

Action: The opening chase sees Eve driving erratically, causing chaos and naming the brands of cars for product-placement reasons. Bond then gets on a bike to chase Patrice across Istanbul rooftops and through markets. (It’s a common action-movie trope, isn’t it? Filming a chase in a Mediterranean city? Gotta go across rooftops! This, Quantum of Solace, The Living Daylights, The Bourne Ultimatum, Taken…) There’s the stuff on the train, with a ridiculously tongue-in-cheek JCB gag, then a train-top punch-up. Bond is then shot – accidentally, by Eve – and falls a terribly, terribly long way down to a river. There’s the explosion at MI6 headquarters, with a shocked M watching on from Vauxhall Bridge. In Shanghai, Bond tracks down Patrice to a skyscraper: he hangs onto the bottom of a lift as it climbs dozens of floors, then watches as Patrice assassinates someone. In a tremendously beautiful sequence – impressionistic lighting, constantly moving reflections, lots of shadows and silhouettes – Bond and Patrice fight to the latter’s death. Bond also has a brawl at the Macau casino, and falls into a pit with some komodo dragons. He later kills four or five of Silva’s goons in a sudden burst of ultra-violence. Silva’s escape from MI6’s prison includes Bond chasing him through tunnels and the London Underground – he has a near-miss with a train, has to run along a platform to jump on a train as it leaves Temple station, then slides down the dividing bit of a pair of escalators. (This last stunt makes no sense: any Londoner will tell you those middle bits have regular ‘Stand on the right’ signs sticking out of them.) Silva sets off a small, prepared explosion to cause a train (which is empty for some reason) to crash down towards Bond. Silva storms the parliamentary committee and there’s a huge gunfight. The climactic battle at Skyfall house is all Home Alone improvised defences, machine guns, grenades, fire, gas explosions and helicopter action. Bond and a henchman fight underwater after falling into a frozen lake. During the final confrontation in the chapel, Bond kills Silva – then M dies in his arms.

Comedy: There’s an arch moment of Bond ‘shooting his cuffs’ after his daring leap onto the moving train. When Bond turns up unexpectedly at M’s townhouse (a scene that echoes one in Casino Royale), he’s told MI6 have sold his flat as he was presumed dead. “I’ll find a hotel,” he says. “Well, you’re bloody not sleeping here,” replies M. Bond’s word-association session with a psychologist is witty stuff. When 007 returns to active duty, Tanner says to M, “I didn’t know Bond passed the [evaluation] tests.” M dryly replies, “He didn’t.” Bardem has great fun with his opening scene, hamming it up knowingly. When Bond races along the platform and jumps onto the back of a speeding tube train, a laconic man nearby says to his wife, “He’s keen to get home.” Bond is then hanging off the back of the carriage and shouts through the glass to an off-duty driver: “Open the door!” (Never mind Thor or Jack Bauer, seeing James Bond on the London Underground is the best ‘iconic-fictional-character-rides-the-tube’ moment of recent years.) When James and M are in his Aston Martin DB5 – originally intended to be the motor he won in Casino Royale, then changed to the Goldfinger car for 50th-anniversary hijinks – he threatens to activate her ejector seat. “See if I care,” deadpans M. When they reach Scotland, Kincade assumes ‘M’ is short for Emma.

Music: The incidental music is by Thomas Newman (Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Lost Boys, American Beauty), and it’s great. It’s especially effective during Silva’s escape and his attack on M, when it powers us through and distracts us from asking too many awkward questions. The title song, by Adele, is trad but good: the best Bond song of the 21st century.

Personal connection: I first saw Skyfall with Fraser Dickson and Carena Crawford, on Monday 29 October 2012 at the Odeon Marble Arch. As someone who’s lived in London for 12 years now, I adore seeing lots of locations I know well in the film. I’ve gone past the MI6 building on the 436 bus many, many times; I’ve often been to Whitehall and Trafalgar Square; I’ve been in the undercrofts of the Old Royal Naval College (where the scene with M and the coffins was shot); of course, I use the tube all the time; and – most excitingly – when Bond and M are driving out of London, they turn off Lewisham Way (where I used to live) onto New Cross Road! Whoever thought that grimy student dive The New Cross Inn would be in a James Bond movie?