Tag: Julian Fellowes

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh take on big media in the fun Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Jonathan Pryce (Elliot Carver), Michelle Yeoh (Wai Lin), Teri Hatcher (Paris Carver), Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade), Ricky Jay (Henry Gupta), Gotz Otto (Richard Stamper), Vincent Schiavelli (Dr Kaufman), Judi Dench (M), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Geoffrey Palmer (Admiral Roebuck), Julian Fellowes (Minister)

For Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond film, they knew there was life in the old dog yet. GoldenEye’s success meant Tomorrow Never Dies could be all about bangs and fun, a Moore-esque caper with a modern touch. And fun it certainly is – exciting, amusing and with some top gadgets. This doesn’t re-invent the gun barrel, but it gives us a hell of a ride.

A British Navy ship is sunk in Chinese waters (the navy is always so luckless in Bond films!) and a Chinese MiG is shot down. Each side blames the other: but MI6 believe they are both being played against each other by a third party – media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). There’s 48 hours to find the truth and stop a war. Best send Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to Carver’s HQ to shake things up, not least because he has a past relationship with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher). Soon partnering with Chinese Intelligence agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), the two work to expose Carver’s dastardly schemes to start a war to increase his ratings and secure those lucrative Chinese broadcast rights.

Tomorrow Never Dies sometimes has a by-the-numbers feel to it – probably because the script was written on the go, with only locations and set-pieces decided in advance. Usually that’s a recipe for disaster, but with TND it works. Probably because everyone looks like they are having a whale of a time making it and the tongue is wedged so firmly in the cheek it’s practically touching the ear. And its concept of a mogul using fake news to manipulate the world seems alarmingly prescient today – think how powerful Elliot Carver would be if he ran Twitter (as he surely would today).

You can forgive Tomorrow Never Dies almost anything because it has so many stand-out sequences. The film has a (literally) explosive start, with Bond racing against time to fly some nuclear missiles out of a terrorist trading camp, before a British cruise missile blows the base sky high (and “make Chenoboyl look like a picnic”). Naturally the destruction as Bond lays waste to the camp makes you wonder why they wasted the money on a cruise missile when Bond can destroy the place for free.

Front-and-centre though is the “Bond drives a car through a shoot-out on the back-seat with a remote control” sequence. Which when written down, captures only about 5% of the sequence’s delight. Narrated by an over-cautious sat nav (constantly warning about hazards ahead, while the car is pummelled by bullets), we get all the gadgets we expect (bullet-proof glass, rockets, caltrops, a buzz saw that conveniently rises to the exact height required to cut through a steel wire obstacle) while also watching Bond masterfully steer a car around a multi-storey car-park on his phone from the back seat. Of course, Brosnan knows it’s silly and telegraphs his enjoyment, letting out a chuckle when he reinflates his tyres after driving over his own caltrops (I love this moment).

Tell me he’s not having fun.

There is a cursory sense of mystery, but TND wisely doesn’t have much patience with that. Bond is nominally under-cover at Carver’s HQ as a banker (inevitably using his own name) but, just like his Moore-heyday, Bond’s undercover skills are hilariously bad and his hints clankingly blunt. Fortunately Carver follows Bond villain form, confirming any suspicions by ordering his goons to beat Bond black-and-blue (more fool them, as Bond uses every instrument in a sound proof recording studio to best the baddies).

This was Brosnan in absolutely top form. He’s extremely charming, handles the action very well and gets more than a few grins. He looks like a guy just delighted to be there, living the dream of playing Bond. He’s both self-deprecating and cocksure and manages to be both a believable ruthless killer and a sort of charming little-boy-lost when needed. He loves a pun in a way no other Bond apart from Moore has done (“brushing up on a little Danish” indeed…) and his chemistry with Michelle Yeoh is superb, the two playing off each other like a sort of all-action Morecambe and Wise.

It’s a Bond where comedy is to the fore. An expensive satellite at Carver’s HQ is introduced (“It’s worth $300 million. You break it, you bought it”) solely so Bond can trash it without a second glance. A hitman (hilariously played in a cameo by Vincent Schiavelli) assures Bond he could “shoot him from Stuttgart” and still make it look like a suicide then apologises with embarrassment when he has to delay the hit to ask Bond how to unlock his car (“I don’t know what to say. I feel like an idiot.”). Moneypenny even calls Bond a “cunning linguist” after she interrupts by phone Bond’s tryst with a Danish professor (a joke which I certainly didn’t get when I first watched the film at a young age).

The lighter side of the script works more successfully than some of the attempts at emotion. The script bluntly states Bond had deep feelings for Paris Carver, but this never comes across at all in the performances. Probably because the emotions were torpedoed by the blatantly obvious lack of chemistry between Brosnan and Hatcher (allegedly they couldn’t stand each other). This is made all the more obvious by contrasting it to the delightful chemistry between Brosnan and Yeoh (watch the motorcycle chase with them handcuffed together – brilliant stuff, and Yeoh is excellent in this). When Paris is dispatched early in the film, Bond is cut up about it for literally 10 seconds before he’s having a whale of a time in that car park chase.

“There’s no news…like BAD news!”

Like many Bond films you can see how the franchise had become besotted with the latest “cool thing” in cinema. In this case, the film seems deeply in love with John-Woo-Hong-Kong-action gunplay. Bond probably fires more automatic machine guns in this film than he does in all the rest of the franchise put together, and the film’s finale (the dullest set-piece) is a run-of-the-mill shoot-out on a stealth boat, that feels pretty familiar from the series’ countless “face off in a sub” endings.

Spottiswoode directs with a straightforward lack of flair. Pryce has fun going OTT (and channelling Gus Hedges from Drop the Dead Donkey) as Carver even if the part is a bit under-written. But the main joy is in watching Brosnan have a huge amount of fun running around, blowing things up and shamelessly smirking through some dodgy puns. His Bond may never have been the most complex interpretation, but at his best I’m not sure anyone else was as purely enjoyable. Much like the film.

Shadowlands (1993)

Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins sublime in the moving Shadowlands

Director: Richard Attenborough

Cast: Anthony Hopkins (CS “Jack” Lewis), Debra Winger (Joy Davidman), Edward Hardwicke (Warnie Lewis), Joseph Mazzello (Douglas Gresham), John Woods (Dr Christopher Riley), Michael Denison (Harry Harrington), James Frain (Peter Whistler), Julian Fellowes (Desmond Arding), Peter Firth (Dr Craig), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Dr Eddie Monk)

“We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal”. It’s a sentiment that runs through Shadowlands, a beautifully made, deeply heartfelt, incredibly moving tear-jerker based on the (largely) true story of how the man who invented Narnia, CS Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), fell in love very late in life with an American poet Joy Davidman (Debra Winger) only for her to succumb to cancer early in their marriage.

The story had a been a life-long investment from William Nicholson, who had developed the story first into a radio play, a TV drama (with Joss Ackland and a BAFTA winning Claire Bloom) and then a stage play (which won Nigel Hawthorne several awards in the lead role, including a Tony Award) and finally into this film. A wonderfully tender, profound and genuine exploration of the not only grief but the joy and delight that opening yourself up to love can bring you, Nicholson’s Oscar nominated script was brought to the screen by Richard Attenborough.

Looking back over Attenborough’s CV you immediately notice the vast majority of films he directed were massive, all-star, huge scope epics – A Bridge Too Far, Gandhi – which were as much triumphs of logistics and studio managements as they were displays of directing. Shadowlands is one of the smallest scale, most personal films he ever made – and it’s enough to make you wish that Attenborough had allowed himself to make more intimate chamber pieces like this. It’s a wonderful reminder, not only of how skilled he is at pacing and story-telling, but also what a sublime actor’s director he is. Dealing with material that in lesser hands could have become sentimental, Attenborough turns out a film that is realistic, tender, sad but also laced throughout with a warmth and (figurative and literal) Joy.

And of course the involvement of Attenborough also meant the involvement of his regular collaborator Anthony Hopkins. At the start of the 90s Hopkins was in such a run of form he could plausibly claim to be the best actor in the world. In all of this though, Shadowlands might be one of his finest accomplishments. Superbly detailed, perfectly restrained, gentle, tender, hugely vulnerable and intensily scared (under it all) of connecting with the wider world or allowing himself to feel genuine emotions, Hopkins’ CS Lewis is simply exceptional. With all the discipline of a great actor he never once goes for the easy option, but gently allows emotions to play behind his eyes (the eyes by the way that he can hardly bring himself to settle on other people until half way through the film). And those moments where he weeps – three times in the film, and each increasingly more emotional – are simply beautiful in every way from acting to filming.

Lewis is bashful and repressed, so it’s all the moving to see his face start to relax into excitement and joy when he spots Joy in the audience at a lecture he is giving, or him simply enjoying the intelligence and challenge that she brings to her conversation with him. Debra Winger as Joy Davidman matches Hopkins step-for-step, in a sublime performance of prickily New York attitudes at first out of touch in Oxford, but whose humanity shines through. It takes her time perhaps to feel the love Lewis does (but can’t admit too), but when she does start to feel more for Lewis, she has no patience for his repressed unwillingness to acknowledge them. On top of which, Winger is very funny in the role – she has little truck with the sheltered, clubbish snobbiness of some of Lewis’ friends and takes a wicked delight in shocking the stuffy, unchallenged intellectuals.

The chemistry between these two actors is sublime, and the slightly autumnal relationship between the two of them that builds feels wonderfully genuine. Nicholson’s script makes an astute examination of Lewis’ personality and Christianity. Throughout the film, we are brought back again and again to a lecture Lewis gives – with increasingly less and less disconnection – on why God allows suffering and pain in the world. Pleasingly Lewis’ faith in the film isn’t challenged – only his rather pleased-with-itself lack of doubt and his complacent lack of experience. Experiencing love and loss himself, makes him question the views he has held – and leads him to develop a richer, more genuine understanding of the world.

Which all makes the film sound very heavy, and it’s not. It’s a delightfully light done story that never once leans too hard on the tragedy. Instead it punctures several moments with touches of humour (much of it from Joy’s American clashes with high-table Britishness) and moments of sweet affection. The film gains a lot of balance from Edward Hardwicke’s delightful performance as Lewis’ Dr Watson-ish brother Warnie, a bluff ex-army officer turned academic who reveals himself over the course of a film to have a great deal of hidden love, affection and empathy. It also has a delightful performance from Joseph Mazzello as Douglas Gresham, a child performance that brilliantly avoids all cloying sweetness and feels very real as a shy, nervous boy dealing with his mother dying.

But then, Lewis is also a shy nervous boy (both he and Warnie never really got over the death of their mother as boys – a moment that both wordlessly acknowledge while observing Joy with her son at the hospital), and the film follows him becoming something more than that, a man wh has loved and lost and can deal with it. A neat subplot around James Frain’s difficult working-class student demonstrates his growing ability to relate and empathise with others. A large chunk of the film builds towards Lewis’ tearful outpouring of grief (a scene impossible to watch dry eyed), a reaction that seemed impossible in the opening moments.

But then that’s what the film is saying: We have to accept that the joy of loving people, the wonder and warmth that they bring to our life, will inevitably one day lead to us losing them. Allowing us to experience love and joy is counter balanced by the pain we will feel when they go. It’s a deal – and if it is a deal, it’s the price we pay for having our life enriched. Attenborough’s simply beautiful, romantic film covers all this gently and brilliantly: it’s a film to treasure and hold tight.