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Casino Royale or: How Nobody Started Worrying or Cared Whether Q or Moneypenny Were in the Movie

By Allan Johnstone (SausageBrigade)
November 10, 2006


Q and Moneypenny won’t be in Casino Royale. If we were waiting on the fifth Pierce Brosnan movie, this would be a big deal. But we’re not, as you might have noticed. We’re moving into the Daniel Craig era, and, as if he wasn’t polarising enough, we’re also going right back to the start of 007’s career.

Daniel Craig's gunbarrel sequence
And not only does he have to earn his double oh status, he also has to earn the gunbarrel sequence, which has been moved from its traditional place at the start of the movie. These three changes have caused great clamour and debate in the petty world of Bond fandom, where the wit and sophistication of James Bond is disproportionate to that of the fans. Yet somehow, the absence of Q and Moneypenny has only sparked minor debate, and even then, it’s been remarkably free of grandstanding. The fans against this decision hope, mildly, that the characters will return in Bond 22. The fans in favour think the same thing.

This rare example of a consensus in Bond fandom has come about for several reasons. Firstly, the characters of Q and Moneypenny have been rather ineptly handled in the last few movies. Moneypenny’s characterisation has been woefully inconsistent. In GoldenEye she shrugged off Bond’s advances like a good feminist, but by Die Another Day she was throwing herself at him (even if it was via a VR simulator). The nadir of the character, however, was Tomorrow Never Dies, in which her sense of humour had been downgraded several notches until it was roughly equal to that of Sid James (not her fault, though- the script for that movie appears to have been written by the Carry On team).

Pierce Brosnan and Desmond Llewelyn in a publicity shot
As for Q...Desmond Llewelyn’s final performances were undeniably doddery, but he managed to carry himself with a little more dignity than John Cleese. The beauty of Llewelyn’s performances is that he didn’t pay attention to himself; the gags were delivered with the clipped exasperation of an under appreciated civil servant, which is precisely what Q is, or was. To say that Cleese didn’t quite manage that is an understatement, the sort of understatement that his character Basil Fawlty would explode with rage at. And that’s the problem; Cleese was playing Basil Fawlty when he was supposed to be playing Q (or was it R? Does anyone know what his proper title was supposed to be?). Fortunately for us, it appears Cleese has retired, and not before time either.

It’s now obvious to anyone who has seen the trailers for Casino Royale that neither of these characters, or rather those versions of the characters, would fit into the murkier vision of the Bond world that the film inhabits. Indeed, the last time we had a Bond movie that looked to be so morally ambiguous (at least by Bond standards- which are very limited) was in 1989 with Licence to Kill, in which Moneypenny didn’t really need to appear, particularly when she looked and acted like Caroline Bliss. Bliss only appeared in one scene, but Llewelyn saw his role expand considerably. He was, as ever, excellent, but like Bliss, he didn’t need to be there; Bond’s bloody vengeance against Sanchez is undermined by the gadgets, which are amongst the silliest in the series. Those jolly, comforting things are rightly absent from Casino Royale, just as they are in the novels.

Ah, the novels. To Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli et al, they serve as a useful shorthand in publicity- when they say “we’ve gone back to the novels”, what they really mean is “we’ve loaded the movie with more schmaltz than anyone could possibly stomach”. The novels, apparently, are about characterisation and realism, which is mostly untrue. But in the depiction of the bureaucracy of modern intelligence, Fleming made a vague nod to realism. SIS headquarters is staffed by average people who could easily be working in the offices of an estate agency. Bill Tanner, for example, is a nonentity of a character.

Ian Fleming's Casino Royale
Miss Moneypenny rarely gets a chance to flirt with Bond, and when she does, it’s in the coy language of the 50s, rather than the convoluted innuendo-ese of the 60s onwards. And Q is entirely absent. His novel equivalent, Major Boothroyd, is an armourer, not a manufacturer of laser equipped watches or flame throwing bagpipes. Like Moneypenny, he appears infrequently. For the first time ever, EON have stayed true to their intention of returning to the novels by stripping the formula they themselves have established down to the less streamlined formula that Fleming established, where characters appeared only if they needed to, not because they were institutions.

Casino Royale might still exist in a universe distant to our own, but at least a pretence of reality exists in the decision not to shoehorn Q or Moneypenny into the narrative. Bond is still destined to make love to beautiful women and fight evil men with comforting predictability. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t have a movie. But we don’t need Moneypenny or Q in there to make the movie work. Whether or not we should laud them for it is a question which will have to wait until November, but my suspicion is that we will have no reason not to.

Article written by Allan Johnstone (SausageBrigade)

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