There are unwritten rules when it comes to Bond girls that govern the bad and the good, the ones who live and the ones who die. You would expect Sky Atlantic’s Fleming, with all its nods to 007’s canon, to follow those rules to the letter. Although as the show has made it abundantly clear, Ian isn’t one for obeying orders.
Dominic Cooper swaggers even more in Episode 2 of this four-part biopic, as he settles into his role at Naval Intelligence. Accompanied by the ever-loyal Moneypenny – sorry, Second Officer Monday (Anna Chancellor) – it’s only a matter of seconds before he’s in a casino, brushing up against an exotic beauty and taking a Germany officer for all his Deutschmarks at baccarat. A quick trip to the bathroom later and someone’s dead, someone else has escaped and Ian’s making a hasty retreat to London, his morals both clearly on display yet highly in doubt.
Things get murkier still as John Brownlow and Don MacPherson’s script play up the contrasts between the two women in Ian’s life: Muriel (Annabelle Wallis) and Ann O’Neill (Lara Pulver), one a day-dreamer, the other one dreamy. As Ian’s off overseas threatening French officials to hand over their navy, they girls are meeting for lunch, an altogether more dangerous political battle. “Would it matter if I really loved him?” muses Muriel, after Ann insists that Ian’s womanising ways will never change. Muriel sighs and gazes into the distance with all the wistful smarts of a cow. Ian even has a nickname for her: Moo.
Cooper’s suave grin and sharp suits have no problem wooing the women – but it’s Ann who catches his eye. She teases and taunts him in the shadowy corners of his home, refusing to comfort him even when he’s dealing with loss. Muriel, meanwhile, quizzes him on his attitude towards the opposite sex, prompting a heartfelt monologue about a former fiance. It turns out his mother disapproved of her, forcing him to choose between love and money. (There are no points for guessing the winner.)
It’s hard to tell which confrontation tells us more about the author, a former romantic in love with big spending and fast living. Only when something (or someone) is taken from him does he realise its importance – and even then, filled with regret, he shows no sign of changing, simply turning to the next woman (hello, Mondaypenny) to carry out his menial duties.
True to form, Brownlow and MacPherson waste no time in drawing the parallels between Ian and his fictional hero, creating a conveniently Casino Royale-like backstory for their lead character. Director Mat Whitecross lands the biggest blow, though, with a one-angle shot of a climactic encounter, which treads a thin line between rough-play and rape. It recalls the Pussy Galore heyday of Sean Connery, but Cooper and his intense counterpart imply enough mutual desire to make things awkwardly consensual, leaving us with a pair of messed-up lovers who are simultaneously unlikeable and alluring; a shocking antidote to the potentially easy answers offered by Ian’s confession to Muriel. For all of Cooper’s comic book charisma, there’s no getting round the fact that Ian is not a hero, a fact that makes him, and this week’s episode, unpleasant but also impressively complex.
Did Ian’s life influence his fiction, or did fiction influence Fleming? The divide between fact and fantasy remains blurred, but as Bond’s good and bad female rules are both obeyed and broken, the TV series embraces the grey area between. The result is a dark, swooning treat.
Fleming is available to watch online on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can stream Fleming online on NOW TV as part of an Entertainment Pass for £7.99 per month, along with Sky Atlantic, Sky One, Sky Witness and FOX UK – no contract.