Sky Atlantic TV review: Fleming Episode 1
Ivan Radford | On 05, Feb 2014
“Everything I write has a precedent in truth.”
That’s the opening rationale behind Sky Atlantic’s Fleming, a four-part biopic of Ian Fleming. The parallels between the writer of James Bond and his fictional creation are familiar to die-hard fans of the series – read: there weren’t that many – but John Brownlow and Don MacPherson’s script wastes no time in playing them up.
We open with a dark-haired man swimming underwater, harpoon in hand. A woman in a skintight scuba suit turns to face him. He fires. A cloud of dark liquid puffs into the water, accompanied by a familiar burst of John Barry-esque brass. But this isn’t 007 doing his thing: this is Ian and his wife, Ann. It’s one of many playful touches, as Fleming layers up the dramatic irony to the point where the difference between character and creator is almost negligible.
“He’s not me,” the writer tells Ann (Lara Pulver), after finishing his first book, Casino Royale. “He’s you as you’d like to be,” she retorts. “Your fantasy.” Ian grins. “Not exactly.”
It’s hardly subtle, but then neither was Bond. And so director Mat Whitecross treats us to a parade of flashy costumes and locations (the exterior of The Admiralty looks especially handsome), as Ian is given a job in Naval Intelligence with Admiral “Inspiration for M” Godfrey (Samuel West). While in real life this would have involved lots of boring office work, Fleming immediately sets about disobeying orders and flirting with his straight-laced colleague, Lieutenant Monday (a delightful Anna Chancellor). “Another joke,” she deadpans on their first meeting. “This isn’t going well, in case you’re wondering.”
Like Moneypenny, Monday’s not the only woman on screen. Annabelle Wallis is likeable as Fleming’s lover, Muriel, who finds his self-centered lifestyle irresistible. But the screen is stolen by Lara Pulver (Sherlock’s Irene Adler), who sashays in front of the camera early on and makes Ian’s jaw drop. Married, elusive and above his class, he naturally longs for her – the scene where they share an intimate moment is quite literally explosive.
For every overdone cliche or shaken up fact, though, this excellent cast stir in enough pizazz to make it go down smooth. They’re backed up by a top-notch production team, with Sophie Becher’s detailed design, Ilan Eshkeri and Tim Wheeler’s knowing music and Ed Wild’s lush cinematography nailing the 1930s period with effortless charm. There are touches of ropey CGI, but the Spike Island director brings it all together with a charisma and energy that makes Fleming a treat to watch.
At the heart of it, Dominic Cooper swans around the screen with the confidence of Connery in his prime, wooing and lying with a Moore-ish raised eyebrow. Fleming is far from the iconic success of 007 – the lazy womaniser is overshadowed by successful brother Peter (Rupert Evans), who writes adventure novels, and a disappointment to his mother (a withering Lesley Manville) – but he acts like he is. That flippancy fits the programme’s approach to historical accuracy like a tailored tux.
There’s a precedent in truth, we’re told at the beginning, but the fun is in the hints of fantasy. This may not strictly be Fleming, but while you’re watching Sky’s drama, it’s exactly who you’d like him to be.
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 £8.99 per month, along with Sky Atlantic, Sky One, Sky Witness and FOX UK – no contract.