The Living Daylights: Timothy Dalton brings cool to 007
Ivan Radford | On 21, Sep 2021
The year is 1987. It is hard to remember the last time that James Bond was cool, thanks to Roger Moore and Sean Connery both playing the role into their older years – a trend that only reinforced the dated sexism baked into the franchise. But with Old Eyebrows out of the frame, in steps someone new. Someone young. Someone with hair. Someone Welsh. Someone named Timothy Dalton.
It’s surprising just how much of a difference one actor can make, given that John Glen is still at the helm of Dalton’s first outing – the A View to a Kill, Octopussy and For Your Eyes Only director is still churning out the same old thing. So too are stalwart Moore-era screenwriters Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum. It’s no shock, then, that within a few minutes of the opening credits (featuring a title song from A-ha that rivals Duran Duran’s previous effort), James Bond has already scaled a cliff, driven a jeep off the top of it, wrestled a man for a parachute mid-air, landed on a speedboat somewhere in the ocean and tried to pick up a woman. He even says a joke at the end.
But, somehow incredibly, at no point does any of this familiar nonsense feel camp, cheesy or silly because unlike Moore’s affable granddad figure, Dalton’s secret agent has a sense of a danger – a cold edge that he balances perfectly with a twinkling smile and a genuine hint of emotion. Not since Connery has there been such a finely funed mix of debonair and ready-to-detonate – a mix that, in Connery’s later years (and in Never Say Never Again) had already faded. But Timmy? He gives the whole spy thing a gravitas sorely missing for more than seven movies.
And thank goodness for that. Because the stunts on display in this 80s extravaganza are as ridiculous as ever, from diving out of the back-end of a plane to ice-skating in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage round a frozen lake – blowing up lots of things in the process. But there’s a grounded quality to all of this, starting from the off – an escape sequence for a defecting KGB agent, which puts Bond at odds with Kara Milovy, a cellist who’s also a sharp-shooter. Played by Maryam d’Abo, she’s one of the best women to grace the franchise, not only bringing actual espionage into the frame but also believable chemistry with a slightly more age-appropriate Bond and some actual depth to her character.
Brad Whitaker may not be the most memorable Bond villain, but he’s a Bond villain to suit the times, an American arms dealer making the most out of conflicts and planning to use Soviet money to buy opium from the Afghan Mujahideen. Art Malik brings some nuance to Kamran, a leader who teams up with Bond to help stop Whitaker in his tracks, and the result is a rare instance of Bond feeling like a team player rather than a rogue player with little concern for others – he even goes back for Kara’s cello at the start of the thrilling car chase, only to wind up riding the cello with her down a slope after the car blows up.
The result is daft, yes, but refreshingly down-to-earth, in a way that Roger Moore never managed – and, while Dalton sadly never got to do more than two films, like George Lazenby, he’s the rare 007 who never outstayed his welcome. For the first time in a long time, he left 007 fans wanting more.