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The Secret Life of Ian Fleming follows the exciting life of a dashing young Ian Fleming, the mastermind behind the highly successful James Bond books and movies. As a womanizer and a hopeless romantic Fleming got himself expelled from Eton and other prestigious public schools before his mother, fed up, sent to work for Reuters,the news bureau. Whilst covering a show-trial of British engineers in Soviet Moscow, Fleming pulled his first Bond-like escapade, almost losing his life in the process. This caught the interest of Britain's dormant yet watchful military intelligence, later to become the highly acclaimed S.O.E. After Fleming's recruitment into His Majesty's Service, his exploits become increasingly fantastic. It is difficult to believe that this is not fiction! The Secret Life of Ian Fleming goes to prove, once again, the truth certainly is stranger than fiction. One Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred! Written by
Ras Jarborg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Originally broadcast more than twenty years ago during the long gap between Bond films Licence To Kill and Goldeneye, Spymaker: The Secret Life Of Ian Fleming has only recently been released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection after having long been out of print on VHS. Claiming to be based on Fleming's life and exploits which inspired the creation of Bond, this TV movie also cast Jason Connery (the actor son of Sean Connery) in the role of Fleming. So is Spymaker a good Fleming biopic or a even a good movie? As a movie, Spymaker fares decently While Jason Connery's stunt casting is both obvious and far from original, he nevertheless does a fair job as Fleming. Despite both a complete lack of physical similarity to the real Fleming and coming across as wooden in a couple of occasions, Connery does a better than expected turn covering the Bond creator from his school days through the Second World War. The result, while still more of a stunt than anything else, doesn't do the movie any harm either.
More successful is the supporting cast. The biggest highlight of which is undoubtedly a young Kristen Scott Thomas who comes across well as Leda St Gabriel, a character intended to be the Bond girl prototype. The cast also includes former Bond girl Fionna Fullerton who appears for a couple of minutes very early on while Julian Firth and Marsha Fitzalan do well as characters clearly inspired by the Q and Moneypenny of the Bond films. The supporting cast is nicely rounded out by David Warner as Admiral Godfrey, Patrica Hodge as Fleming's mother and Joss Ackland as General Hellstein.
The production values are perhaps better than average for a TV movie, especially one doing a period setting. The sets and costumes call up much of the movie's period flavor from the wonderful evening gowns in the casino scenes to the weapons and uniforms seen during the film's second half. Veteran TV director Ferdinand Fairfax does a superb job of directing the movie and making what must have been a fairly small budget to good use. The only place where the limited budget becomes obvious in a couple of moments involving special effects shots that don't quite work but the results are good overall.
Despite its subtitle, viewers thinking they're going to get an accurate depiction of Fleming's life must instead take what Spymaker presents with a grain of salt for it can at best be called heavily fictionalized. While it certainly contains many kernels of truth, the script by veteran TV movie writer Robert J. Avrech often takes them and crafts them into bigger events. Examples include the section featuring Fleming covering the Moscow show trial of British engineers accused of sabotaging Soviet factories and a sequence later on where Fleming plays Baccarat against German General Hellstein in Lisbon, an incident based on a real event where Fleming played against a German agent but in both cases are significantly altered.
Indeed, Spymaker draws far more on the cinematic Bond than the literary Bond or Fleming's life. Examples include the entirely fictional characters of gadget master Quincy (played by Julian Firth) , secretary Miss Delaney (Marsha Fitzalan) and the almost Blofeld like German General Hellstein played by Joss Ackland. Fleming also spends a good deal of screen time in a tuxedo, visiting a couple of casinos and a couple of martinis shaken not stirred are ordered all in Bond film tradition. Last but not least, the climactic (and entirely fictional) castle assault calls to mind similar sequences in numerous Bond films but perhaps none more so than that of You Only Live Twice. There are also moments where the score by Carl Davis evokes some of the John Barry style of Bond music as well.
In other places, Spymaker is closer to life. Kristen Scott Thomas' Leda St Gabriel shares characteristics with some of the woman in Fleming's life around the time the movie is set while a scene where Fleming presents a rather unorthodox plan to his boss Admiral Godfrey which leads Fleming to ask if he got his memo and Godfrey's response that "You send me a hundred memos a week!" calls to mind some of Fleming's more outlandish wartime plans. Also, while the aforementioned castle assault is entirely fictional, it does echo some of commando operations carried out by the 30 Assault Unit that Fleming helped to organize (and which itself was the subject of the heavily fictionalized film Age Of Heroes). All in all, readers of Fleming biographies or even those who have seen the Fleming biography extra on the various DVD and Bluray releases of the Bond film The Living Daylights will likely be able to spot a lot of Spymaker's often considerable fictionalizations.
Spymaker then is far heavier on fiction than fact. On one hand, it perhaps tries too hard at times to make connections with the world of Bond films with its mix of fact and fiction coming across at times as forced. What it is perhaps better as is an attempt to do a pseudo-Bond film in a period setting and it's indeed interesting to contemplate that, with a few changes, Spymaker could almost as easily be the origin story of Bond as it is a biopic of his creator. For its faults as a Fleming biopic then, Spymaker could easily be the closest things fans are likely to get to a period Bond film and for that reason alone is worth seeking out.
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