You don’t want to make 007 angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry… The other actors all get that message across, but nobody put more steel in James Bond’s veins than Timothy Dalton.
The Eighties were tough on James Bond. A slew of new action films had changed the market, making the super spy seem out of touch. Fans also felt Roger Moore had overstayed his welcome and at seven films he should retire.
Indeed, the Bond producers already tried to get new blood onboard after Moore’s fifth Bond film: they approached Timothy Dalton, but he declined. After Moore retired, Sam Neill nearly got the part. So did Pierce Brosnan, but he couldn’t get out of a TV contract. Dalton was approached again and he accepted. This was actually the third time: he was also approached just as Sean Connery was to retire, but Dalton (then in his early 20s) declined as he was too young (and felt intimidated by following in Connery’s shoes).
Dalton only starred in two Bond films and at the time many discarded them as grim, humourless attempts. Today, though, Dalton’s Bond is seeing a resurgence in approval, thanks to Daniel Craig’s movies. In fact, many believe that Craig’s Bond owes a lot to Dalton, who as a fan of the books really went out to portray the novel version: a tough yet vulnerable, charming yet cold blooded, competent yet mercurial character who is also really on the edge.
The Bond in the books often wondered about his fate – how long before he retired to the great MI6 in the sky. He considered himself always a moment away from his end. Dalton nailed this: his Bond, particularly in the revengeful License To Kill, was like a ravenous shark on a blood trial: only death could stop him. Today we are awash in films about agents mercilessly hunting their quarry, but in in the late eighties that was a much rarer archetype and a huge leap for Bond.
Dalton demanded a more grounded, realistic Bond. He also pushed for stronger female roles. This was not entirely evident in The Living Daylights, which is still quite a traditional Bond film. But License To Kill was again a massive change and in hindsight far ahead of its time. Dalton’s swansong pulled back on gadgets, had no ‘it’ car and featured a glamour girl who cleared a room with a shotgun. It was also the first time Bond went rogue. License To Kill laid many Bond taboos to waste and a lot of that was Dalton’s influence (though we must tip our hat to director John Glen – with 5 Bonds under his belt he’s nothing if not versatile).
Sadly Dalton’s reign came to a close when legal disputes over Bond TV rights halted future productions. When Goldeneye finally surfaced, Dalton declined the role: he was tired of playing Bond.
Last Updated: November 25, 2015