British Screen Success

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It can’t have escaped your notice that the cinema award season is upon us with the announcement of the Oscar nominations this week. I was delighted to see that British talent and films feature prominently, with Gary Oldman’s masterful and compelling performance as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” seeing him hotly tipped to bring home the Best Actor award. However, he is not the only British interest in this category, with Daniel Kaluuya nominated for “Get Out” and Daniel Day-Lewis for “Phantom Thread”. Sally Hawkins is a Best Actress nominee for “The Shape of Water”, while Lesley Manville in "Phantom Thread" receives a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Christopher Nolan’s intensely powerful drama “Dunkirk”, has received eight nominations including Best Director. Not surprisingly, both "Dunkirk" and "Darkest Hour", with its seven nominations, are among the contenders for Best Picture. We will have to wait until 4th March for the results, but I can definitely tell you that we are including a special feature about "Darkest Hour" in the summer issue of This England, published on 9th May (click here to order).

It is a welcome contrast that, amid all the shameful and superficial elements of show business that have made the headlines recently, film-makers are drawing inspiration from Britain's wartime history, choosing to focus on the values of courage, decency and tenacity that were epitomised by the British people during the conflict. Evergreen's spring issue, which is published on 7th March (click here to order), includes an article celebrating some great British wartime espionage films and thrillers including "Night Train to Munich", "The Adventures of Tartu", "Contraband" and "Yellow Canary". These featured a host of stars including Rex Harrison, Robert Donat, James Mason, Valerie Hobson and Anna Neagle.

Any mention of British films and spies brings to mind James Bond, surely the British Secret Service’s longest-serving and most famous agent! Created by Ian Fleming, who worked in Naval Intelligence during the war, Agent 007 first appeared in the novel “Casino Royale”, which was published 65 years ago in 1953. It became a bestseller, leading to 11 further novels and two short story collections. It wasn’t long before the screen potential of Fleming’s books was realised, and his 1958 thriller “Dr. No” was made into a film in 1962, starring Sean Connery. This marked the start of what has become the longest-running film franchise of all time, which has seen the agent, who likes his vodka martinis “shaken not stirred”, portrayed by a series of actors. Following in Connery’s footsteps were George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, who has signed up to play the character, for his fifth and final time, in the 25th film, to be released next year. Who, I wonder, will be in the driving seat of Bond's beloved Aston Martin in the future?

Any discussion on James Bond in the Evergreen and This England office prompts a divergence of opinion over who was/is our favourite actor in one of Britain’s most popular screen roles. It seems to be fairly evenly split between Connery, Moore and Craig. As a great fan of Fleming’s original novels, I vote firmly for Daniel Craig because he has succeeded in capturing the essence and every nuance of the author's original creation. Apparently, when it came to casting the hero for the first film, Cary Grant was initially approached, but he turned down the role because he thought he was too old. Ian Fleming is said to have suggested David Niven or Richard Burton. Of course, Niven did play Bond in a 1967 comedy version of “Casino Royale”, but for 007 aficionados, this is definitely a film that is guaranteed to leave you shaken and stirred for all the wrong reasons! I recommend the excellent 2006 version instead. For me, this is the best Bond film ever.

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