Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond: Wednesdays at 10 Eastern on BBC America
It’s pretty amazing how often we take our neighbors across the pond for granted when it comes to pop culture (especially TV). Whether it’s been wholesale appropriation of British series for American audiences (series as diverse as All in the Family and The Office were adapted from British shows) or straight up cult fandom of existing British content (I personally cannot go a day without someone posting something about Doctor Who on my facebook news feed), it seems that the BBC has managed to play a surprisingly strong role in shaping pop culture on this side of the Atlantic as well. Tonight, the BBC has a four part miniseries delving into yet another piece of British culture that has a strong foothold in American’s entertainment consciousness, delving into a man who tended to act like his most famous creation.
Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond (from here on out referred to as Fleming), follows it’s titular character and James Bond (Dominic Cooper) creator Ian Fleming in the 1940’s as he operates in a naval intelligence unit during the second world war. In many ways Fleming is like the man he would eventually write about: a great spy, a debonair playboy, and a man who thinks big. This four part series takes a look into his rise from the black sheep of a wealthy family into the superstar novelist he would become after the war.
From a purely visual perspective, Fleming is absolutely beautiful, whether it’s focusing on Jamaica, the Swiss Alps, or pre-blitz London. This is furthered by incredible use of the camera, whether it involves the wide angle shots wherever Fleming takes us to those exotic locales or the use of cuts such as when a Nazi officer shuts the curtain in front of a stunned Fleming preoccupied on the atrocities occurring just outside the window. Particular credit has to be given to the camera work in the episodes climax, as the camera freezes on both exploding windows and a passionate kiss between Fleming and the married woman he’s been chasing all episode. If there is one knock that I will mention, it’s some conspicuous and often fake looking CG graphics that are used in establishing shots whenever a train or plane becomes part of the plot.
I also appreciate how Fleming manages to take no prisoners with it’s central character. This mini-series is about the making of the man, and the first episode relentlessly reinforces the notion that Ian Fleming circa 1939 is both a complete disappointment and a completely insatiable poon-hound. Unfortunately, with it’s short run-length, and what overall seems to be a war story, it somehow spends a little too much time focusing on Fleming’s attempts at romantic dalliance at the expense of setting up the spy thriller that the series is attempting to market itself as.
I also must highlight the amazing casting choice of Dominic Cooper for the lead role. It’s a difficult task to play a thoroughly unsympathetic protagonist (at least at this stage in the series) without turning people away, but Cooper brings a wry, almost puckish charisma to the role, making it impossible to turn away. Cooper is surrounded by a fairly strong supporting cast that excel in both bouncing off of and stifling him at every turn.
The Final Verdict: This is the second time I’ve gone to BBC America on a slower TV week (premieres are grinding to a halt as the networks brace for the Winter Olympics) and for the second time I can say that I haven’t been disappointed. Fleming at it’s core is about the evolution of a flawed individual, and it fearlessly shows the flaws in it’s central character from moment one. I would recommend checking it out, especially if you’re looking for a new TV fix in what will be a slow February.