Posted December 13, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives

The Living Daylights

In his fifteenth outing, Bond is sent to protect defecting Soviet Georgi Koskov who informs him that General Pushkin, the head of the KGB, has reactivated Smiert Shpionam (better known as SMERSH) to kill Western spies. When Koskov is seemingly kidnapped by the KGB, Bond unravels a complicated plot involving an American arms dealer, opium and Afghan freedom fighters. The title comes from an Ian Fleming short story, the last film before Casino Royale to use a Fleming name. The film was both a commercial and critical success when it was released in 1987.


I know it’s possibly a bit controversial, what with Connery generally taking the crown for best Bond (although Daniel Craig may be nipping at his heels, he obviously has a long way to go), but for me, it’s always been about Timothy Dalton. When The Living Daylights came out, I was just coming up to that age when the posters on my wall were changing from My Little Pony to Jason Donovan (or, ahem, someone much cooler) and Dalton was my first proper Bond – sure, I’d seen several Connery/Roger Moore films on bank holiday Mondays, but this was the one which fully cemented my love of the series. Dalton was originally considered to replace Sean Connery in 1968 but felt he was too young at the time. Bizarrely, he turned down the role this time around and was to be replaced by one Pierce Brosnan, who then found himself stuck in a contract with NBC. So back to Dalton they went and thankfully, he accepted.


Rather than the somewhat wet comedy and bad stunts of the previous Bond era, this film took us back to old school Bond, suave and sophisticated on the one hand, with an underlying deadliness on the other. This Bond doesn’t really like his job (he says of M “If he fires me I’ll thank him for it”), gets a bit upset when his fellow agent is killed, and orders a suite with an adjoining room for his female companion (although you know he’s only biding his time there). The old touches are of course still evident – Bond substitutes the cheap champagne in a hamper for a bottle of Bolly (“the brand on the list was questionable, Minister”) – but the one liners are largely absent apart from a couple of exceptions, delivered by a slightly uncomfortable looking Dalton.


There’s only one girl (well, one and a half if you count the woman in the boat at the beginning): Kara Milovy, played by former model Maryam D’Abo (who had originally auditioned for the role of Pola Ivanova in A View to a Kill). Their relationship feels different to previous Bond girls; in an era when AIDS was all over the news, promiscuity was no longer cool and we get to watch the closest thing to JB falling in love we’ve seen since Tracy. Their partnership is complicated by the fact that Kara is Koskov’s girlfriend and is nearly shot by Bond in the first ten minutes of the film. She isn’t one of the tough Bond girls which begin to appear more regularly in the later films of the franchise, but she has an appealing innocent fragility together with a resourcefulness (she goes galloping off on her own over the Afghan desert with a stolen machine gun to rescue Bond), making her a likeable addition.


We have a new Moneypenny in the shape of Caroline Bliss and a new Felix Leiter played by the traditional random American actor (not that random actually – John Terry would go on to play Jack’s father in Lost). Neither of them is particularly memorable, but they fill the roles satisfactorily and the chemistry between Moneypenny and Bond, if not monumentally zingy, is still present and correct. The strong supporting cast includes Joe Don Baker as a mad arms dealer who has a room full of waxworks of warlords all with his face, who attacks the role with obvious glee (he would later return to the series in a different role as CIA agent Jack Wade in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies). Rent-a-foreigner John Rhys Davis is solid as the leader of the KGB (replacing General Gogol as actor Walter Gotell’s health preventing him from doing more than a cameo in this film) while Jeroen Krabbe plays Koskov’s double and triple crossing Russian with jolly ruthlessness. The exotic set pieces are all present and correct taking us from Gibraltar to Afghanistan via London, Czechoslovakia, Tangier and Vienna.


Dalton did a lot of his own stunts which is a refreshing change from the sometimes ludicrous stunt doubling of the Moore era. There’s an impressive opening sequence, with Bond careering around the rock of Gibraltar clinging to the top of a Land Rover after a paintball training exercise is hijacked by a terrorist. Moore’s legacy can be seen in the cello/sledge scene as Bond and Kara slide across a border inside her cello case pursued by men on skis (“Nothing to declare!”) and the Aston Martin is back, this time in the shape of the V8 Vantage, as impressively good-looking and gadget-filled as ever. There are also some pretty hardcore fight scenes – an MI6 agent gets his face grilled on a hob while another is cut in half (off screen) by a rigged sliding glass door. Necros (Andreas Wisniewski – now, somewhat ironically, running Buddhist meditation classes in Notting Hill) is a pretty good henchman, still managing to look menacing even when dressed as a milkman wielding exploding milk bottles. He even has his own theme tune and goes out spectacularly, after a gruelling fist fight in the back of a cargo plane.


Talking of music, this was the final Bond film to be scored by John Barry with a fab theme song provided by A-ha. Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders also contributed two songs, one of which was used over the end credits (the first time the main theme hadn’t been used at the end) and the other accompanies Necros during his dirty work.


For me, The Living Daylights gives us one of the best Bonds – such a shame he only made two – and therefore one of the best Bond films, providing a new breed of Bond which Daniel Craig would later capitalise on.


Emma Wilkin