When Sean Connery strolled onto the screen in 1962’s Dr No, James Bond was already a popular fictional character. Behind the scenes, Fleming had been unconvinced by the casting, but the producers were hoping the success of this debut would ensure it became the first of a series of adaptations of the novels. Connery had a daunting task. But if he’d failed, the project would have been forgotten.
It wasn’t, and, after 20 blockbusting films and 44 years later, an actor has stepped into the role Connery originally defined, and this time he’s being asked to begin it all again, to convince us not just that he’s Bond, but that in him lie the origins of the agent we all feel we know so well. Without any of the trademarks or the formula we recognise, Craig was asked to create a new character that already existed; to pursuade us not that he’s Bond, but that he will be Bond. That never happened to the other fellas.
Each time a new actor stepped into the role before, whether they took things up a notch (Moore) or pared things back (Dalton), the essential formula was carefully preserved with all its familiar trappings, and you felt you could get the true measure of each new Bond only by how they looked in a DJ, how they ordered a Martini, and how they uttered the line “Bond. James Bond.” It was only with Lazenby they dared to try anything new or different in adapting the novel in which Fleming married off Bond: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With its downbeat ending it wasn’t in the mold of the five films that preceded it, and the Connery was brought straight back in for the next one, a thought that must have been present in Craig’s mind when he considered taking the role.
But there’s one reason why Craig’s been a success: he can act. There’s no doubt in my mind that Daniel Craig is the best actor to take on the role. Good actors have played the part before (as well as some clothes horses) but none as good as this man. They assembled a good cast for this film: Judi Dench, Eva Green and Mads Mikkelsen are all terrific, and contribute in no small measure to making it a drama as well as an entertainment. But the success of Casino Royale rests on the shoulders of one man: Craig. Daniel Craig.