The Living Daylights is the 15th Bond film and the first to star Timothy Dalton as super-spy, bad-taste comedian and misogynist James Bond.
After the sheer silliness of the Roger Moore era, Dalton helps ground a franchise that was quite literally floating off into space. A Shakespearean Actor (pronounced to rhyme with ‘backdoor’), Dalton’s Bond is much closer to the hero of Ian Fleming’s books. Playing opposite double-0-thespian, we have his fellow Welshman John Rhys-Davies (Gimli from The Lord of the Rings) and Maryam d’Abo (last seen on Screen Goblin entombed in an alien web and harvested for eggs by a midget clown in Xtro).
Her Czechoslovakian cellist is not what you’d call a ‘strong female character’, but cell-o! This is a Bond movie and you won’t get one of those until Judi Dench, and probably never again. Although her role is pretty much limited to shouting “James!” (pronounced “Jems!” in the indeterminable ‘Bond girl accent’), their romance is well handled, even when other plot elements are not.
The story sees Jems attempt to stop the arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and the KGB General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) from starting a world war. Let’s break down the film’s three big problems. Firstly, there’s no clearly defined villain. And everyone knows a Bond film needs a super-villain; that’s 007 101. Is it Whitaker? Koskov? Moneypenny? Secondly, there are a number of plot holes that suggest James shouldn’t be working in ‘intelligence’, such as the moment when he frees Art Malik without knowing who he is or why he’s in jail. He could be a puppy killer for all Bond knows. Thirdly, there are some rather dull stretches, including the overlong Afghanistan segment which should be the film’s exciting highlight.
Instead, it’s the more intimate moments that one remembers, particularly the fairground sequence and the concert scenes. Directed by franchise stalwart John Glen, this 1987 movie still looks great. Plus, Dalton does more actual spying in this film alone than Moore managed in his entire Bond career. It also features the classic cello case escape (“We have nothing to declare!”), a character called Pushkin (the name of my mum’s childhood cat), and one of the best sofas ever put to film.
The Living Daylights may not be 007’s most memorable outing, but it’s an upper-tier ’80s Bond. Licence to Kill would follow armed with significantly more jokes, perhaps due to Daylights’ more serious tone leading to some accusations of humourlessness. But it does have a theme song by A-ha. I don’t see what isn’t funny about that.