Phil: Only a few weeks after everyone else, I finally got around to seeing the latest James Bond film, Skyfall.
It’s really rather good. The last two films in the series suffered from the producers who find CGI so easy that they decided to fill the film with it, giving two hours of relentless, crunching action sparing no room for silly things like plot, character development or changes of pace. (See also: The three Star Wars prequels, that terrible “reboot” of Star Trek, Indiana Jones 4 and loads of other films.)
This time we get something much more complex, but at its heart, far simpler.
Before you think I’m some sort of auteur, pay attention and the hints are dropped with a subtlety that even Agatha Christie would balk at. The important scene is the one where Bond and Q meet in the National Gallery in front of the Turner painting “The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up“.
The painting shows a great sail powered warship being taken to the breakers by a steam ship. Modern propulsion triumphs over the once great, but now obsolete predecessor.
This is the recurring theme through the film. It’s suggested that M should retire because the world has changed. That agents in the field are less important than nerds with computers and so on. By the end though, fortune has been reversed – the iconic 1960’s Aston Martin is a better mode of transport than a modern car, even if M comments on its lack of comfort. At least when it was bought, someone ticked the option box marked “machine guns” (Well, you would wouldn’t you) and the final blow is struck with a knife. No one dies by iPad.
A strong central theme is important for a story and it certainly provides both poignancy and purpose for Skyfall.
Returning to the painting though, there is another lesson for the writer. Turner didn’t see the scene he portrayed. The Temeraire would have been little more than a hull by the time she was hauled to be scrapped. Masts and cannon would have been removed, as would anything of value. Despite this, the scene shows her in her prime – not because it’s accurate but because it makes for a better story. It’s as much fiction as the film, and just as entertaining.