Making a biopic is a challenging task. Especially when dealing with a character as versatile and legendary as Ian Fleming. Is “Spymaker” worth watching or a complete waste of time?
The year is 1990 and there had already been a biopic the year before in which Charles Dance had played legendary James Bond creator Ian Fleming almost to perfection. He had the looks and the fitting attitude. The script was good and brought the most important life stages of Fleming to the screen. However, it was a TV movie and felt like it at times.
Produced by Turner Pictures, “Spymaker” stars Jason Connery in the title role. Yes, Jason is indeed the son of Sean Connery, the man who first portrayed James Bond in the cinematic film series. Born in January 1963, three months after “From Russia With Love” had had its world premiere, Connery was 27 at the time of filming “Spymaker” and his father was inbetween Bond films.
The film, directed by acclaimed TV director Ferdinand Fairfax, tries to retrace Flemings playboy youth, his expulsion from various colleges, his experiences as a newspaper writer and his tour of duty for the British intelligence service during World War II. Sadly, only small parts of the plot are actually based on facts. Thus, the film only presents a very rough outline of what Flemings life must have been and many events have been made up for dramatic effect.
Connery does a good job in portraying a young Ian Fleming, although the lack of resemblance to the real man is strikingly painful to watch for admirers of the famous author. Nonetheless, the performance works in its own way despite being a bit wooden in places. One is secretly waiting for an older Fleming who is seen writing his famous Bond novels. The other acting performances are also very good, most notably Kristin Scott-Thomas playing Flemings love interest Leda St. Gabriel and Patricia Hodge playing his controlling mother Evelyn. Bond Girl Fiona Fullerton makes a small appearance, five years after she had starred alongside Roger Moore in “A View To A Kill”.
Joss Ackland plays Nazi General Gerhard Hellstein, the villain of the film who bears a slight resemblance to Bond villain Karl Stromberg of “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Fleming first encounters Hellstein in a casino at the Baccarat table and later helms a secret mission to capture him in a castle stronghold. Pure fiction, as the real Ian Fleming never took part in active combat missions during World War II.
What is exceptional about the film is its musical score. Composed and conducted by Carl Davis, it is a lush and varied score that is, in parts, more enjoyable than the film itself. One can even detect hints of John Barry, or at least the music feels that way. Also to be mentioned are the locations used for filming, among them the famous Highclere castle in Hampshire (“Downton Abbey”) and Bamburgh Castle in Northunberland. The production values are better than you would expect for a TV movie. Costumes, vehicles and weapons perfectly match the period setting. Considering that the film was made with a
Naturally, the film plays with a number of Bond references. When first meeting Fleming, Admiral Godfrey (played by David Warner) orders a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred. Fleming joins in. Funnily, everybody leaves the table before the drinks arrive. There is also a gadget master called Quincy, a Moneypenny-like secretary and Fleming is often seen in a tuxedo.
Overall, “Spymaker” is an enjoyable TV movie with many highlights. However, its biggest problems are the somewhat forced appearance as a pseudo-Bond film as well as the biographical inaccuracies. Apart from that, you get a well-made 90 minutes of decent storytelling and nice acting performances. If you’re looking for a more factual account of Ian Flemings life, you should watch “Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming” (1989), “Bondmaker” (2005) or the documentary “Where Bond Began” (2008).