Fans of the James Bond movies could make a drinking game out of watching BBC America's "Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond" (8 p.m. Jan. 29, BBC America; 2.5 stars out of 4).
The handsome four-episode miniseries about Bond author Ian Fleming offers more Easter eggs from the film franchise than women Bond has bedded. Within the first 30 minutes, director Mat Whitecross cuts from Fleming's tropical villa ("Goldeneye" and "Thunderball"—drink and drink!) to a mountain ski chalet ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"—drink!) to a London bar where Fleming orders the spy's famous vodka martini (drink!).
The story opens in 1952, with Fleming (Dominic Cooper) and his wife, Ann (Laura Pulver), honeymooning in Jamaica, where he's writing the first Bond book, "Casino Royale" (drink!). Ann mocks the book before Fleming binds her hands in bed, and teases the tedious fetishism to come. Well, you can't spell "bondage" without Bond.
Flashing back to 1939, young Fleming flits from bed to bed as London's most caddish ladies man. Living off his aristocratic family's fortune, he regularly disappoints his snobbish mother, Eve (Lesley Manville), who prefers her more successful son Peter (Rupert Evans), a published author and heroic soldier.
When World War II breaks out, Fleming finally finds something he's good at besides partying. He's recruited by Naval Intelligence, where his imaginative spying ideas impress his boss, Admiral John Godfrey (Samuel West), a ringer for Bond's boss, "M"—drink!—and his officemate Lt. Monday (Anna Chancellor), who thinks he could make it as a novelist.
Cooper's Fleming comes off a bit whiny, but maybe that's the intent. He holds up to the formidable Pulver, who manages to make smoking look sexy. Yet the portrayal that sticks with me comes from the always-solid Chancellor, who steals every scene she's in as Monday, the obvious inspiration for Bond's Miss Moneypenny—drink!
If only writers John Brownlow and Don Macpherson focused more on Fleming's wartime spy-jinks than his extended mating dance with the already-married Ann. Their unintentionally funny sexcapades include a hallway tryst as a Nazi bombardment explodes around them and a ridiculous spanking session accompanied by swelling romantic music.
"Fleming" posits that the author's sexual interests, insecurities, relationships (um, mother issues anyone?) and wartime espionage work informed his Bond, making the spy, as Ann says, "you as you'd like to be."
His own disclaimer, "Everything I write has a precedent in truth," suggests that his history also could be a yarn. At least it's an entertaining one.
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