Today’s opening of the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig as 007, marks a half century of “shaken, not stirred” spying action. One of the most iconic action figures in the history of film, Bond, James Bond represents a whole universe of personal style compiled through not just creator Ian Fleming’s novels (which began 60 years ago with Casino Royale), but also every actor since the original (and, to some, eternal) Bond, Sean Connery. To celebrate Bond’s 50th Anniversary, film producers commissioned artist James Hart Dyke to create a commemorative poster featuring all six actors to don the tux, woo the ladies, and beat the bad guys. What makes this commission and poster especially fascinating is Hart Dyke’s previous experience painting the real spies of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. In addition to all the glitz and the glam, Hart Dyke’s seen and painted the very real danger of being in Her Majesty’s Secret Service and looked upon the real face of James Bond.
When MI6 celebrated their centennial in 2009, they wanted to crack open their shell of secrecy just enough to have an artist document their world. Enter James Hart Dyke, who received unprecedented access to the life of a British spy. Hart Dyke spent a year painting and drawing British spies going about their secret business. On the whole, they’re more businesslike than sensational in the stereotypical Bond fashion. Waiting in the Hotel Room shows a murky figure (the figures are usually murky to protect identities and to enhance the shadowy spy mood) standing at a window and looking for a contact, perhaps, to arrive. Espionage depicts a street scene in all silvers and blacks that jumble into an abstract pattern patterned after the almost abstract existence of intrigue and identities within identities. A pencil and charcoal drawing titled simply Sleeping Officer conveys the vulnerability of these public servants and the physical toll it takes on flesh and blood Bonds, while the fictional Bonds endure explosions and torture with nary a hair out of place. The most Bond-esque painting of the set to me is Meeting an Agent (shown above), which I believe shows Hart Dyke himself meeting a real-life spy. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture the figure sitting across from the agent to be M, Q, or any other alphabetically designated colleague.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Hart Dyke’s official Bond 50th Anniversary painting, titled Everything or Nothing—50 Years of James Bond. Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli asked Hart Dyke to reinterpret the Bond posters of the 1960s and 1970s films, and he delivered beautifully. Working chronologically from left to right, Sean Connery suavely stands far left, with one-hit wonder George Lazenby beside him. Roger Moore, the unserious Bond, smiles ironically in the center. Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, equal parts swagger and sophistication, come next. Craggy Daniel Craig, whose face seems half-chiseled from solid granite, rounds out the Mount Rushmore of roguish heroism.
It’s also hard not to fall in love with Hart Dyke’s realistic images. Craig’s current Bond seems the most unapologetically businesslike of the bunch, almost mechanically saving the world, one film at a time, which makes him perhaps the most realistic version. Fleming created Bond as an amalgamation of secret agents and commandos he met during his time serving in the British Naval Intelligence Division during World War II. Originally, Fleming imagined Bond as a “blunt instrument” that the British Government would use as a highly trained, highly skilled, highly secret tool. Craig’s performance and Hart Dyke’s paintings approach Fleming’s original intent better than any attempt done before. Those who enjoy the pyrotechnics and eye candy of Skyfall this opening weekend should also keep in mind the very real, very heroic, but very businesslike real-life Bonds who never say never when called to duty.
[Many thanks to James Hart Dyke for providing the image above.]