You know his name. And after exploding onto cinema screens 60 years ago, we’d hope that everyone knew the name Bond…James Bond. If diamonds are forever, it should be no surprise that the 007 franchise has lasted as long as it has, especially with its openness to refreshing itself every few years. As we eagerly await the next Bond to don the tuxedo, it’s great to revisit our still-current Bond’s first action-packed outing Casino Royale (one of the best Bond films ever, if you ask me). Better yet, the Royal Albert Hall have been hosting a weekend of James Bond in Concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Anthony Gabriele, including Casino Royale, Skyfall and Spectre.
Suffice it to say that the experience of watching Casino Royale on the big screen and with a live orchestra is amazing. David Arnold‘s music accompanied Bond for over a decade (from Tomorrow Never Dies to Quantum of Solace), in some ways a successor to John Barry and his work on the series’ soundtracks. Arnold’s score for Casino Royale might just be my favourite of the series (which I hope isn’t too controversial): it’s filled with great action cues, tense strings and an emotive piano motif for the female lead, Vesper (Eva Green). One of the most daring decisions made was to hold back on the traditional Monty Norman James Bond theme until the very end; instead, David Arnold gives us hints of the theme, building up to that awesome final moment before the credits roll. Instead, the title track You Know My Name (co-written by Arnold and the late Chris Cornell) becomes the film’s main action theme, which perfectly summarises Daniel Craig‘s (at the time) fresh take on the character, not to mention incorporating more than a touch of the traditional Bond theme. To have David Arnold present Casino Royale in Concert was great (he even popped up at the end to play the guitar as part of the end credits music).
As for the film itself: Casino Royale is slick, frequently stylish and an intriguing character study of Bond. It would be easy to delve too far into this, and lose the character of some of his appeal, but the film manages to find the right balance. Daniel Craig‘s Bond is perhaps the most compelling of them all, and even manages to get some of the traditional quips in there – albeit not quite as tongue-in-cheek as some of his predecessors. Eva Green brings a lot of nuance to Vesper in a performance which rewards repeat viewings, while Mads Mikkelsen makes for a uniquely vulnerable – and arguably because of this, more dangerous – adversary, and Judi Dench is still my favourite M. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see too much of Jeffrey Wright‘s portrayal of Felix Leiter over the following films, but I really like his small role here. In some respects, Casino Royale is a kind of origin story for Bond (meeting Felix, becoming 007, winning the Aston Martin, etc.), but keeps this aspect of the story quite low-key. In hindsight, it’s slightly confusing what the tease of Mr. White and his shadowy organisation was all about (is he working for Quantum, Spectre, both?), but the vagueness works quite well in this particular film. Having already helmed the action-packed Goldeneye a decade earlier, director Martin Campbell delivers some great, bone-crunching fight sequences (the black-and-white bathroom fight, the chase near the start, the airport sequence and the stairwell fight just to name a few). Easily one of the best Bond films to date, if not the best.
This was my first time seeing a film in concert, and I found it to be an absolutely incredible experience. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra did an incredible job at bringing Arnold’s score to life, and to hear it played live, and in the Royal Albert Hall of all places is an experience unto itself. There were a number of moments when I wasn’t sure whether to focus on the screen and let the live music carry the film, or try to focus more on the immensely talented musicians on stage. It’s difficult not to recommend this experience to anyone, regardless of whether it’s for James Bond, or the upcoming Home Alone in Concert. If you do get a chance to see James Bond in Concert, the bar at the Royal Albert Hall was selling a Vodka Martini (not sure if it was shaken or stirred) in case you’re looking for an appropriate drink. Casino Royale in Concert was an incredible experience, especially as one of my favourite Bond films, and I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it anytime soon.