How British are 007 films?

Skyfall's poster image

BAFTA winner for Outstanding British Film

Of course James Bond films are British. They concern a British icon and are filmed in the U.K. What could be more obvious? That’s like asking if Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley are British.

Well, that might not be the best comparison given that Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd. and Bentley is owned by Volkswagen AG. Still, 007 films have always been considered British.

Still, the answer isn’t as easy as it might appear.

In the early days, the series made by Eon Productions Ltd. was U.K.-based. While producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were born elsewhere, they were operated out of the U.K. and the movies were full of British film talent such as director of photography Ted Moore, (naturalized citizen) production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt. Of course, the U.S.-based studio United Artists financed the movies.

It pretty much remained that way until Diamonds Are Forever. The Inside Diamonds Are Forever documentary directed by John Cork notes that the producers initially intended to Americanize Bond, even hiring an American (John Gavin) for the role. It was going to be based out of Universal Studios.

Things changed. Sean Connery returned as Bond (at the insistence of United Artists) and U.K.’s Pinewood Studios was again the home base. Yet, some key jobs were split between British and American crew members, including stunt arranger, assistant director, art director, set decorator, production manager and visual effects.

Also, as the years passed, Eon for a variety of reasons (financial among them) based some films primarily outside of the U.K. They included Moonraker (the first unit was based out of France, Derek Meddings’s special effects unit still labored at Pinewood), Licence to Kill (Mexico) and Casino Royale (Czech Republic, with some sequences shot at Pinewood).

What’s more, movies not thought of as British, such as Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were based out of the U.K. Each had key British crew members, including: Star Wars with production designer John Barry (not to be confused with the 007 film composer), whose group won the art direction Oscar over Ken Adam & Co. (The Spy Who Loved Me); Superman with Barry again, director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth, and second unit director John Glen; Batman with art director Terry Ackland-Snow, assistant director Derek Cracknell and special visual effects man Derek Meddings. Batman was filming at Pinewood at around the same time Licence to Kill’s crew was working in Mexico.

Still, Superman and Batman (which both debuted during the Great Depression) are American icons and Star Wars, while set in a galaxy far, far away, is too.

At the same time, Skyfall, which came out on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 12, is very British. Much of the story takes place there and many of Shanghai and Macao scenes were really filmed at Pinewood, with the second unit getting exterior shots.

On Feb. 10, Skyfall picked up the Oustanding British Film award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. It was a first and a lot of 007 fans are still taking it all in.

In truth, movies generally are an international business these days, Bond films included. But 007 isn’t likely to lose his identification as being a British product anytime soon, much the way Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley have a British identity regardless of ownership.

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One Response

  1. If the Bond franchise had been produced by British producers, it would not have the sleek and high production values that make it so popular. I don’t mean to sound like a bigot, but perhaps it is a good thing that Broccoli and Saltzman were from North America.

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