Nov 25, 2011

Tradecraft: Q Returns in SkyFall!

Both The Hollywood Reporter and Variety are reporting that Q will return in the 23rd James Bond film, SkyFall! This confirmation makes me very happy. I loved Casino Royale, but the one aspect of the Daniel Craig-era Bond reboot that I haven't been happy with is the lack of regular supporting characters Q and Moneypenny. Rumors persist that Naomie Harris, whose character has only officially been identified as "Eve," will turn out to be the latter, and now we know who'll be the former: Ben Whishaw. Whishaw was announced in the SkyFall press conference (and his casting had been leaked long before that), but it hadn't previously been revealed who he'd be playing. (My own bet was on an Elvis-like creepy henchman, though, like Quantum of Solace's Elvis, he lacks the physicality to present a real threat to Craig.) I didn't suspect that he'd be Q, but now that his agent has confirmed that, it makes perfect sense. He will be a very different Q, in keeping with the different Bond and the different Felix of this new world order, but like both of them, the casting is pretty inspired.

I've long been a fan of Ben Whishaw. He really won me over as the creepy-yet-compelling protagonist of Tom Tykwer's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, but smaller parts in projects as diverse as the Chris Morris sitcom Nathan Barley, the unorthodox (and utterly brilliant) Todd Haynes Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There (in which he plays poet Arthur Rimbaud as an aspect of Dylan), the Brideshead Revisited remake (as Sebastian) and the Brian Jones drama Stoned (in which he plays Keith Richards) convinced me of his range. Previous spy roles include Tykwer's offbeat contribution to the neo-Eurospy movement The International (review here) and this year's BBC period drama The Hour, in which his character was an Ian Fleming fan. He's previously worked with Daniel Craig in Layer Cake, and he'll next be seen opposite another MI6 staff member, Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner in the current films) in a BBC production of Richard II. But what will most immediately stand out about him to Bond fans unfamiliar with his work is his age: Whishaw is 31, which gets us back to that bit about being a very different Q from what we're used to. Desmond Llewellyn, who played the MI6 gadget guru in 17 films over 36 years, started out old in From Russia With Love and kept getting older. John Cleese, who took over the part in Die Another Day after being introduced as Llewellyn's assistant in The World Is Not Enough, was also pretty old.  As was Alec McCowan when he essayed the role in Never Say Never Again (although he only had a few years on that movie's 007, Sean Connery). Dr. No's Peter Burton aside, Bond fans are used to an old Q. And now he'll be younger than Bond.

Age aside, though, I can totally picture Whishaw in the part. And I welcome the new spin his youth will lend the character. Presumably Bond's relationship with Q will change as dramatically as did his relationship with M when Judi Dench first took over (though that relationship's become kind of tired since that initial shake-up), and that should be fun to see. My one misgiving is that while Q has always been an old boffin in the Bond movies, his imitators are almost uniformly young, nerdy types, from Marshall on Alias to Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible III to that guy on that show Fortune Hunter back in the 90s. I wouldn't want the new Q to come off as an imitator of the imitators, but with an actor of Whishaw's caliber in the part, I think it's safe to assume he'll provide his own unique take.

Mainly, I'm just thrilled that Q is coming back! I've missed him. While the character sat out Live And Let Die back in 1973, that's nothing compared to the entire decade he will have been off the screen between 2002's Die Another Day and 2012's SkyFall!

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