Why I Dislike Timothy Dalton's
Interpretation of James Bond
May 17, 2005
First off, do not get me wrong — Timothy Dalton is a wonderful and accomplished actor (Looney Tunes: Back in Action, notwithstanding), with a notable Shakespearean background, but his interpretation of James Bond is not my cup of tea (or maybe not my vodka martini, given the company who shall be reading this). Whenever I discuss Bond with a Dalton fan, I always hear that he is the closest to the character as Fleming wrote it, and a good reaction to almost 15 years of Roger Moore; I always hear that his portrayal of Bond is dark, gritty, and more human than any other film Bond. I hear these arguments, and while they are matters of personal taste, I still don’t think Dalton’s run as James Bond was necessarily a shining moment in the series.
By the time Timothy Dalton took over the Walther PPK in 1987, the character had been in existence for 34 years, and on film for 25. We had seen Bond defeat maniacal plans for world domination, seduce dozens of women, have battles of wits with great criminal masterminds, and even travel into space. Still, with so much variation, there were many points that came to anchoring the role. While some of these had become cliche when Timothy took over the role ("vodka martini—shaken, not stirred," "Bond. James Bond"), people came to expect them in the films, much like people expected Indiana Jones to brandish a whip, or to hear the words 'may the force be with you,' when seeing a Star Wars film. Those moments had become an integral part of the movies, yet, when Dalton delivered them, they seemed forced, almost like he was playing the character as if Bond himself was tired of the lines. This completely seems to go against the character as it had been developed, since Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and even George Lazenby had delivered them with an air of pride—like saying "My name is James Bond, and I'm the best man you will ever find," whether it be in relation to killing or seduction. Dalton seemed like he was just trying to get them out of the way so he could get on with his exhibition of his 'dark' take on the character.
This leads me to my other main point: yes, the character in the Fleming novels was a dark, sometimes rude character, but the films had become so detached from the novels at the point which Dalton took over the role, that the two characters were no longer one in the same. Even dating back to the Sean Connery years, we can see the film character moving further and further away from literary version. Never in the films do we really see Bond as the chain-smoking, alcoholic womanizer that is portrayed in the novels, but rather, we see him take one or two drinks, a cigarette here and there, and bed maybe a pair of women, we never see him get so drunk that he would not be able to stand up (which we do see in the novels). Also, Fleming had never written Bond as a jovial character, who would make a joke or a pun after killing a man, but those attributes have been there from day one in the film character. Humor in Bond pre-dates even Roger Moore, who is often 'blamed' for making the series humorous. Just think back to Dr. No ("I think they were on their way to a funeral"), and we can see these things coming out in Bond.
After considering these, it is obvious to see why Dalton was initially disliked in many places (although not all). Especially for people who loved routine and mindless entertainment, Dalton was quite a large shock to them. He was never as smooth as Connery or Moore, and he also failed to deliver on the many things people expected to see when going to a Bond movie. When a band makes an album that is radically different from their previous albums (think Neil Young's Trans), it is definitely going to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the accountants. Much of the same happened when Timothy Dalton became Bond — his films never grossed as much as Roger Moore’s films, since viewers were taken out of their comfort zone, and they did not know what to think about this new direction. In time, I have come to really respect Dalton's performances as Bond, but I still can clearly see why he did not succeed.