It’s 1987 and we welcome Timothy Dalton to the role of Bond. I don’t think Timothy Dalton gets fair credit for his Bond films. I think they were both quite good (yes, he did only two). But when I mentioned this to my sister, she was aghast. “But he was so sexist!” Really? REALLY? I mean have you watched any of the other films that came before this?
Differences of opinions in my family aside, the film leaps into a pre-credit sequence with the double-o agents on a ‘war games’ mission to infiltrate the British radar installation on Gibraltar: double-os against the SAS. But someone else has joined the games, someone who’s not a 00 agent, and who doesn’t know they are supposed to stop playing when shot with a paintball. Luckily 007 is on the case to stop this man, but not before two other 00 agents are killed. Escaping by parachute from a vehicle crashing off the rock, Bond lands on a millionaire’s yacht, interrupting a woman on the phone, who is lamenting to her friend, “There’s no-one here but playboys and tennis coaches. If only I could meet a real man…”
Sometimes you get what you wish for.
Cue the opening credits and here we have theme tune by a-ha. It’s sounds a bit synthesized and thin listening to it today, but musically it is very much a Bond theme. The opening credits feature the usual naked acrobatic women leaping about with a Bond silhouette. And a woman in a big hat with sunglasses. And a woman in a champagne glass. These credits are really getting a bit tedious.
The good news is this film has a bit of proper East/West spycraft going on. Bond is called in to take out a Soviet assassin who will try to stop a top Soviet general defecting. It’s not often you see Bond engage so directly with his licence-to-kill persona. He walks from the Bratislava opera to the kill site: show me the gun, show me the window, and click click click he’s ready to kill someone.
But he doesn’t.
Is it just because the Soviet assassin is the beautiful blonde woman he saw playing the cello at the Opera House? No, something’s not right. Bond’s boss M is not impressed at Bond using his ‘instinct’. He’s not supposed to use his instinct, he’s supposed to follow orders.
But he follows his instinct anyway, back to Bratislava and the cello playing blonde who is pretty much the only significant woman in this movie (apart from Rosika Miklos, the engineer who helps get the defecting general out of the country). Kara Milovny is the girlfriend of the defecting Soviet General, Georgi Koskov, played with charming naivete by Maryam D’Abo.
(Side note – women in films seem to play the cello more than any other instrument. What are readers thoughts on that? Is a woman playing the cello sexier than a woman playing the violin, or the oboe, or the french horn. Oh dear, I could just imagine the fun the Bond scriptwriters would have with french horn references.)
Bond takes Kara our of Czechoslovakia, hoping to use her as some kind leverage against Koskov. In what was pretty much the most memorable scene from the film, they escape their pursuers by driving through the mountains, across a frozen lake, and then when the Aston Martin gives out, down the other side using a cello case as a toboggan and Kara’s Stradivarius as a rudder.
There’s a nice touch when Bond and Kara check into their Austrian hotel, and she spots this terrible shiny blue dress in the hotel shop. Oh this is so beautiful, she says to Bond. Who would wear such a dress? I guess coming from Communist Czechoslovakia such fancy clothes were indeed reserved for the wives of Commissars. See her shining eyes when Bond buys her the fancy dress and takes her to the Vienna Opera.
The film takes us through some quite exotic locations: from Bratislava (actually filmed in Vienna because Czechoslovakia as it was then was behind the Iron Curtain), to Vienna, to Tangiers in Morocco, to Afghanistan (also filmed in Morocco).
Koskov is the villain of the film, and his convoluted villainous plot is to disinform British intelligence with his fake defection, have his KGB superior killed, do a drug deal with Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, smuggle some diamonds, and sell some weapons. And end up with a promotion and a nice balance in his bank account. Looking back, I’m still not sure how all these individual transactions tie up, but I’m sure if makes sense somehow.
The end of the film sees Kara playing her cello in Vienna, with a diverse audience including M from MI6; General Gogol, now working for the diplomatic core; and of course her friends from the Mujahadeen, who were late. (“We had some trouble at the airport.”)
Film epilogue: Kara continues to build her career as a cellist, falling swiftly out of love with Bond and in love with a french horn player. Although she continues to play, she moves into composing, creating atmospheric film scores, eventually winning an Academy award for Best Soundtrack.