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Double 0 nothing: But there's no second try for BBC America's disappointingly flat Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond


Assuming their positions: Dominic Cooper and Lara Pulver star in the miniseries Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond. BBC America photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Jan 29th at 9 p.m. (central) and continuing for three Wednesdays on Feb. 5th, 12th, 19th. (The premiere episode will be repeated several times, including on Friday, Jan. 31st at 10 p.m. central.)
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Laura Pulver, Annabelle Wallis, Anna Chancellor, Lesley Manville, Samuel West, Rupert Evans, Pip Torrens
Produced by: Douglas Rae, Michael Parke, Robert Bernstein

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BBC America’s miniseries on the man who created Bond -- James Bond -- tends to be rather tedious -- rather too tedious.

It occasionally entertains during the course of four hours set mostly in the World War II era. But Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond too often jabbers, meanders and redundantly bed-hops its way through the formative early life and times of Bond creator Ian Fleming. All in all, it disappointingly fails to achieve liftoff.

Dominic Cooper stars as Fleming, product of a despotic, domineering mother named Evelyn (Lesley Manville) and younger brother of the more accomplished Peter Fleming (Rupert Evans). He’s a playboy without portfolio, drinking, womanizing and conniving his way through life until being recruited by the Director of Naval Intelligence to help bring down the Nazis. Heavy-duty schemers and manipulators are deemed ideal for such a task. And Ian has those goods, even though he’s also insolent and therefore very unlikely to take orders.

The woman who intrigues him most is Ann O’Neill (Lara Pulver), a wealthy socialite married to a baron who’s off fighting the war. Ann holds down the home front by having an affair with newspaper magnate Esmond Rothermere (Pip Torrens). But she likes her sex rough, and Ian is just the man to slap and spank her before entering from behind.

BBC publicity materials tease the climactic Episode 4 by asking, “Will Fleming and Ann finally find a way to be together?” But that question is answered in the very opening minutes of this miniseries, in which Ian and Ann are shown honeymooning in Jamaica, circa 1952. So don’t worry about the suspense killing you.

Ian’s also working on his first Bond novel, Casino Royale. “He’s a sadistic brute,” Ann says after reading some early pages.

“I thought that was your type,” he ripostes. “C’mon, it’s not bloody literature. It’s a potboiler.”

After a little trussed-up lovemaking, Man Who Would Be Bond flashes back to 1939, where Ian and brother Peter are engaged in a spirited downhill ski race. Peter of course wins again. And in their respective professions, he’s already a successful novelist while Ian is a disinterested stockbroker. Later, after bedding a woman he barely knows, Ian orders a martini, “shaken not stirred.” The bartender sniffs and instead gives him a beer. The self-described “lesser Fleming” simply rolls with this punch before soon being beaten up by the brother of a blonde beauty he’s trying to seduce.

The blonde, a dispatch courier named Muriel Wright (Annabelle Wallis), nonetheless becomes the other main squeeze in Ian’s life. He may be a “great disappointment” to his mother and a second-rater compared to his brother. But man, the guy can score.

Muriel supposedly was the inspiration for Ian’s first “Bond girl.” We also meet Lieutenant Monday (Anna Chancellor), the original “Miss Moneypenny,” and Admiral John Godfrey (Samuel West), inspiration for the Bond novels “M.”

This is intriguing to a point. But that point passes while Man Who Would Be Bond spends too much of its time more or less running in place. “Another country, another dreary meeting,” Ian laments near the start of next week’s Episode 2. He’s also pretty much describing the miniseries he’s in.

Each of the four episodes begins with the notation, “Everything I write has a precedent in truth.” If so, the producers could and should have put more zing in this thing . Episode 4 finally delivers some action that occurs outside the bedroom. But it’s so long in coming that the sequence seems both incongruous and out of place.

Cooper and Pulver are fine in the lead roles, although there’s little to like about either character’s comportment. The music swells on cue but the story just doesn’t jell. Had Ian Fleming written his Bond novels in this fashion, well, there likely wouldn’t have been any sequels.


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