Judi Dench, just about managing to keep a straight face as she asks herself the question “What would happen if Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison married Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher?”, no sooner manages to answer, indeed, embody, the answer than she is given a further task by director Sam Mendes: to jump ahead a few years in Mirren’s career and imagine what it would be like for the Queen to exchange the corgis of Buckingham Palace for the moles of MI6.
Now, if there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the raft of recent films about the royal family it’s that you don’t call Her Majesty “Marm”, you call her “Mam”. So why is it that we have to wait half an hour or so before the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee – Ralph Fiennes – gets it right? By that time, we’ve had the police, Moneypenny, her personal assistant and, believe it or not, Bond himself all rhyming “ma’am” with “farm”. For goodness sake, all you have to do is attend to Dame Judi’s performance and you will know it must rhyme with “ham”.
Call her what you will, M has a problem and it’s been caused by an “asymmetric encryption algorithm” which has provided the entire list of British spies to a man bearing a startling resemblance to Christopher Walken on steroids. Just why he didn’t ask the Russians or the Chinese – if the Americans proved too expensive – is anyone’s guess.
Significantly, the latest incarnation of the Bond villain is a Spaniard who became a British spy for a reason that is never given – but may have something to do with employment opportunities in Madrid – whereupon he was forced to change his name from Tiago Rodriguez to Raoul Silva, presumably on the basis that it would provide him with better cover. Crucially, in terms of the film, Tiago Rodríguez translates as “James Home Alone”, the significance of which will be revealed in due course, if you can stand the tension.
While Bond is drinking 50-year-old alcoholic beverages with a botoxified, marmoreal Javier Bardem in a dump of an island off what the film-makers would have us believe is Macau (the clear skies reveal it for what it is – the back lot at Pinewood Studios) after bedding the requisite dispensable-starlet-playing-the-forced-concubine-of-the-villain character, back at MI6 someone is giving instructions to “strip the headers and trace the source” after M’s computer finally bows to the inevitable and starts playing “God save the Queen”.
Mixing genres effortlessly, the film interweaves technobabble with the A-level Eng Lit curriculum. While the limited scope of 007’s learning is conveyed by his being given the stock Shakespearian line “Brave new world” when Q disappoints him in the gadget department, M takes time out to recite Tennyson while she’s meant to be giving evidence to a parliamentary committee. (Either that, or the 77-year-old Dench had a senior moment and the director decided to keep it in.)
We know the end is near when Bond gets in his Aston Martin DB5 and takes M to Scotland for a “Rosebud” moment (“Skyfall” turns out to be the name of the Scottish pile where Bond spent his early days before his parents died) and the inevitable writing out of his septuagenarian boss. But not before the old lady gets her chance for a bit of recidivistic fun – Bond’s already had his when he gets to fulfil every schoolboy’s dream by sliding down the metal bit that divides the up and down escalators on the Tube – and gleefully dismantles the chandeliers to make her very own M-olotov cocktails as the earlier Home Alone reference is given full expression.
All that is left is for Albert Finney, giving away just one year to Dame Judi, to ham it up as a Scottish gamekeeper and supply the dirk with which our hero will avenge the murder of his boss with a knife-throwing scene straight out of North by Northwest.