Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cinemaniacal: FAQ Over The New Q?

After an absence of two movies the word is out that Q is making a comeback to the James Bond franchise, and a lot of the kerfuffle is over that 31 year old actor Ben Whishaw is taking over the role.

As with any and all Bond related casting news the world was loaded with speculation, consternation, and condemnation. Folks were griping that he was too young, that his haircut was too douchey, and other random snipes.

While I agree that the haircut in the picture of him that pops up the most is pretty douchey, that can be fixed with a pair of scissors and a comb.

As for the main issue, his relative youth, let's ask the ghost of Desmond Llewellyn who dominated the role for most of the Bond series what he thinks of a younger Q:
Good point ghost of Desmond Llewellyn.  So let's take a moment to look at the nature of the character.  Like so many things about the Bond franchise it starts with a grain of truth.
Geoffrey Boothroyd

Q's origins belong in a letter Ian Fleming got before Bond movie series began. The letter was from a Scotsman named Geoffrey Boothroyd who was a firearms expert who wrote several books of his own on the subject.  

He enjoyed Fleming's first Bond novels, but didn't care for Bond's use of a .25 caliber Beretta automatic pistol*.  He considered it too weak and too unreliable for Bond's active lifestyle and recommended that Bond use the equally compact, but more lethal and robust Walther PPK.  Fleming not only followed his advice, giving Bond his signature gun, but added a character of "Major Boothroyd" from the MI6 armory to give him his new sidearm.

In the movies things got a little more complicated, they cast one actor in Dr. No to play the movie's Boothroyd, but he wasn't available for the second appearance, in From Russia With Love, and was replaced by Llewellyn.  He wasn't referred to as Boothroyd or "Q" in this film, because they were uncertain if they were going to make him a new character or not, and was simply called the man from "Q" or "Quartermaster" Branch.

Llewellyn's "Q" character evolved more in Goldfinger, where Guy Hamilton cemented the character's relationship with Bond by directing him to act like a schoolmaster dealing with the naughty schoolboy who plays too rough with the toys. That was the foundation of the role which grew and evolved over the years, to an almost kindly uncle to ageless Bonds.

John Cleese stepped into the role as a new head of Q Branch following Llewellyn's retirement.  He was a very different character, and had less than a fraction of the time Llewellyn had in the role.

Okay, that's a bit of the history of the character over the years, now let's look at how the image of him in popular was created, and how casting a younger actor can still fit the character.

You see Q's origin was from the concept of "the boffin."

Boffin was British army slang for anyone who works in a highly technical and/or arcane field of expertise.  Legend say it originated just before WW2 and comes from Boffin's Restaurant in East Anglia where scientists working on radar would congregate.  It spread quickly through the lexicon and became part of British parlance like using "steak and kidney pie" as a euphemism for botulism.

Now the term boffin had an image associated with it.  It was of a balding middle-aged or older man, in a rumpled tweed jacket and tie, toiling away in a lab studying or inventing obscure scientific minutiae who doesn't care to be interrupted, or his inventions meddled with.

Does that sound familiar?

Sounds a lot like the image of the original Q.

However things have changed.

Nowadays when we think of someone on the cutting edge of technology we think of young men in the their 20s-30s, poorly dressed, socially awkward, whose only distraction from their work are their little pet obsessions and hobbies.

That sounds a lot like the direction they're going with the new Q.

So I'm willing to give young Mr. Whishaw a chance, because there's the same grain of truth in him getting the role that Llewellyn had when he started, even if that truth is built around the film's makers using a social preconception. 

Now let's see how Mr. Whishaw is preparing for the role:
Hmmm.... needs some tweaking....


*If that had happened today, Boothroyd would probably have done it on a fan forum in an instance of constructive trolling.

1 comment:

  1. Watch an episode or two of The Hour and any problems you have with him getting the part will be dispelled.