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The Making of The Living Daylights, by Charles Helfenstein – book review

The Pet Shop Boys are on Spotify right now, with This must be the place I waited years to leave. From their 1990 album, Behaviour, it contains some ideas they put together for a potential Bond theme. It would have needed more work, but you can recognise a fusion of Tennant and Lowe’s electronica with the string-based style favoured by John Barry.

The cover of the Making of the Living Daylights by Charles HelfensteinIn The Making of The Living Daylights, Charles Helfenstein has followed the strategy that worked so well in the brilliant, brilliant The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He has talked to everyone. He has listened to the gossip. He has had access to the call sheets, and to the personal records of key players such as co-writer Richard Maibaum. He’s had his pick of the pictures. And as we’ve seen with his tale of the Pet Shop Boys, he gives us plenty to go off and explore on our own. I need to go off and look at the work of Ian Fleming’s biographer, John Pearson, who shows up in these pages.

Helfenstein’s work shouldn’t be confused with the official ‘making of’ books that simply collate a bunch of behind-the-scenes photography. He is not producing official merch, with an eye to a fan-pleasing but ultimately sterile narrative. As with his previous work, it feels as though he wants to give us the definitive guide to the film. It is (a little) critical and certainly contextual. For example, he takes time out to look at the influence that The Third Man, the 1949 thriller directed by Carol Reed, had on the Bond series. (I keep wanting to stop this review to throw in did-you-knows like this: the military policemen in The Third Man would include two Bond Ms – Bernard Lee and Robert Brown – as well as the Defence Minister, Frederick Grey, played by Geoffrey Keen. John Glen and Guy Hamilton worked on it too.) He tells us about Chrome, the parrot once owned by Diana Rigg, that knew the script of OHMSS and then appeared in Daylights. He lets us in to marketing meetings where the potential for a drop in viewer figures – as had happened when previous Bonds had their debuts – was discussed along with what to do about it. And he tells us, shockingly and to our contemporary eyes appallingly, that Maryam d’Abo had felt pressure from those marketing folk to appear in Playboy, which she subsequently regretted. There are oodles of storyboards and details of an early script idea based on an origin story showing Bond learning his trade.

Timothy Dalton appears to have been a thoroughly professional lead. We can’t get through a chapter without his buying everyone a round or thanking someone or being utterly on message at a press event. There are a great deal of pictures of him and d’Abo travelling together to launches or to locations. There are no dressing room feuds here and even the alleged divas we know about, a-ha, are treated respectfully. Unlike in Helfenstein’s previous work, there’s little need to explain myth and counter-myth. 

The Living Daylights is widely regarded as the best Bond film of the 1980s, and as a relatively serious thriller it has dated far better than others in the series. It’s easy to forget that it was preceded and followed by the controversial A View to a Kill and Licence to Kill, the latter of which was Dalton’s second and final run in the role. Weirdly, the one area in which this book is weak is in its ‘legacy’ chapter in which rather than giving us a long lens critique (something Helfenstein is ideally placed to do well) we learn a bit about Licence to Kill but not enough: we see a letter Cubby Broccoli writes to the Daily Mail saying he hadn’t sacked John Glen and Richard Maibaum, but the real situation isn’t described and I end up turning to Glen’s autobiography to make it a bit clearer (his version, by the way, is that Broccoli rang him after Licence to say they wanted a new director next time). It’s a shame, because there’s no real need for this book to go there in the first place, but it’s a relatively minor quibble.

I didn’t think I could find a movie book as good as The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  This book comes the closest: a mixture of appreciation and assessment that will have aficionados referring to it time and again. Hats off to Charles Helfenstein. Nobody does it better.

Here’s my review of The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

You can get The Making of The Living Daylights here (affiliate link).

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