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Fleming review: Sky Atlantic's biopic is glossy but lacks edge

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"Everything I write has a precedent in truth."

That Sky Atlantic's Fleming opts to open with this particular quote from the James Bond author is, intentionally or not, deeply ironic.

In actual fact, Fleming bears very little resemblance to reality - the script by John Brownlow and Don MacPherson takes huge liberties with the truth, using only the bare bones of Ian Fleming's life story to prop up a glamorous and glossy piece of escapism.

Dominic Cooper and Lara Pulver in Sky Atlantic's 'Fleming'.

© Sky Atlantic


Fleming may have seen himself as a James Bond figure, but the reality was very different - Fleming then is the author's life story as he perhaps would have liked it told. This is an action-packed take on his life - packed full of romance and dramatic incident. This is a world in which Ian Fleming looked like Dominic Cooper.

Despite director Mat Whitecross's insistence that he was eager to avoid pastiche, Fleming works harder to replicate the feel and ethos of the Bond films than to replicate Fleming's real life - glossy cinematography, gorgeous vistas, explosive spectacle and a John Barry-esque score are all present and correct.

The biopic even adds its own fictional creations to Fleming's life - such as Anna Chancellor's Moneypenny substitute Second Officer Monday - to make his existence seem more Bond-esque.

Sometimes the nods to Fleming's creation go too far - quips about "going over some figures" after waking up next to a beautiful woman recall Roger Moore at his corniest, while an early gag involving a failed attempt to order a vodka martini falls flat.

Dominic Cooper as Ian Fleming in Sky Atlantic's biopic.

© Sky Atlantic


This opening hour's most successful moments come when it strays from the Bond formula and adopts a more grounded tone - as Fleming watches his plans go awry or is belittled by his family members. It's in these moments that the boyish Cooper captures something of the real Fleming's chilly charm.

Lara Pulver meanwhile is making a career of playing the woman - the one female who can tame the untameable man - and, despite rather minimal screen time in this first instalment, she brings the same cold sexuality to the role of Anne Charteris that made her Sherlock turn so memorable.

While Fleming's romance with first love Muriel (Annabelle Wallis) is mostly reduced to Bond-ish bedroom romps, there's an intriguing edge to his interactions with Pulver's Anne - an edge that for the most part is sorely lacking in Fleming.

That said, Ian Fleming once described his Bond novels as suitable fare to be devoured by a restless young man on a long train journey - in short, he intended his works to be glossy and involving, but ultimately disposable.

As Cooper's own Fleming says of his debut novel at one point, "It's not bloody literature - it's a potboiler," - and in this respect, Fleming does arguably capture a little of the spirit of the man who inspired it.

It's slick and glamorous and diverting - just don't expect anything too deep and meaningful.

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