Desmond Lewellyn's final stint as the avuncular Q looks as if it about to be scuttled by an overacting John Cleese, apparently miscast. A serious miscalculation, the tone seems to be wandering off down the Scottish location corridor in search of The Knights Of The Holy Grail.
Then something equally remarkable and - I remember being struck immediately by this in the theatre - unexpectedly moving catches the viewer at the cliff edge. Brosnan executes a beautifully pitched cue line, revealing no little affection and possibly even a hint of dependence. And in his turn Lewellyn delivers a line so crisp, so understated, that we are for a moment back amongst the opening films of the franchise, back with the curious blend of bucolic, Anglican quirkiness and the yet still pungent memory of a war in whose heady miasma the original team undertook to make a Bond film. As Wilfred Owen said,
No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars. (The Next War, 1917)The Bond series as a distinctly British export ended with the retirement of Lewellyn. Names and legacies live on, passed on through roles (of course, Cleese wasn't substituted between films in the manner of Bond himself, Moneypenny, Blofeld or M) and the professionalism of the British production crews continue, though behind the scenes. Yet the good-humoured self-deprecation that Lewellyn exhibited - and which always coloured the films in their B movie hue - reminded us of their melodrama, their inherent silliness. It also encouraged us to enjoy the films for what they were, without shame. After all, watching a Bond film is a good "an escape route" as any.
Indeed, The World Is Not Enough is a silly film. The perpetual pursuit of deepening the character once again runs up against the absolutism of violent death and Bond's ultimate triumph. Stretching the principal character inward also seems to necessitate stretching the others outward, so M goes into the field and Robert Carlyle's Renard becomes the sort of bore you'd expect a terminally ill thug to be (he has none of the borderline camp that made Donald Pleasence's Blofeld so entertaining). The actual threat, the point of the mission is totally lost to me.
Still, Brosnan makes a go of it, appearing to capitulate in the arms of Sophie Marceau. I like to think that he's actually giving into the daughter-of-Sir-Robert-King, being so wedded to the establishment, to M's college friend, that he cannot countenance Elektra's duplicity (but then she does have the name of a great Greek tragedienne, so he should know better). Along with Brosnan's palpable affection for the departing Q this would seem to be a reasonable reading and one of the few genuinely interesting insights of this third instalment of the postmodern end of the franchise.