Ou... une célébration de la contribution des acteurs français qui ont joué dans des films de James Bond
There’s always been a special deliciousness in the way French actors have delivered their lines in Bond films. Maybe it’s down to the actor, maybe it’s just the accent. Either way, they've left an indelible mark.
With the unconfirmed news that Léa Seydoux will star in Bond 24, I thought I’d look at the various contributions French actors have made to the Bond films so far.
The films’ first full-on foray into Frenchness came in 1965 with Claudine Auger as Domino Derval in Thunderball. Auger was crowned Miss France in 1958 at the age of 15 (AHEM), studied drama at the Conservatoire de Paris (as did Bérénice Marlohe - but more of her later), and gave birth to her first child aged 49. It’s a shame she was dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, but if you want to hear her in her native tongue, here she is.
|"Auger. It's pronounced 'oh-zhay'. Okay?"|
The rest of the 60s and most of the 70s were a bit barren for French actors in the Bond films. That is until The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 and Nîmes-born Vernon Dobtcheff’s turn as club owner Max Kalba (aside: how fucking annoying was the music in the Mojave Club?). He didn’t last long before Jaws bumped him off, but I’m sure someone would have done so eventually due to the club’s music policy. Vernon is still working, by the way, and celebrated his 80th birthday in August.
*VERNFACT: he played an elderly Nazi in Father Ted. Proof.
Next up is the quintessential Bond villain, Moonraker’s Hugo Drax, played by the velvety-voiced Michael Lonsdale. To the delight of the audience, Drax revels in his verbal barbs against Bond. I think he has the best one-liners of any Bond villain, among my favourites: “James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.” Judge for yourself.
|"Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him."|
Given that Moonraker was mostly shot in France, it's understandable that French actors were peppered throughout the production. Corinne Cléry gives an adequate performance as Corinne Dufour but, again, Nikki van der Zyl dubbed her real voice on-screen, but you can hear her (and see her romp around on a giant hand!) here. Fellow French actor Blanche Ravalec pops up - and almost out - as Jaws’ girlfriend Dolly.
*BLANCHEFACT: she narrated the French version of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Carole Bouquet is next up, essaying the role of vengeful Melina Havelock in For Your Eyes Only. Melina shows an understated independence from her very first scene and is quite happily bumping off her parents’ assassin before she even meets Bond. In fact, I’d argue that character gets duller from the moment she meets Bond.
*CAROLEFACT: she is the luckiest person alive, in that she no longer goes out with the dick that is Gerard Depardieu.
To the mid-80s now and France is next represented by Jean Rougerie, playing detective Achilles Aubergine in A View To A Kill. He doesn’t make it past the soup course, but does display an excellent moustache.
In The Living Daylights, French native (although half-Dutch, half Georgian by parentage) Maryam D’Abo shines through as Kara Milovy in spite of a nasty raincoat. With her awkward charm, she set my pulse raising a little above average and was the reason I took up the cello for a whole week in 1988.
Tcheky Karyo’s Defence Minister Dmitri Mishkin in Goldeneye in 1995 was the only main French actor to crop up in the Pierce Brosnan years UNTIL Sophie Marceau in The World Is Not Enough.
Like Carole Bouquet, she played the wronged daughter of a murdered father, but her complicity in his killing and her ability to beguile and manipulate people around her sets her on another level. Marceau is a phenomenal actor, crowned by her butter-wouldn’t-melt half-pout, her wicked laugh as Bond chases her, and her smirking pronouncement to Bond: “You wouldn’t kill me. You’d miss me.” Pure class.
|WANTED: for crimes against Dame Judi|
The Daniel Craig era has continued this superb run of hiring superlative French actors. Parkour genius Sébastien Foucan gets Casino Royale off to a flying start, leaping off scaffolding as Mollaka.
But while Foucan only lasts 18 minutes into the film, it’s Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd who dominates with the sheer quality of her acting, marking her out as one of the finest talents ever to appear in a Bond film. In Mark O’Connell’s excellent book Catching Bullets (available here), he sums it up better than I could:
“Green plays Vesper as a sort of Evil Under The Sun chanteuse – all 1930s gowns, hats and curls finished off with a sort of Emo-duchess poise and Roedean accent. Enabling Craig to shape his 007, Green has the finest acting chops of many a Bond squeeze with a curious mix of Maud Adams’ grace and Diana Rigg’s balls”.
|"Don't look at the necklace. Seriously, don't. It'll give the whole game away"|
Casino Royale represented the peak of French acting involvement of the Bond films so far. Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace's Mathieu Amalric is not as successful as Michael Lonsdale in the Bond baddie stakes; he’s creepy but unconvincing (as I stated in a previous entry) although I concede this is more to do with the poor script and direction than to Amalric himself.
And that brings us on to our final French actor, the criminally underused Bérénice Marlohe in Skyfall. As a Bond film, it's definitely one of the best, but the character of Severine is one of the drawbacks. There’s just not enough of her, although I see how the writers didn’t want anyone to intrude on the Bond-M-Silva dynamic and that’s a real shame.
|"I've got to tap the ash of this cigarette or it'll go EVERYWHERE"|
I hope this upward trend of quality French actors continues. So, come on Babs and Michael: more Lonsdale, Greens and Marceaus please.
Will Léa Seydoux join their ranks?