Bond, James Bond – Man for All Seasons

Johnny English

When it’s Bond spoofs we are on about, we need Agent STB. He’s all the spoof you’ll ever need and then some. We are sorry...

Aww, Johnny English, you overly English, wish-upon-a-star wannabee. The spoof movie is not a new concept. It started in silent pictures. The spy spoof is also not new, but never has it touched on Ian Fleming’s creation so much as Johnny English. Yes Bond has been done before, Niven and Sellers version of Casino Royale is comedic gold and, whilst that may have taken the Fleming creation into the spoof realm, it preceded most of the films therefore most of the film watching society. If you want to include a spoof as a Bond film nowadays it has to take on the EON/Broccoli/WhoeverOwnsItNow versions of Bond and Johnny English is quintessentially Bond whilst being Blackadder at the same time.

After accidently seeing to the demise through incompetence of Agent One, MI7’s lead spy and the real James Bond character, English is tasked with security at One’s funeral. After yet more lack of intelligence, English allows assassins into the service and all of MI7’s spies are killed at the graveside when the coffin explodes. This leaves just Johnny English as the senior spy within Her Majesty’s government and he has to face off with a criminal from France, hell-bent on taking the Royal Family out of the equation and taking the throne for himself.

What you got over two films is what Rowan Atkinson does best – bumbling around causing chaos. I first fell in love with Atkinson in the early 1980’s, with the likes of Not the Nine O’clock News and that incredible mime scene in The Secret Policeman’s Ball where he plays a janitor who discovers an invisible drum kit. Then you get Blackadder, a comedy that spanned centuries without ever becoming tiring, and Mr Bean, who seems to be the base character, for Johnny English. What all these versions of Atkinson had in common was the impeccable timing and comedy is all about timing. If you are even a fraction late, the punchline doesn’t work and Atkinson is possibly the best exponent of comedic timing these shores ever produced. He is also generous. Whilst stealing the screen in doing what a scene demands of him, he often allows a colleague the better line or action which develops an ensemble rarely seen outside of Atkinson projects. Would Baldrick have been as funny standing alongside a lesser comedian? Doubtful.

With Johnny English the sidekick was not a balding archaeologist in the form of Tony Robinson, but another rising star of British comedy in Ben Miller’s Bough. Bough has the intelligence that English lacks and often tries to intervene to stop his boss coming across as stupid, normally with little success, and the chemistry between Miller and Atkinson is what stops Johnny English from going too far into the realms of stupidity like A Naked Gun would have. Atkinson and Miller, whilst playing parody, also have a feel for the source material they are poking fun at, and it is that respect that keeps English the right side of the spoof line. Some superb casting was seen as well, Natalie Imbruglia as the foxy Lorna Campbell, Tim Pigott-Smith as the head of MI7 Pegasus, and John Malkovich as Pascal Sauvage, The Greedy Frenchman, were all inspired. Malkovich has never got to ‘ham it up’ as much as he did as the villain trying to take the British throne and his screen confrontations with Atkinson physically make tears of joy leak from this heartless face.

Unfortunately the brilliant script and touch of the original, under the direction of Peter Howitt, was removed for the second instalment Johnny English Reborn and, whilst the film was watchable, it wasn’t anywhere near the comedic lesson that the first gave. But we have the Man for All Seasons, we have the DVD’s and the memories, and these are as important to the spy genre as Bond himself.


Image - IMDb.