After a couple of years of baseless speculation and delirious fan-casting, it was finally confirmed that the 25th James Bond movie will star… Daniel Craig, once again. It’s not as if his contractual obligations were unknown and it seemed widely understood that the actor still had one film left in his agreement before he could hang up the vodka martinis and casual misogyny for good. Still, Craig was infamously unenthused about the prospect of being Bond once more and there was real hunger in the air for change. The Bond franchise is iconic but it’s also a series stuck between the past and the future. It has evolved suitably in many ways but it’s tough to truly rejuvenate any franchise whose roots are so unignorably in ‘the good old days’. Bond is a raving misogynist borderline alcoholic with a passion for jingoism and violence that goes far beyond its calling, and in the context of Ian Fleming’s books, all these things make him ‘cool’. As much as the franchise has tried to move beyond that - and has succeeded to an extent, as seen in films like Skyfall - the urge remains to fall back on familiar territory because that’s exactly what Bond is.
It’s no wonder fan-casting is so focused on making Bond as modern as possible. Why should James Bond be a polished public schoolboy from the Scottish Highlands who speaks in clipped upper-class English tones and reeks of what is unnervingly referred to as ‘good breeding’? We all know what that term really means and the dynamics it implies. One of the reasons perennial fan-casting favourite Idris Elba has spent the past decade being the perpetual next James Bond is because he represents the antithesis of those archaic ideals while still being a perfect fit for the debonair charm of the character. But we all know Elba will never be Bond. Even if the producers genuinely wanted him to take the role, Elba is now at a point in his career where he can turn down such a gig and be absolutely fine. In all honesty, Bond needs Elba more than Elba needs Bond.
So, let’s take a look at what we want from a new Bond and what the franchise needs: He needs to be young enough to carry the franchise for at least three movies but probably more; he has to be British because, while non-Brits have played the role, it’s a specific strain of iconography the producers won’t want to compromise, especially since they’ve just hired an American to direct number 25; he must be charming and seductive but with a hard-bitten edge of sinister power; but we also need someone vibrant and unexpected, someone that reflects the world as it is today and has the ability to subvert all the expectations we have about that brand of heroic trope.
And with that in mind, I humbly submit to you my thesis for why Dev Patel should be the next James Bond.
Dev Patel’s full transformation from gawky kid in Skins to ridiculously attractive leading man has been extensively documented by ourselves and many others on this fine internet. Growing a beard and bulking out just enough has been very good for that man, you don’t need me to remind you of that fact. He’s tall, he can get muscled if need be but is lean enough to remain quick on his feet, and he can go from scruffy to polished with a moment’s notice. If this was a discussion of who should be Bond based solely on sex appeal, Patel would still be a front-runner in my eyes.
But of course, it must go beyond that. And I still believe Patel has the goods.
In Hotel Mumbai, which I reviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival, Patel is more of an everyman character than a stereotypical action hero. He gets harried, he panics, he doesn’t have much in the way of forward planning, and he doesn’t save the day. Yet in that performance, there is a core strength that makes him utterly enthralling to watch. It’s a similar kind of energy we’ve seen in other performances he’s given - the troubled man searching for his past in Lion, the geeky awkwardness of Anwar in Skins, the wide-eyed boy forced into the limelight in Slumdog Millionaire - but with more of an edge than we expect from him. He’s so well known for that big smile that takes over his entire face and makes him look a decade younger that we overlook how earthy and interesting he looks when he’s being more stoic or dealing with immense pressure.
I did not see Patel’s other film that premiered at TIFF but I was informed by multiple people that it essentially worked as Patel’s Bond audition movie. The Wedding Guest, directed by Michael Winterbottom, stars Patel as a young British Muslim man who travels to Pakistan ostensibly to attend a wedding but whose plans reveal themselves to be far more nefarious and complicated. Patel’s character is presented as the stranger who rolls into town like a Clint Eastwood character from a spaghetti Western. He’s a puzzle to be solved, the alluring face of the unknown whose true power is hidden until he chooses to reveal it. We’ve seen plenty of those kinds of men in film but seldom do they look like Dev Patel. And therein lies the perfect hook for Bond.
Patel can and has been an excellent leading man. He’s the right kind of heroic sexy for Bond and he’s certainly charming enough to pull it off. He’s also not what anyone would expect and it’s not just because he’s a British Indian Hindu. He’s a youthful looking 28 year old man who can grab an audience’s attention but also be nondescript when called upon to not draw unwanted eyes towards himself. If you’re a Bond villain, the chances are you’re not looking at a guy like Patel as your number one threat, which is the ultimate way to underestimate him. There’s no reason he couldn’t still be the private school kid with the dark past but someone like Patel could also subvert expectations at every turn, both within the narrative and with audiences. We’re not surprised by Bond anymore, but with him we could be.
Patel’s next project is Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of David Copperfield, wherein Patel will play the eponymous lead role. After that, the world is his oyster if the entertainment industry are willing to fully appreciate him. Frankly, he’s already been repeatedly overlooked in favour of less talented British contemporaries. So, producers of Bond, give him the lead role. Give the audiences what they least expect but what they need the most.
Header Image Source: Revolution Films