We gave it a C
The central problem with this made-for-TV movie can be found in its title: What ”secret life”? I’m not much of a James Bond buff, but even I had heard about the stuff that makes up the bulk of this film on the early life of Bond’s creator.
Fleming, scion of wealthy parents, was a classic British goof-off, scraping his way through excellent schools, failing upward first as a reporter with Reuters, then as a World War II spy for British Naval Intelligence. It was only when he turned his attention to fiction that this glib dreamer met with real success.
Does this sound like the basis for an entertaining movie? Well, writer Robert Avrech and director Ferdinand Fairfax do their best. They impose a Bond-y devilishness on Fleming’s personality: He gets in a few hair-raising scrapes as a spy, orders his martinis ”shaken, not stirred,” and beds every attractive woman he meets. ”Your lips — they’re cold,” he growls to one bodacious Russian babe. ”Make them warm,” she purrs back. Meee-ow!
Avrech and Fairfax also introduce an agreeably campy Oedipal conflict between Ian and his mom, who is played by every English Freudian’s dream, Patricia Hodge.
The best moment of The Secret Life Ian Fleming is Hodge’s onscreen entrance: We see the 5-year-old Ian seeking out Mumsy to ask a question only to find her literally placed on a pedestal, dressed in little more than a drooping white sheet, posing for a distracted artist. Befuddled by her imperious beauty, little Ian starts stuttering, and Hodge sends him away with a disgusted glance. The movie asks us to believe that Ian was haunted for the rest of his life by the feeling that he disappointed his mother. That’s all too easy to believe, watching this wonderfully squirmy scene.
But there’s a gaping hole in The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, and it’s Jason Connery. Yep, he’s the son of Sean, the movies’ best Bond. The cleverness of casting young Connery as Fleming wears thin quickly. Jason lacks his pop’s brawn and twinkle. Jason’s a gimlet-eyed, weedy fellow with a tremulous upper lip — not the sort of actor around which hero-worshiping movies are constructed. His presence here amounts to little more than a publicity-grabbing stunt on the part of TNT.
Hey, Ted Turner, what’s next? Matt Salinger playing Holden Caulfield in an adaptation of his daddy’s Catcher in the Rye? C