'Fleming' taps into writer's inner James Bond

Posted: January 30, 2014

* FLEMING: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE BOND. 10 p.m. Wednesdays, tonight through Feb. 19.

PASADENA, CALIF. - The line between creator and creation becomes a little blurry in "Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond," in which we learn that the man behind Agent 007 was nearly as adventurous as his celebrated character.

Both inside and outside the bedroom.

"It was amazing how many elements he takes from his own life in the fiction," "Fleming" director Mat Whitecross said in an interview during the Television Critics Association's winter meetings.

Not that the subject of "Fleming," a four-part miniseries on the writer's early years in World War II London, which BBC America is running over the next four weeks, would necessarily recognize today's James Bond.

Ian Fleming's Bond, like Fleming himself, was a man whose feelings about sexuality in general and women in particular were either complicated or not complicated enough, and "Fleming," which stars Dominic Cooper ("Captain America: The First Avenger"), pulls few punches in depicting the future writer's sadomasochistic relationship with his longtime mistress and eventual wife, Ann (Lara Pulver, "Sherlock," "Da Vinci's Demons").

Bond's still seeing plenty of action, but his more recent movie incarnations have been a little more fit for 21st-century society - as recently as "Skyfall," he'd been working for a woman for more than a decade - and Cooper, for one, appreciates the changes.

"What you see as a child [in the earlier Bond movies] is a guy dressed in cool outfits driving amazing cars, using gadgetry that you could never dream of," he said. "There's something very desirable about it, just in that sense.

"But when you get to the nitty-gritty of him, who he is, more questions are raised. And I think that's how they are so clever, how they have transformed the franchise and the idea of [Bond].

"It's very revealing of Ian, how he was writing that man," he said.

"Fleming," too, aims to be revealing, painting a portrait of the relationship between Cooper's and Pulver's characters that's more psychological than graphic, and yet makes its point.

Pulver said that before she signed on to play Ann (who's married to the first of her three husbands when she and Fleming first meet), she asked what the director planned to do "in regard to their bedroom antics [because] obviously [I feel] very uncomfortable doing all that stuff. And when I knew Mat and I were on the same page, [that] it was about what we don't see and it was more about the journey of these two people and their dysfunction and their needs and their wounds . . . I knew I could do this."

"It's part of the character. You just treat it delicately," said Cooper. "This is something we have to do. How far are we going to take it? . . . As long as you don't have someone who can't bear it and is feeling terrified about it, you're going, 'This is part of the job, this is what we have to do.' "

Fleming "had such a strange relationship with sex," he said. "And women. It's very revealing. And . . . people knew their relationship involved violence."

What not everyone may have known is how many details of James Bond's spy career - including some of those ingeniously lethal gadgets - were drawn from Fleming's wartime experiences. Assuming that we can trust that "Fleming," which opens with a fairly liberal disclaimer, is the story of Fleming's experiences.

One of the chief sources for the miniseries was an authorized biography by John Pearson, said Whitecross.

Fleming "was central to naval intelligence [during the war] - I mean there's no doubt about that," said the director. "He definitely liked spinning [stories] and he would tell very tall tales about everything he did. And what was interesting about that from our perspective was, let's go with it because none of it is on record. So when it's a great story, just go with the great story."

There are, Whitecross said, "slightly more cynical biographies, which [say] well, he always claimed this, but it's doubtful he was as important to the creation of the CIA as he claims. But there's no doubt that he met all these people, he was up there [in the wartime intelligence community]. He knew [Winston] Churchill, that isn't contentious. It's more about: How important was he? It's a great ripping yarn, so we've tended to go with the best story."

Cooper, for one, seems inclined to believe.

He said that he'd talked at one point with someone "whose father was in the spy world," saying he wondered how many of Fleming's stories were true.

"And this guy just [said], 'No, no. He was the real deal.' . . . His crazed ideas really did help, and that imagination had an impact on our admiralty, and the war. Which is amazing. I mean, his imagination, for all the arrogance and all the 'lost young man' who had many privileges, he really did strive for a different life and he did have something to offer. So he was kind of right in the end."

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