A dashing knight on a white horse with lance drawn fills the screen as a little boy presses his toy warrior into battle. Flash forward to Eton: Now the grown youth, on another crusade, advances the same knight over the curving mound of a woman's naked hip. What better image to introduce the rich, young adventurer Ian Fleming and the future creator of James Bond?
You figure if the opening moments are this playful, the rest of "The Secret Life of Ian Fleming" should be a hoot. And it is. The show, at 5, 7, 9 and 11 tonight on TNT cable, is a glossy entertainment full of knowing winks to the 007 movies and even to '40s-style film making. And, in a delicious irony for Sean Connery fans, the show stars Sean Connery's son, Jason Connery, as Ian Fleming.
The nerve, you say? Young Connery (whose mom is Diane Cilento) is just fine, thank you, comparisons be damned. OK, he has his father's eyes. End of comparative studies.
The flavorful script by Robert J. Avrech focuses on Fleming as a young man and illustrates the events--particularly his spy years with British Intelligence during the war--that fed his imagination for his later fiction. The production, full of Bentley roadsters, smoky train stations and high-stakes casino games, is classic Bond on the one hand, and on the other a revealing look, up to a point, of Fleming's personal life.
We see Fleming so intimidated by his unloving and aristocratic mother (the imperious Patricia Hodge) that he can't say "mother" without stuttering. The other singular influence in his life is a dark-haired, luminous British Intelligence officer who, in fact, recruits him into undercover work. No Bond girl at all, she is a fiercely independent woman (British actress Kristin Scott Thomas), with whom he falls madly in love.
But director Ferdinand Fairfax's tone is not lugubrious personal biography. It's fanciful. Like Jay Gatsby, who reinvented himself, Fleming \o7 is \f7 Bond.