In any case, I decided I'd listen to each radio play following the relevant book and film, so thus far I've heard Diamonds are Forever, From Russia, with Love, Dr. No, and Goldfinger. What follows are some general thoughts on the overall format and performances of the Toby Stephens stories (I haven't heard the Jayston one yet, and won't for some time), and then some on the specific plays I've heard.
All the stories I've heard are pretty straight adaptations of the original novels-- incidents are trimmed for time, but nothing is changed very dramatically.
- Toby Stephens as James Bond. Stephens is a pretty grim-sounding James Bond. I like the performance, but it's not quite the Bond I imagine from the books: he's a little more upper-class than I picture, coming across as more snobby. Of course, the Bond of the books is kind of snobby, but I feel as though he's acting snob; he's a brute playing at civilization. Without that the access to his interiority afforded by prose (or a visual performance by Daniel Craig, who captures this aspect of the character best), he comes across more like an actual snob. Which, I should say, works-- it's just a different version of the character, a more cultured, less studied one. Stephens has a good tough-guy act, and does well at the banter and stuff; I think he's less successful at the love scenes and other parts showing emotional investment, where I think he is a little too sharp. I had a hard time buying he had any real interest in Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever, for example, and the same went for Tania in From Russia, with Love. He came across as more tender toward Honey in Dr. No, however-- not sure why.
- John Standing as M. Standing appeared in one Doctor Who audio drama (Gods and Monsters), but I didn't think much of him there. Other than that, I know he's appeared in stuff I've watched, but nothing that's made much of an impression. Anyway, I really enjoyed him as M: suitably British, crusty, and unamused, which is exactly what the part (which really is a small one) calls for. He especially shines in his couple scenes in From Russia, with Love and the opening of Dr. No.
- Julian Sands as Q. Didn't really leave much of an impression, to be honest. Just kind of there. On the other hand...
- Josh Stamberg as Felix Leiter. He actually is an American, and he sounds like he came out of a 1950s crime film. Which, given that in Diamonds are Forever, Felix is a private eye working for the Pinkertons, is exactly right. That said, he wasn't the original:
- Lloyd Owen as Felix Leiter. Owen played Felix in just one production, Goldfinger, and he is not an American. Let's just say I'm very glad Felix was recast for later stories.
- John Sessions as Rene Mathis. I really like John Sessions' audio work I've heard (mostly, of course, Doctor Who stuff), so it was a pleasure to hear him in these, though Mathis doesn't really do a whole lot in From Russia, with Love. Hopefully we get Casino Royale someday.
- Janie Dee as Moneypenny. I don't think I know the actress from anything else, but like John Standing, she's great in a very small part. She sounds very young and very flirty, which is in line with how I imagine the character, though the writing here probably owes more to the films than the actual novels.
Diamonds are Forever by Archie Scottney (2015)
From Russia, with Love by Archie Scottney (2012)
Dr. No by Hugh Whitemore (2008)
The adaptation dials back some of the racial elements of the novel (there are no "Chigroes" here), but keeps others (Bond's instantaneous distrust of a character upon realizing they're Chinese), and adds new ones (some of the Chinese characters are played by white women). The only big downside of this adaptation is the decision to have Bond narrate the centipede sequence in the first person-- probably no one could save this, but Toby Stephens certainly doesn't. The music is spooky, but the whole sequence is just undercut by Bond's "fearful" gasps and shouts as the centipede marches across him.
Goldfinger by Archie Scottney (2010)Goldfinger was a so-so novel, and it makes for a so-so radio play. In the book, Bond runs into Goldfinger playing cards at a resort, playing golf at a club, and at his own house for dinner; like the film, the radio version streamlines this by cutting out the visit to Goldfinger's home and going straight to when Bond pursues Goldfinger across Europe to Switzerland, and the golf is thankfully less boring on audio than in prose. But moving the story to the audio medium reveals how little it is that Bond does through the whole middle of the story: on film you can see him lurking, and in prose you get his thoughts on everything, but on audio he may as well not be there a lot of the time, and his intervention in the whole affair comes across as even smaller than on audio.
What I should have predicted would really let it down are the accents, since much of Goldfinger takes place in America. The group of gangsters Goldfinger assembles range from ridiculous to awful (especially since some are actors doubling up, so they are required to depict two different American accents apiece), and getting Rosamund Pike in to play Pussy Galore was surely a bit of a coup... but I didn't care for her Southern accent at all. (Plus there's so little interplay between her and Bond that her falling for him at the end comes across as nonsensical.) The BBC haven't done Live and Let Die yet, but maybe I should be thankful for that. That said, Ian McKellen plays Goldfinger, which is great casting even if it contradicts the story's statement that Goldfinger doesn't sound English!