Thursday, 5 November 2015

Colonel Sun in Spectre and other Bond films

The latest Bond film, Spectre, contains many references to previous films and Ian Fleming's novels, and I listed some of these in my last post. But as Ian Fleming Publications recently revealed, Spectre also incorporates elements from Colonel Sun, the 1968 continuation Bond novel by Kingsley Amis.

I've identified the scene below, and while I don't describe it in detail, those who have yet to see the film may wish to look away now.

One of the classic elements of a Bond film is a scene of torture. Casino Royale had one, as did Die Another Day and, before that, The World Is Not Enough. Spectre has one too, and it is this scene, involving thin pointy instruments applied to the head and set in the villain's lair, which is lifted from Colonel Sun.

If there was any doubt that the screenwriters had looked through the pages of Colonel Sun for inspiration, it is confirmed by a line given to the villain – a philosophical thought about what the lack of eyes does to the essence of a man – which is taken almost verbatim from the novel. (I'm not certain, but I think he has another line from the novel, said when he directs Madeleine Swann to a chair.) These references, by the way, are from chapter 19, 'The Theory and Practice of Torture'.

As The Book Bond has pointed out, this may not be the first time Colonel Sun memes have been included in a Bond film. Die Another Day has the character Colonel Tan-Sun Moon, and in The World Is Not Enough (those two films again!), M is kidnapped, just as M is kidnapped in Colonel Sun.

I wonder if there is another reference. On the final page of Colonel Sun, James Bond and Ariadne, the heroine and GRU agent, talk about having to part and return to their duties. Ariadne says, “People think it must be wonderful and free and everything. But we're not free, are we?” Bond replies, “No. We're prisoners. But let's enjoy our captivity when we can.” This reminds me of the final exchange between Camille and Bond in Quantum of Solace (“I wish I could set you free. But your prison is in there”, Camille says, indicating Bond's mind).

Admittedly, this final reference seems less convincing than the others, but given the repeated nods to Colonel Sun in recent films, the writers, chiefly Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, clearly have had Amis' book in mind when coming up with ideas, and it is reasonable to suggest that their films contain other references.

Incidentally, Amis wrote Colonel Sun as Robert Markham, but the new edition of the book, published by Vintage, has dropped the pseudonym altogether. This no doubt improves the book's marketability, but the timing is interesting too. Any new Bond film brings with it glut of Bond-related books and reissues, all hoping to benefit from the film's publicity. But the reissue Colonel Sun has been a while coming; the last UK edition appears to have been published in the mid 1990s. Given that Spectre unambiguously contains elements of the novel, Vintage could almost have published Colonel Sun as a film tie-in.

Returning to Spectre, the references to Colonel Sun are significant, as until now it had been thought that there was reluctance within EON to adapt the continuation novels. Does that mean that we're going to see more of the continuation novels in the Bond films? If so, top of my list for an adaptation is Anthony Horowitz’s excellent Trigger Mortis. I wouldn't mind betting that the motor racing section of the book, which is based on material by Ian Fleming and includes Fleming's own words, will eventually make it to the big screen. Remember, you read it here first!


  1. Hi, Edward . . . love the blog and your insight into Bond and his creator. Fleming has long been my favorite author--indeed, he's the reason I, too, became a writer. Looking forward to working my way through the rest of your site and reading future posts!



    1. Hi Simon,

      Thanks for getting in touch - I really appreciate it. I'm glad you like my blog. I've been writing the blog for over five years now, and am still learning a lot about Ian Fleming and his work. He certainly keeps me busy! And like you, I find Ian Fleming inspirational. Even in my other writing (I'm an archaeologist with a few archaeological tomes and reports to my name) I try to keep Fleming's writing style in mind. Winston Churchill is, of course, another inspirational figure (and one of Fleming's heroes to boot). Your volume, Winston Churchill Reporting, looks fascinating. Will certainly buy a copy of that.

      All the best,

  2. Cheers, Edward! I always keep Fleming's style in mind when I write, too; it helps move the narrative along! I'm always looking to learn new things about Bond's creator. I've read the Lycett and Pearson biographies multiple times, and have just ordered Harling's memoir and a second-hand copy of Ann Fleming's letters.

    What I find fascinating, in addition to his unique writing style, is the way he lived his life. He did so on his own terms with little care for the consequences. I've always thought there's something incredibly courageous about it.

    Thanks for your kind words about the Churchill book. Winston, like Ian, is a big inspiration!




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