Review: 007: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

OHMSSBy Ian Fleming, adapted by Archie Scottney, directed by Rosalind Ayres

Radio 4, May 3, 2014

007 falls in love while on the trail of Ernst Stavro Blofeld…

Dr No was supposed to be a one-off radio adaptation to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth back in 2008, but the Ayres/Jarvis production, which starred Die Another Day villain Toby Stephens as James Bond, was such a hit that this is the third further play to be produced (From Russia With Love and Goldfinger were the other two). With the problems over Thunderball, perhaps it’s not too surprising that that was left well alone, so in order to progress through the Bond canon, OHMSS was the obvious next choice.

Scotney’s script shows just how close the 1968 movie hewed to Fleming’s original story: most of the beats are the same (although they’re sometimes in slightly different order) with Bond meeting Tracy, being asked to fall in love with her by her father – the head of the Union Corse – and then needing his help to get Blofeld. There are some amusing differences, particularly during the scenes at Piz Gloria, although Scotney incorporates the film’s version of Q (and the tetchiness from the movie between M and Q!) into the wedding scene for some reason – in the original, neither man is there.

Using Martin Jarvis as the voice of Fleming allows for some narrative, although thankfully much of the ski chase is done via Bond/Stephens, and there’s only an occasional explanation of what’s obvious to the characters in the scene. The characterisation of Bond, though, continues the trend from the earlier plays, giving him a schoolboy sense of humour – and in this one, even giving M a double entendre (and missing out the line about the state of 007’s urine in the Christmas scene). Stephens is so good as Bond that this ruins it to an extent, and if the same team do go forward with You Only Live Twice, then this really does need to be reined in!

However, rather than go forward, I hope the production trio and Stephens turn their attention to either Moonraker or Diamonds are Forever – two stories which are so different from their cinematic versions that the twists will be new to many listeners. If they can pull together as strong a cast as this one – with Alfred Molina suitably malevolent as Blofeld and Joanna Lumley an even more malevolent Irma Bunt – then they’ll be unmissable.

Verdict: Overall, a highly enjoyable version, with just a couple of reservations. 8/10

Paul Simpson

OHMSS is currently available via the iPlayer

 

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