All over the world, the name James Bond is instantly recognized by fans of action movies and espionage-based thrillers. We know him as a suave, intelligent secret agent, who loves women and martinis (preferably “shaken, not stirred”), and who has been portrayed by a number of talented actors. With the newest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, now scheduled to come out in 2021, I thought it would be fun to spend some time reading the original novels.
Casino Royale is the first book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. In this book, Bond (a British Secret Service agent) has been sent to the Casino Royale on a new assignment. His target is a Soviet operative, known by the moniker “Le Chiffre,” who is desperately trying to avert a financial and professional crisis by winning big at baccarat. Bond’s orders are to ruin Le Chiffre at the gaming table, an act that will cause the agents of SMERSH (an organization which takes care of problems within the Soviet Secret Service) to eliminate him for his failure.
Bond’s mission, however, is compromised from the very beginning, and he finds himself the target of both gunmen and bombers, who would like nothing more than to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.
While I have been a fan of the James Bond movies for quite some time, I have read very few of Fleming’s original novels. I found that while I really enjoyed the plot of the book, I did not care for the way in which Bond himself was portrayed.
The Bond I grew up watching in the movie adaptations of Fleming’s novels certainly objectified women, but I don’t remember seeing anything quite as extreme as the misogyny that I encountered while reading Casino Royale.
In the novel, Bond frequently expressed the opinion (in his own thoughts, at least) that women are inferior to men, especially when it comes to work. The following quote is one example which leaps to mind: “Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men” (Fleming 116). Even though I understand that some of the sentiments Bond expresses in the novel are likely a reflection of the time period in which it was written, they caused me to dislike the literary version of the character.
Despite my distaste for Bond’s male chauvinism, I did enjoy reading the novel, especially as a fan of the movie franchise. I thought the plot was very exciting, and there were many twists that I did not see coming. I really liked the attention to detail in Fleming’s writing, especially during the scenes where Bond is playing baccarat, and I left the novel feeling like I had a pretty decent understanding of the game.
I also thought it was interesting to see how the original novel differed from its movie adaptation.
While there are some similarities between the two, the original novel and the movie adaptation of Casino Royale are remarkably different. In all honesty, it’s really not a good adaptation of the book, simply because so much of the story was changed.
The vast majority of the differences between the book and movie (both in terms of the plot and the characters) seem to have been made to bring the story up-to-date for a modern audience. The movie adaptation takes place in 2006 (the same year it was released in theaters), which completely changes the focus of the British Secret Service. Rather than focusing their attention on the activities of Soviet spies, MI6 is concerned with disrupting the funding and actions of various terrorist organizations.
The filmmakers also chose to add a considerable number of scenes, including an investigation not in the original novel, while omitting (or changing) several others. Even the game played at the Casino Royale is different, having been changed from baccarat to poker. The number of action sequences was also increased significantly, leaving the movie to feel completely different from the book as a result.
Another significant change is to Bond himself (portrayed by Daniel Craig). While he does continue to have some misogynistic tendencies, and is at first judged by his partner (Vesper Lynd) as someone who thinks of women as “disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits,” the Bond of the movie does not express the same extreme level of misogyny seen in the book (Casino Royale, 2016).
The only change that I still find somewhat perplexing is the fact that in the movie, Bond has light-colored hair (which seems to vary from dirty-blond to light-brown, depending on the lighting), when the novel very clearly states that the character has black hair. I honestly can’t think of a reason for this change, and found myself somewhat distracted by it as I was re-watching the movie.
Despite not being a very accurate adaptation, I actually think that Casino Royale is a very good movie. It’s exciting and action-packed, has great visual effects, and does an excellent job of showing Bond as a less experienced agent.
The movie also has a great soundtrack! I particularly enjoyed the title sequence, which features the song “You Know My Name.”
If you have the opportunity to see Casino Royale on DVD, the special features are also worth taking the time to watch. In addition to a couple of behind-the-scenes features, the 2-disk DVD collection also includes a television special called Bond Girls Are Forever. This special shows how the roles of “Bond Girls” have changed over the decades, and includes interviews with many of the actresses who played these memorable characters.
Though I did not enjoy the original novel as much as its movie adaptation, I do think Casino Royale is a worthwhile read for fans of the James Bond/007 movie franchise. Even if you are already familiar with the movie, the book is different enough to still be an exciting read.
If you are interested in reading the novel, I do think it is important to note that it does include some content which may cause emotional distress for readers, including a scene of torture and a few references to rape. The torture scene is also included in the movie adaptation, but the movie maintains a PG-13 rating.
After reading Casino Royale and re-watching the movie, I am really looking forward to reading the remaining books in the James Bond series. I’ll be very interested to see how they compare to their respective movie adaptations.