Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, adapted by Archie Scottney

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BBC Radio 4, 3 April 2010

Any adaptation of Fleming’s novel has to contend with memories of the 1964 film, with Shirley Eaton being painted gold, a hissable villain in Gert Frobe, Sean Connery gradually feeling his way into the role and that immortal theme tune sung by Shirley Bassey.


Martin Jarvis’ production – with Jarvis himself playing Ian Fleming – deliberately ignored such memories and reconceived the novel as a picaresque adventure with a low-key hero (Toby Stephens) and an oh-so-suave villain (Ian McKellen) who took a positive pleasure in cheating at cards, or gold, and imprisoning his victims in a mental institution with no windows for them to find out where they were. Although outwitted in the end, we felt sorry that such an evil genius had failed in his designs: it might have been rather amusing to see what he would do if he had managed to rob Fort Knox of its gold reserves and pass them on to the Russians.


In this version the male protagonists occupied centre-stage; the females, on the other hand, took a back seat, They were either cannon-fodder for the male character’s wishes or helpless victims desperately trying yet failing to revenge themselves on Goldfinger. Pussy Galore (Rosamund Pike) was not the strong-willed virago of the 1964 film, but simply a female Al Capone gangster, who willingly submitted herself to Bond’s sexual charms.


At another level this Goldfinger functioned as a Cold War allegory, with the eponymous villain cast as a Soviet agent bidding to take over the world. He was only prevented from doing so by Bond’s ingenuity, as 007 left a warning which just so happened to be picked up by the CIA, which just so happened to muster a force against Goldfinger masterminded by the President. Although no longer a major player on the world stage – even in the late 1950s, the historical setting for this adaptation – Britain could still save the world from destruction, by dint of its secret agents. The tale left us with a feelgood message; propounded by Fleming and Bond alike – the artful agent will always outwit the mega-villain, if he (emphasis on the pronoun he) trusts in his judgment.