Is It Just Me... Or Is Timothy Dalton The Best Bond?

Richard Matthews makes the case for this 'rugged, vital and physical' Bond

Dalton. Timothy Dalton. The Bond from Colwyn Bay.

The only actor to play properly Ian Fleming’s flinty, suave, misogynist, raven-haired double-O.

Before the current Daniel Craig fan mob hurl their sky-blue Speedos at me, I’m not saying Craig is bad - Casino Royale was electrifying, even if Quantum Of Nonsense offered little solace.

No, this is a purist, geeky proclamation.

First, my stall:

Connery – charismatic, sardonic standard.

Lazenby – lithe Antipodean undone by arch self-awareness.

Moore – two words: hover gondola.

Brosnan – aped Connery with a trace of Moore-ish smarm.

Craig – most brazen 007 ever to quaff a vodka martini.

Back in ’85, after a decade of overblown fantasy propping up Sir Rog’s ageing-lothario act (he’s three years older than Connery), Rada-trained Dalton fit Fleming’s blueprint perfectly: “black hair falling down over the right eyebrow... something cruel in the mouth and the eyes cold.”

Is Bond charming? When called for.

Does he have a way with the ladies? Always.

Will he get pissed on vodka martinis, roughly bed a girl, then cold-bloodedly plug a slug in the noggin of a rival spook? Without hesitation.

In Glasnost thriller The Living Daylights and rogue-spy revenger Licence To Kill, Dalton brought Fleming’s fractured, damaged psychology back to Bond.

Rugged, vital and physical, his outlook was typified by his self-appraisal to Robert Davi’s drug lord Sanchez. “I’m more of a problem eliminator,” he said.

“The movies had lost track,” Dalton said in 1987. “It’s important to make the man believable. Whether people like this kind of Bond is another question...”

And the answer? Critics responded well to a Bond who kills, drinks and shags away inner turmoil, but the public simply didn’t get it, with 1989’s Licence marking a franchise box-office low point.

Sure it ranks above From Russia With Love, but Connery’s sophomore outing was counted in shillings...

Maybe it was Dalton’s lack of humour, too much of a u-turn from 1985’s A View To A Kill and not clicking with viewers who, frankly, couldn’t care less about his commitment to realism and stuntwork.

Or maybe Dalton was just ahead of his time.

Twenty years on, when Cubby Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and stepson Michael G Wilson re-tried rough-and-tough Bond with Craig the results were far more successful.

Thing is, contrary to casual musing, Dalton was not dropped by the producers but fell victim to time.

Legal wranglings kept Bond off the screen until 1995, by which point Dalton had had enough. The world wasn’t ready for his mentally scarred Bond, so he hung up his gunbelt.

Now, in a post-Bourne world, surely it’s time to acknowledge that Dalton’s was the true screen Bond... Or is it just me?

Who's your favourite Bond? Let us know below


    • AlfredsDream098

      Oct 16th 2012, 6:24

      I would definetly agree here for the first time. But the part about him being the first to play the role "properly" I wouldn't agree with. Otherwise this is definetly a very good argument.

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    • Hadouken76

      Oct 16th 2012, 8:27

      Best in terms of accuracy to the books, but Connery as Bond will always be a cinematic icon. Plus, that gun reminds me of Noisy Cricket from Men in Black.

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    • deedeedragons

      Oct 16th 2012, 8:47

      It's just you.

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    • LSJShez

      Oct 16th 2012, 9:24

      A lot of the article is bang on. Another simple reason for the public's ignorance of Dalton, is the old three film thing - Every actor, including Connery, comfortably wears the role in the third film. As Dalton only made two, he comes across as a bit of an outcast to casual viewers. It's easy to look back and praise him, but simply put, he isn't as ingrained in minds, so seems to get less credit. Connoisseurs can argue the merits of Lazenby, but that's a tougher sell due to his one film.

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    • JoseyWales

      Oct 16th 2012, 9:51

      Personnally, I've always thought Timothy Dalton was the best bond. Find his films much more watchable than any other bond until possibly Casino Royale came along (though QoS is not on my top ten list).

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    • 2Dglasses

      Oct 16th 2012, 12:24

      Agreed. time will tell with craig, but i always felt connery too smug, moore too old, brosnan maybe too flash to actually be secret agents. i also felt perhaps dalton got too realistic stories (Revenge and defection), and people at the time wanted lairs in volcanoes and exploding biros. which had their place but nowadays are very austin powers.

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    • 2Dglasses

      Oct 16th 2012, 12:26

      too realistic to be popular that is, not TWO realistic stories, although he did also get two too realistic stories

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    • NickyC

      Oct 16th 2012, 13:08

      I've always thought that The Living Daylights was a superior Bond movie. Dalton's fantastic in the role and that stunt sequence hanging off the back of the plane with the bags of heroin is, for me, one of the most exciting sequences in the whole franchise. License to Kill was not as good ... let's be honest ... but that wasn't Dalton's fault. The script was sub-par and people don't want Bond to go off the reservation. The fantasy is about living the high life, bedding lots of women and taking out bad guys ... but doing it for Queen and Country i.e. the only way to save the world is to neck this martini, shag that bird and then shoot a few blokes in the face. If he does it without M telling him to he's a psycho. If he does it under orders he's the coolest, hardest man in the world. It ain't rocket science.

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    • connorgrady

      Oct 16th 2012, 16:15

      I totally agree, after reading the james bond novels, Dalton played the perfect bond. Maybe not so much in the living daylights, but definitely so in license to kill.

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    • BAIN123

      Oct 16th 2012, 17:59

      As someone who's read the books I think Dalton did pretty well in trying to potray a more "troubled" Bond. BUT, after re-watching TLD recently I've concluded he's just not that charismatic onscreen. Its why he's appeared in relitively little since. Connery, Moore, Brosnan and Craig were just more entertaining.

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    • youngnedyoung

      Oct 16th 2012, 20:25

      I'm in a minority with my friends in agreeing that Dalton was the best Bond. He brought the action back to the franchise and made it exciting again. Licence to Kill is my favourite Bond flick (possibly because it was a 15 certificate too) and I found it a great shame he never got to make more than two films.

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    • licencetokilt

      Oct 17th 2012, 17:14

      Dalton is my favourite Bond. is he best? How can you pick? I think all of them bring their own something to the role, even if, in the case of Brosnan, it was a hybrid of Connery and Moore. Moore's my other favourite, both him and Dalton are the polar opposite of each other, and my two favourite Bond films, Octopussy and Licence to Kill, are possibly the most disparate entries in the series.

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    • alexkopel

      Oct 17th 2012, 18:34

      A brilliantly written article. When Dalton was first cast as Bond, on seeing his look, I thought he looks how I imagined James Bond to be. I grew up with Roger Moore, but loved how Timothy Dalton brought back the character's dignity as in not parodying the franchise. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed some of the Roger Moore entries and loved his humour. But it was good thing that Tim took the series in an unexpected direction and back to the Fleming roots. Just like Daniel Craig who now gets applauded for what was started in Licence To Kill. Sadly, Dalton was attacked by the media especially when Pierce was cast and that was a shame. But the world changed after 9/11 and Dalton's approach was proved right. Bond is a psychotic and no paragon of virtue. He is not that different to the villain and not someone who is supposed to be likeable. And Dalton did have humour though it was the subtler darker kind. And he captured the dominance with women like the books. See the scene in Licence To Kill in the elevator with Pam Bouvier or the scene where you almost think he is going to kill her when he assumes she is working for the enemy.

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    • greasyspoonma

      Oct 18th 2012, 8:23

      always favoured Dalton as best bond, he added more grit to the character . also read somewhere that Licence to Kill showed Bond bleed for the first time on screen. not sure if that's correct.

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    • spaceodds

      Oct 18th 2012, 10:10

      Just signed onto this site to congratulate on this well written article. Being a Bond fan from childhood, I grew up during the six year hiatus watching the earlier films and I loved the Moore films for its over the top tone and humour, and the Connery films for its old school attitude and his brilliant performance. However at the tender age of nine I picked up the novel Casino Royale, and I was shocked at the difference between the jet setting adventurerous playboy of the films and the hard boiled chain smoking secret agent of the novels. Having enjoyed the first novel I began to seek them out and then one day I sat down to watch the Dalton films (I know I was breaking the law, blame the mother of my best friend) I was simply blown away by them. My friend called them dull, and he still does. I, however for the first time I saw a Bond closer to what Fleming wrote in the novels. By the time I saw Goldeneye, I was pretty dissapointed at how after all the intensity Dalton brought to the role, the producers decided to go back in an earlier direction. Craig is a fantastic Bond and I for one am glad he decided to sign up for more films. But Dalton for me is the hero of the hour, he came at a time when audiences were still expecting the humour of Moore and instead he turned it around and bravely gave them something completely different. Craig had pretty much the same history, being dismissed by fans for being blonde and instead giving a mesmerising peformance, giving a new generation of Bond fans a realistic interpretation of Bond and clearing up the horrid memory of Brosnan and Die Another Day. Even though he only did two Bond films, I'm glad Dalton still had the chance to play Bond. For those of us who know our Bond history, Brosnan was the firm favourite to take the role over from Moore back in 1986 (the contracts were even ready to be signed) However because of his role in Remmington Steele, Brosnan had to bow out due to an contractual obligation to the show thus giving Dalton a chance to play the role. I'm glad that it happened.

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    • southofcloud9

      Nov 12th 2012, 20:08

      I love Daniel Craig, but I also really liked Timothy Dalton and it saddens me that he never gets any mention or acknowledgement as Bond. Not only he was gorgeous, in reality, Timothy Dalton’s Bond seemed closer to Ian Fleming's creation of the character & very similar to today’s Daniel Craig’s Bond. He showed a sensitive, vulnerable, and somewhat reserved Bond along with a quiet dignity -- much like Daniel Craig’s. In addition, his two films had a lot more action than Moore’s and Connery’s. I really would’ve liked to have seen Dalton in more Bond movies, but as usual (as it occurs quite often with MGM) the studio was in jeopardy and Dalton’s contract for more Bond franchise fell through the cracks. People might hate me for saying this, but I think Brosnan’s Bond were just o.k. and with the exception of Sophie Marseau, his “Bond Girls” were pretty awful.

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    • Pullume

      Mar 29th 2013, 21:09

      I'm only too happy to read that there are others out there that share this opinion! Not long ago I was saying to a work colleague that Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond that has ever been portrayed and he looked at me as if I was crazy...

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    • jontherkildsen

      Jul 18th 2014, 11:30

      Perhaps not just you, but for sure not me. Think what you will about "Live and Let Die (Moore)", but the Bond we meet here is in my opinion the real Bond. Never has he been better portrayed with such class, finesse, ruthless determinism and mysticism and yet also oddly grounded. I believe we see the same type Bond in "Dr No (Connery)", "From Russia with Love (Connery)", "The Man with the Golden Gun (Moore)" and to a degree also in "The Spy Who Loved Me (Moore)". He simply does it to perfection. Roger is often sited to be the more lightheaded version, and this is true if we focus on his later instalments. But that too can be said of Connery, yet it is mostly his first movies he is remembered and credited for. But for whatever reason, I see more debt and mystical balance in the Bond that Roger Moore introduces to us in the "Live and Let Die" movie. Beside Connery's early Bonds, no other Bond comes close. Indeed to most none-fans, Dalton is often ignored. Not fair, as his Bond at the very least holds a strong candle to the two greats. His first especially, tried and succeeded to take it back a notch to the original vision we had in the very beginning. Lanzenby is famous for being not famous, and his Bond has a unique balance of the crude Connery Bond and the friendlier Moore Bond, and he does it very well too – perhaps a bit too arrogant, if one has to critic. Brosnan is a great charismatic actor but his Bond comes off as a little bland and not really good or bad, or especially intriguing. If anything, he showed us why the first were so great. The latest Craig gives us a very solid action hero who can cry, but apart from that I don't see the “je ne sais quoi” that the Bond character demands – perhaps not so much his fault, as it is the fault of the producers, or rather the fault of the mainstream competition. I will give you this: Since Dalton the Bonds have not really been anything more than good looking action heroes - which Hollywood already have given us in oversupply and from many other and perhaps even better sources. The true spirit of Bond, and his almost magical presence and serene allurement was never better than Connery and Moore. I have recently watched them all chronologically over a couple of weeks, and from my fresh perspective the Bond I saw in "Live and Let Die" blew me away - and I wasn't expecting it. This guy, we see here, is the real Bond and he is great. ** Nobody Does It Better **

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    • Playhouse

      Sep 8th 2014, 7:03

      It's always been so disappointing to me that more people didn't embrace Dalton's Bond, especially since his take's DNA is very evident in the Craig version of the character. (Heck, his DNA was still felt in Brosnan's first and best of his four Bonds, 'GoldenEye'.) And I always have to correct those about his supposed lack of humor. Though it's quite a bit less evident in 'Licence to Kill,' Dalton's Bond has a sense of humor but uses it in the fashion that it should be used: to amuse himself. What sidelined Moore's Bond is they leaned so heavily on the humor as a means to entertain the audience that the spy got lost in the mix. Dalton's Bond used humor mostly as a way to deal with the grim absurdity of the life he chose. His asides are actually quite funny, but Dalton's delivery is tossed away in such a fashion that it's less for the audience and more for him. It's something I've always enjoyed and found quite endearing about his character. You can even see traces of that in Craig's Bond, as well, in particular the scene at the hospital in 'Casino Royale' where Bond asks the Swiss financier if he brought any chocolates with him. Craig smiles to himself as if he just told the funniest joke anyone has ever said. That's true Bond humor; amuse himself to keep him sane and going.

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