How the Masses Welcomed (Two Very Different Versions of) Espionage Into Their Homes, thanks to Le Carré and Fleming.
At the start of the 1930’s there were a number of novelists focusing on espionage in their texts who had real life backgrounds in government intelligence on a professional level. Two of the most significant writers who fit this description, though coming a few decades later in the 1950’s and 1960’s respectively, include John Le Carré and Ian Fleming. The films that were based on these two authors’ novels have impacted how the existence of espionage is viewed by the public and mainstream media quite immensely.
In the case of John Le Carré, as explained by Cheryl Powell (1991) in the text “Redemption for the protagonist in three novels” by John le Carré, his works often revealed the human side of espionage, especially involving the reality of an individual’s desire and need for fulfillment as far as love and romance is concerned (iv). The 1990 film The Russia House, directed by Fred Schepisi, was based on Le Carré’s novel of the same name, and uncovers “what Glasnost and Perestroika are about in terms of love, human suffering, triumph, loss, and finally, survival.” (119). The novel is likely to be the purest romance in Le Carré’s oeuvre and showcases the protagonist, Barley Blair, as vulnerable and possessing of flaws that can lead to tragedy for the main character (120). What is most important is likely the character’s “symbolic “fall,” and he progresses in his role as spy toward a powerful self-revelation or discovery of truth” (119). The story was a breakthrough achievement in its use of elements of “passion, cynicism, and philosophy” as a spy thriller.
For Ian Fleming, as a former Naval Intelligence administrator, Christopher Moran and Trevor McCrisken (2018) explain in the article “The secret life of Ian Fleming: spies, lies and social ties”, his knowledge of espionage through his career experiences led to him being responsible for creating novels that would then subsequently become some of the most famous examples of spies on screen, of course that being his birthing of James Bond, 007 (336). As noted by Anna Nelson (2016) in the text “Shaken, not stirred: Espionage, fantasy, and British masculinity during the Cold War”, James Bond films in the decade of the 1960’s “were the negotiating of the new British masculinity and American masculinity on screen” (ii). The film Live and Let Die which was released in 1973 is an example of a film that created a massive impact on audiences as far as depicting espionage and spies in a glamorous light, and the British author Simon Winder in particular claims that it was the film that “opened the golden doors of sex and death” (1). Nelson goes on to say that “Everything in the film was magical and glamorous, the villains were brutal and cunning, Bond was witty and decent, the locations were exotic, and the women were gorgeous” (1), and this sentiment was only further accentuated and continued with every Bond release that came afterwards, including the Bond films of the recent years and present day. According to Winder, the Bond universe had a startling personal influence on his life as well as his peers, and the obsession resulted in teenage Winder and his friends going as far as to live their daily lives even pretending to be Bond (1).
Both John Le Carré and Ian Fleming created novels that would go on to be big budget cinematic experiences through the medium of film, and helped spur the general public’s interest in espionage, perhaps most importantly due to the films’ aesthetic appeal and attractiveness. These two representations of espionage differ wildly from one another in tone and deeply contrast, but are two distinctive visions of the world of spies. Ultimately, the films that came out of the work of Le Carré and Fleming did create more awareness from the masses of the significance of espionage through the fictionalized and perhaps exaggerated portrayals of spies, enhanced by Hollywood and its money-making motives, but nonetheless the role of espionage in international affairs became a household interest and common knowledge for people from all ages, young and old due to these two authors’ contributions in the world of literature.
Moran, Christopher R., & McCrisken, Trevor, “The secret life of Ian Fleming: spies, lies and social ties”, 336–356, 2018. Full article: The secret life of Ian Fleming: spies, lies and social ties (mtroyal.ca)
Nelson, Anna Rikki, “Shaken, not stirred: Espionage, fantasy, and British masculinity during the Cold War”, The University of Southern Mississippi, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016, Shaken, not stirred: Espionage, fantasy, and British masculinity during the Cold War — ProQuest (mtroyal.ca)
Powell, Cheryl C. “Redemption for the protagonist in three novels by John le Carre”, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, 1991. https://librarysearch.mtroyal.ca/permalink/01MTROYAL_INST/1qa1aqk/cdi_proquest_journals_303959354