Casino Royale was first published on April 13, 1953, only thirty-three days before Pierce Brosnan was born in Ireland. At this point, we all probably know about Brosnan’s long and winding road to becoming the fifth official Bond actor: his experience watching Goldfinger aged 11, how he lost the role in 1986 during his Remington Steele time, his marriage with For Your Eyes Only actress Cassandra Harris, and other things. But considering we have celebrated the 70th anniversary of both Brosnan and the literary Bond, let’s look at what a big screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel could have been with the fifth Bond actor.
The first thing we have to know is that Casino Royale is quite atypical from the other Fleming works: Bond is limited to defeating Soviet agent Le Chiffre during a baccarat game held at the title casino in Royale-les-Eaux, France. The man has been using SMERSH’s funds to recover himself financially, so Bond has to clean him out. This way, the organization itself will liquidate him. Bond triumphs, but the villain kidnaps Vesper Lynd, the secret agent’s love interest. Attempting to rescue her, 007 is also captured and horribly beaten on his sensitive parts before SMERSH expurgates the traitor with a single bullet in the forehead. The secret agent recovers as he shares a romantic time with Vesper, pondering to resign. This changes when Vesper commits suicide with a pill overdose, leaving a note revealing that she had been blackmailed by SMERSH into working for them and saw no other way out. A sad and enraged Bond is now determined to bring the organization down, and go after “the hand that held the gun and the whip, the threat that made them spy”.
Unlike future Fleming novels, little events take place outside a casino, a hotel and the beaches of northern France. The next Bond outings would deliver elements that would be the staple of any 007 adventure: ambitious villains, globe-trotting action, chilling moments of suspense and a romantic finale between Bond and the girl, to name a few. Despite being a first novel, Fleming reveals little about his character’s past throughout Casino Royale, only how he terminated two enemy spies to get to the Double-0 section.
This novel couldn’t be initially adapted into the official film series. Long before Dr No was released in 1962, produced by Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Fleming had sold the rights to his first book to Gregory Ratoff. This allowed a small-screen adaptation of the book for CBS in 1954 as part of the Climax! TV show and, later, an extravagant spy spoof in 1967 when the rights reached the hands of Charles K Feldman. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that EON Productions finally took total control of anything related to the cinematic Bond, including the rights of that novel and 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the other “rogue” production.
Of the five pre-reboot actors, Pierce Brosnan was probably the closest to star in an official adaptation of Ian Fleming’s opera prima. Sean Connery could have also had that honour if Broccoli and Saltzman had reached an agreement with Charles K Feldman in 1966. Feldman was dismissed by Broccoli, and thus he decided to betray the source material by making it a spoof “suggested” by Fleming’s book, where David Niven’s retired Sir James Bond faced off his nephew Jimmy, played by Woody Allen.
But after the release of Die Another Day in 2002, the possibility of integrating this singular adventure into the official film series became a reality: the producers had the rights to the novel, and they were also contemplating toning down the profusion of special effects Brosnan’s fourth Bond film had.
The first rumours regarding an EON film adaptation of Casino Royale came by mid-2004 when sources connected to the industry reported on Bond fan sites that the Bond 21 script was “largely based” on the 1953 book. Some noted that it was being written for a generic Bond actor, yet screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade claimed that at one point they wrote it with Brosnan in mind. By that time, rumours that the Irishman’s run would end up with Die Another Day (or the Everything or Nothing video game, where he provided his voice) floated all over the tabloids with varied declarations of the actor. At times, Brosnan said Bond was “a lifetime” behind him, others that he was just tired of answering questions regarding his return, but that nothing was confirmed.
Fresh from the release of Kill Bill: Volume 2, Quentin Tarantino expressed Sci-Fi Wire his desire to turn Casino Royale into Brosnan’s fifth and final Bond film. Earlier in 2003, he shared that vision with The New York Daily News: the film would be shot completely in black and white and set in the late 1960s, right after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a Bond devastated by the loss of his wife Tracy. While this plan seemed in line with something Brosnan would have liked to explore –the character’s widowhood– it would have felt off to have him losing a love interest in such a short span, considering Vesper Lynd commits suicide in the finale.
The long chapter of the Casino Royale adaptations was finally closed in 2006 when it served as a reboot for the series starring Daniel Craig, but considering that Purvis and Wade had written early Bond 21 drafts with Brosnan in mind, how could have that worked? A reboot or an origin story was quite out of the question with the same actor we’ve seen in the past four films, so, could it be that this Casino Royale was most likely an integration of this atypical Bond novel into the well-known formula?
We know that the 2006 film directed by Martin Campbell introduced characters that weren’t in the novel: arms dealer Dimitrios and his wife Solange, bomber Mollaka, Le Chiffre’s mistress Valenka, and set pieces in Madagascar, Nassau and Miami before the core of the book’s plot was adapted, set in Montenegro instead of France, and replacing baccarat with Poker Hold’em. There is a chance that these original characters, or earlier versions, could have had their origins in the 2004 drafts, just like that script “largely based” on Casino Royale but with a different title may have had a major gambling scene between Bond and the villain, but how would have things like the torture scene or the death of Vesper played into a formulaic 007 instalment? Were those even present?
We don’t know the answer, and we don’t even know how close or far that pre-Craig Casino Royale was to the novel. Film adaptations of You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever or Moonraker have vastly differed from the source material, retaining a few locations and characters only. Others, like Dr No and Goldfinger, were much closer to the books regarding their structure but still had notable differences.
Here comes a bit of speculation…
Taking out the reboot elements, Casino Royale starring Pierce Brosnan would have definitely started with the gunbarrel opening. The sequence where Bond prevents a terrorist attack in the Miami Airport could have made a very good pre-credits sequence, leading to the main titles and then to the usual mission briefing scene with M.
Bond learns the terrorist attack he foiled in Miami was backed up by Le Chiffre, a banker of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. On the knowledge that he is a compulsive gambler and needs to recover his client’s funds after major setbacks, M gives her spy an unusual mission: to beat him at cards. This way, he’ll be marked for death and MI6 would give him sanctuary in exchange for valuable information that could prevent future hits. Bond’s contact would be Vesper Lynd, an “unlicensed to kill” agent 3030, and both will begin a short relationship before the game.
Things progress more or less like the novel, with Bond and Vesper captured, although the carpet beater scene might have to be toned down or not even get to start. A semi-naked 007 would overpower the villain, but before he can give away valuable information, Vesper reveals herself as a mole, takes a gun and shoots them both. Initially, she would be another of Brosnan’s villainesses (three out of his four adventures had evil girls in the dramatis personae) but there could be surprises later.
Bond recovers in a hospital, surprised that Vesper didn’t kill him. He learns Le Chiffre is positively dead, and traces Vesper to a residence near Lake Como. In a similar way to The World Is Not Enough, he corners her on a terrace, gun in hand. There, she confesses the reason for her betrayal, probably greed or power. Before Bond can bring her in, she says: “I love you, James.” Then she jumps off the terrace and dies. “The bitch is dead,” reports 007 to MI6. Putting his feelings behind, he goes through her cell phone, which leads to a terrorist attack plotted by one Mr White at an opera house in Austria.
Giving the film an explosive action finale, the last third would see James Bond preventing the attack aided by a team of enforcers. Capturing White alive, he would insinuate the existence of a powerful, bigger organization behind everything, and would die instantly under the effect of a kill chip (a tactic 2010’s Nikita used frequently). Back at the MI6 HQ, M debriefs Bond. After combing every residence associated with Lynd, MI6 found a recorded DVD inside an envelope with the words “For James”. Getting some privacy, Bond pours a glass of whisky and pops in the disc. It’s a pre-recorded message from Vesper, revealing that she fell in love with him and that’s why she disobeyed the orders to kill him along with Le Chiffre. The organization, or the government, would go after her. She had no way out. In the same message, Vesper would hint at the organization as people with “tentacles everywhere”, giving Bond actual information on everything she knows about them. Their main target would be the West and they do not tolerate failure. She finishes her message with a teary-eyed “I love you”. That makes Bond load his Walther P99, place it on his holster, adjust his tie, put on his suit jacket and walk towards the screen, determined to run down this organization and echoing Fleming’s final words of the Casino Royale novel.
With this ending in mind, the Pierce Brosnan tenure could have gone on for another two films with a new version of SPECTRE as the main antagonist, perhaps with a finale mimicking the events of the literary You Only Live Twice novel with a gruesome hand-to-hand combat and escape from a Japanese castle.
The excess of special effects and extravagance of Die Another Day was frequently blamed for causing Brosnan’s unexpected axing from the role, although the 2002 movie was a commercial success and MGM was keen on keeping the actor for at least one film more. Producer Barbara Broccoli initially agreed with the executives, but then had a sudden change of heart throughout 2004 and decided to go with someone else. While the studio owns half of the Bond cinematic rights since Saltzman left the series in 1975, selling his share to United Artists which was eventually bought by MGM in the 1980s, and every creative decision on the films (like the casting of Bond) is taken exclusively by the producers.
Considering the excess of special effects in the second half of Die Another Day, having Casino Royale as the starting point of a trilogy to conclude the Brosnan era and reintroduce SPECTRE as a subtler, modern-day terrorist organization would have been a boon, opening the path for a darker, crueller side of Brosnan’s Bond to seal his days. There is a brief moment in Die Another Day where Bond shows regret at seeing Miranda Frost’s dead body (cut short by a Jinx one-liner) that is frequently overlooked along with the many positive things the 2002 film has. That looks like the pain of an older, wiser gentleman at seeing someone so young dying for having picked the wrong side, more than the pain of losing (or having to kill) a loved one as it happened in The World Is Not Enough.
There isn’t too much to elaborate on the romance in the Bond-Frost relationship, since they barely shared a brief sex scene and their interaction was quite chilly (no pun intended at the fact they do it in an Ice Palace room), but a discreet running theme of the Brosnan/Bond and Vesper Lynd romance could be the disparity between a young, rookie agent and an experienced Double-0, letting the public know something on the activities of the other agents without a license to kill as well. Without making Brosnan look old, just experienced, a woman in her mid-20s would have been perfect to play this Vesper. Thinking out loud, Eva Green would have been ideal as she is definitely one of the pros of the 2006 production.
Speculations regarding an official version of Casino Royale stopped in 2006 when it became the 007 series reboot with Daniel Craig in the leading role. The gunbarrel wasn’t placed right at the beginning and the James Bond Theme wasn’t heard until the end credits for stylistic and plot reasons. While the film was a success, it was from that point on that most of the traditions that cemented the character began to wane dramatically.
Nicolas Suszczyk has recently updated his 2019 book The Bond of The Millennium: The Days of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Visit the book’s official site here.