I’m sitting patiently in semi-darkness with Leo bottle-fed and tucked into the nook of my left arm, into which he still snugly fits. I’m not sure why this particular state of partial illumination is always referred to as ‘semi-darkness’ and never ‘semi-light’ – seems a little ‘glass half-empty’ to me. Everything is most satisfactory with Leo, though I’m definitely still waiting to enjoy myself. And, truth be told, I’d prefer at this moment to hunker down with child in a cosy blanket of darkness.
I’m trying to escape into a movie and Leo is, in fits and starts, and probably wisely, flirting with an escape from row F into sleep. Without the prerequisite level of cinema gloaming it’s tricky, however. I like my movie theatre dark as a sackful of black kittens, with the silver screen the only source of light, but the ambience here is set halfway and it’ll be staying that way for the duration – the eye doesn’t know where it is.
Roughly half the audience need to see exactly what they’re doing and who they’re doing it to when they’re not focused on the screen. More visual confusion. But there’ll be no speculative arms around shoulders today, certainly not on my part, no back-row groping. More’s the pity. No, this is not Friday evening, this is Friday morning. This is watch-with-baby at the Ritzy.
Whilst this is not Leo’s first taste of movie heaven – he has already visited a well-known galaxy far, far away, albeit with his mum and from the comfort of his own sofa – this is his first taste of the silver screen proper, and courtesy of pater, who’s been seized by a spirit of mild adventure.
This is, to be a little more precise, watch-Bond-with-baby. It is, just to nail it, watch-Bond-with-baby-on-the-first-showing-on-the-opening-day of his most eagerly anticipated outing in years. With Sam Mendes the helmsman and a promise of biographical backdrop for a stripped-back, stay-at-home, austerity take on the nation’s favourite psychopathic defender of the realm, record box-office beckons. (Yes, that’s right – he’s a psycho. He needs to be, but more on that later). This means guaranteed carnage in the foyer, and a crush of buggies that might occasion 007 an obstruction almost as insurmountable as the double-decker load of VW Beetles he encounters in the first reel.
Were Bond to find himself holding the baby – admittedly an outcome as likely as a penguin at the North Pole, though his offspring are surely legion – I’d like to think he might eschew even a buggy customised by Q in favour of the carrier. Enhanced mobility counts when you’re the quarry in the bazaar, I’d have thought. It certainly counts when you’re slipping through a crowd of babies on a minimum of three wheels escorted by vexed parents, and my seat is found with ease.
The distractions and obstacles within are multifarious. Nappies are being changed on any available floorspace, and the overhead projector cuts through a tangible fog of rising fumes. The Ritzy’s main space has the feel of a giant living room. Once a full house of nascent families have ushered themselves in and negotiated their way along aisle and down row and A-Z is chocker, screen number one sounds not unlike a barnful of sheep, or at least lambs, a chorus of scattered babies keeping up what will clearly be a constant accompaniment. A happy scene for sure, though already I’m realising that keeping up with the finer points of the next two and a half hours might well become an exercise in obstinately wishful thinking.
It appears I’ve been hopelessly over-optimistic on all counts. Of course I have. Today’s watch-with-progeny screening coincides neatly with Leo’s mid-morning nap, leaving him (and me) between a rock and a hard place. Agog at sight and sound on a scale unprecedented in his 83 days on Earth thus far, he simply doesn’t know what to do with his beautiful eyes. Sleep tugs, but there’s no escape from the gravitational pull of the monumental wall of vision that looms before him, a tractor-beam on his beleaguered attention. The outcome is preordained, and before long he’s contributing his considerable lung-power to the pervading chorus. The noise is impressive in its way – like a choir maintaining a steady note, some babies fading while others take up the slack, and the overall refrain is unremitting.
So thus far this has been Bond in dumb show – the set pieces engage, but when they give way to talking heads, we’re treated to the sight of Craig, Dench, et al silently mouthing the hard details of the plot to no avail whatsoever, leaving dozens of parents to wonder whether subtitles might be of help. Probably not – too much nodding of head from baby to screen in any case to manage reading on top of everything else.
A trip to the foyer then, stepping lightly around and over scenes more commonly seen at playgroup. En route I pass a dad who’s opted to root himself at the back with carrier, an idea not shared by my feet but it’s working for him. His eyes betray a determination to see this enterprise through that’s just the wrong side of admirable. One minute back in the foyer-cum-buggy-park is all it takes. Leo, released from the torment of distraction, is asleep, and deeply enough to warrant re-entry. But one minute back with Bond is all it takes to undo the previous minute. It’s talking heads again, 007 and friend discussing Turner’s Rain, Steam And Speed in the National Gallery. I’ll never know why amid the quavering din, and with Leo reactivated it’s foyer time again. This time we hit the street, and though Leo hits sleep it’s a long moment before I venture back.
This time I linger near the exit with Determined Dad, Standing. With Leo looking like he’s property of Sleep for now, I turn my attention back to events in James’ evermore complex world. Big chap strapped to chair, imprisoned in glass cell, vaguely Hannibal-esque scene, clearly a wrong ‘un and a threat to all England holds dear. I have no idea how we got here and it’s at this point I wish my fellow parents, if any of them have any clue as to how we got thus far, good afternoon and good luck with sticking with what’s clearly going to be one big slice of movie served with any number of diversions. It seems most have roped their partners in as plot advisers, to the continual rhubarb…
At least I don’t feel I’m missing out. Threading nimbly through the bazaar of buggies and out into lunchtime, I’m pleased at least that my feelings for the Bond canon have always been conflicted at best. Even in the three-channel days of yore when ITV lured a nation bloated on Christmas dinner and beached on the sofa with a box of Milk Tray perched on its belly with box office Bond, I would turn to my toys and my own imagination. Bond was dispiritingly Earthbound somehow, with the honourable exception of his attempts at re-entry in Moonraker, and as a boy I could detect no spirit of adventure, no sense that he was a hero. There’s a savagery, a casual brutality to Bond that no amount of dressing with clipped accents, gadgets, fast cars and pat one-liners could ever quite conceal. He’s a soldier, a murderer in black tie.
My heroes then were more likely to wear red capes and fly, wield lightsabers or pilot battered Corellian freightships, or travel through time and space in a battered police box – forces for good, not agents of Her Majesty’s Government and some already anachronistic notions of Empire. And no emails about Superman and the American Way, please… There were myriad reasons to follow Bond into and throughout adolescence and they were all, without exception, beautiful, but now, with a boy strapped tight, the boy in me is back for a second outing.
For me there’ll be another night and a second chance, even if I didn’t make it this Friday morning to the finale that’s more Buchan than Fleming in his Barbour-clad Highland hinterland. I’ll snigger at his high-end-perfume-advert entry into the casino, the camp core at the heart of it all, grudgingly admire the stab at an origin story, and appreciate the departure from the familiar track. For Leo, Bond can wait. For now. I’ll hope, in the meantime, that The Force may be with him…