Review: Goldfinger, Radio 4

“Gold attracts the most ingenious criminals”

I’ve now figured out the best way for me to listen to plays on the radio, which is whilst recovering from a hangover in bed, and not doing anything else. So it was thus that I took in this all-star production of the James Bond story Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel having been dramatised by Archie Scottney, and Ian McKellen recruited to take on the iconic villain against Toby Stephens’ secret agent. But I have to say, it was my least favourite of the radio plays that I have taken in recently, partly due to the terribly dated writing but also due to the way in which it was presented, being partly narrated by Martin Jarvis (also the director) as Fleming.

The narration made it seem really rather old-fashioned, a very traditional way of telling a story and that is how it came across, as a story rather than a play, a piece of drama. It felt rather flat and lacked excitement, despite the quality of the cast, but I think it also suffered a bit by comparison. No sound effect could ever replicate the visual of Oddjob’s deadly bowler hat (yet simultaneously, without that visual it would barely have any impact, a whooshing sound alone inspires little), likewise John Standing’s M’s gagdetry, and the constantly changing locations, within a short space of time, do not really lend themselves to effective drama – explanations needed too often.

But also, as I have no real great affection for Fleming or for Bond films beyond watching them as a boy, my main problem was with how painfully dated it came across. A lot is forgiven of Bond as a period piece of sorts but Stephens was unable to really exude the kind of charisma needed to swagger his way through, not really given the opportunity to in this format to be honest, and so it felt a little exposed. Likewise with Rosamund Pike’s delightfully laconic Pussy Galore, it just feels a bit wrong in this day and age, especially with a gang of British thesps like Tom Hollander and Tim Pigott-Smith mugging it up as the lewd Yankee gangsters around her, I never felt properly subsumed into the action, but rather kept at arm’s length by the exercise. So an odd one, but good to explore how different plays can be on the radio.

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