Why Jamie Bell should be the next James Bond

His performance in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is just the latest sign he should replace Daniel Craig.

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When I got home last week from seeing Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, the story of the romance in the late 1970s between a budding young actor, Peter Turner, and the ageing-but-undimmed actress Gloria Grahame, I rushed to my laptop. The film had been engrossing, and the lead performances by Jamie Bell and Annette Bening carefully crafted, but a thought had struck me toward the end of the movie and now I needed to find out whether it had occurred to anyone else.

I entered the words “Jamie Bell, James Bond” into an online search engine, certain that I would be the first person to have hit upon this outlandish curveball prediction. The match of actor and role made perfect sense to me, and not only because Bell could bring his own monogrammed towels and handkerchiefs from home when playing Bond.

I could just see myself sitting down to write this very blog, beginning with the words: “You read it here first…” And then, a few years down the line, I would be declared the Nostradamus of film writing, peering into my crystal ball and searching among the tea leaves to answer those timeless questions. Will superhero movies ever end? Who exactly are the last 29 people in the country still choosing to see 3D films? When will the point of George Clooney become clear?

Alas, it was not to be. “You read it here 217th” would be closer to the truth. It seems there has been no shortage of reports and speculation linking Bell to the role of Bond, which Daniel Craig indicated earlier this year he will play for one final time. (“I think this is it,” Craig told US TV host Stephen Colbert. “I just want to go out on a high note and I can’t wait.”) 

The rumours that Bell was in the running began in spring 2016, when he was seen in conversation with Barbara Broccoli, one of the producers of the Bond series. That meeting was easily explained by the fact that Broccoli’s Eon Productions was then in the process of getting Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool off the ground.

In recent weeks, the stories have started resurfacing, what with the new film coming out, and the arrival of a Netflix thriller, 6 Days, set during the 1980 siege of the Iranian Embassy in London, in which Bell plays a Lance Corporal in the SAS. Film Stars reminds us he can do dramatic and deep; 6 Days promises to show his running, jumping and shooting side. Is this a Bond audition or what?

A quick glance at the odds shows Bell to be currently languishing somewhere between 12/1 and 25/1. Whatever the pundits and bookmakers might be saying, I hope it happens. Though Bell achieved celebrity status at 14 with Billy Elliot, he has been under the radar for a long time; audiences have grown so accustomed to him that it usually goes unremarked that he is a careful, attentive actor.

In Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, he handles deftly a character who might easily have come across as self-serving, a rider of glamorous Hollywood coat-tails. Bell brings to Peter Turner a sparkling optimism and effervescence. Compare a similar part and performance – Eddie Redmayne’s thoroughly creepy turn as temporary confidante to another Hollywood legend, in My Week with Marilyn – and you start to get a sense of the traps sidestepped by both actor and film. 

Bening does exceptional work, too, and the connection between her and Bell, which no amount of lighting, editing or music could have fabricated, is palpable. If she is getting less attention here, that’s only because, “Star of The Grifters, The Kids Are All Right and 20th Century Women in excellent performance shock” isn’t much of a story.

Bell’s greatest hits, on the other hand, have been largely overlooked, though each of them contains clues that point toward a surprising and unpredictable Bond. Like Craig, he has plenty of eccentric, high-risk parts on his CV, such as Undertow, David Gordon Green’s lushly-coloured Night of the Hunter-style adult fairy tale, Bong Joon-ho’s deranged Snowpiercer, and Thomas Vinterberg’s Dear Wendy, from a script by Lars Von Trier, in which he plays a boy who worships a gun.

He showed his cruel and dangerous side, always a plus for any potential Bond, in another film for Von Trier, Nymphomaniac, where he brought a streak of wryness to a small part as an icy professional sadist. 

He’s done thoughtful action movies (bromancing with Channing Tatum in The Eagle, and playing Craig’s actual bro in Defiance) and performance-capture (The Adventures of Tintin). The film to see if you want to witness him at his best is Hallam Foe, where he brings impossible sprightliness and joy to the role of an emotionally-bruised voyeur-cum-stalker who scampers around the rooftops of Edinburgh. 

Naturally you are free to scoff at my Bond/Bell prediction. But if it does come to pass, please remember you read it here 217th.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is on release. “6 Days” is now streaming on Netflix

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.