Goldeneye: The Secret Life Of Ian Fleming is a 1989 television film starring Charles Dance as Ian Fleming.
The film is a fact-based biography of James Bond author, Ian Fleming, focusing on his wartime exploits and romantic adventures, which ultimately led to his creation of the super-spy.
The film begins with opening credits, during which a car drives down a Jamaican road to Goldeneye. The car’s occupants are Ann Fleming, her friend Loeila, and Noel Coward, who get out of the car singing “Let’s Fall in Love,” only to be shushed by a man who tells them that a movie is being filmed. As the scene continues, we see Fleming being interviewed. The interviewer asks him why he began writing; Fleming says he’d turned 40, and needed to take his mind off the shock of getting married. He goes on to defend his books’ sex and violence. The interviewer asks Fleming if he is himself a version of Bond; Fleming demurs, claiming to be nowhere near as capable as Bond. The interviewer asks him he was in the Secret Service; Fleming says he was not, although he also says that the one person who would never tell you whether he was a secret agent is a secret agent. He allows as to how he could recount one incident he was involved in with the CIA, and we flash back in time.
Fleming arrives in New York to conclude his wartime training: he has been tasked with assassinating a Chinese agent. Upon landing, me meets is friend Ivar Bryce, who will serve him in a support capacity. The two of them meet William Stephenson, a Canadian who served as a major British intelligence officer during the Second World War. Fleming, Bryce, and Stephenson go to a firing range, where Fleming practices his skill against a moving target; Stephenson seems impressed but notes that Fleming will need to make his kill on the first shot, or else be killed himself. Bryce takes Fleming to a bar – “a bit of a dive,” Fleming remarks – which the Chinese agent frequents. The bar is run entirely by Jamaicans, and it doesn't take long for Fleming to obviously become a bit enamored with it. Fleming catches a glimpse of his target; and the target catches a glimpse of him.
Later, Fleming sits in his hotel bathroom, steeling his nerve; his target also prepares himself for the confrontation he clearly knows is looming, exercising in his own hotel room. Fleming takes a taxi to the target’s hotel; there has apparently been a murder outside the hotel. Undaunted, Fleming proceeds inside. The desk clerk informs someone that he is on his way; these, seemingly, are agents in a neighboring building, who look across the way at the Chinese agent and signal to him that Fleming is on his way up. We see an eye looking in on the Chinese man from a hole in the wall. Fleming reaches the target’s room: 1007. The “1” has fallen partway off, so the door appears to read “007.” Fleming hesitates, seemingly unsure. Resolved, he kicks the door entirely off its hinges and points his gun at the quarry, who stands stone still.
Fleming is unable to pull the trigger. Stephenson appears out of nowhere; seemingly, he was the man whose eye we glimpsed earlier. “Kill him,” he says, but Fleming seems unable. “Then I’ll kill him,” Stephenson says. He begins firing, and the Chinese agent goes into a series of wild gymnastics, dodging Stephenson’s bullets. The entire scenario has been a training exercise, one that Fleming evidently has – not entirely to the CIA’s surprise – failed. Inspector Chang is on loan from the Hong Kong bureau, and he is rather better at dodging bullets than Fleming is at firing them.
Fleming and Stephenson go to a bar and have martinis; “shaken, not stirred,” Stephenson proclaims, and the drink is very much to Fleming’s taste. He asks Stephenson for a favor: the British need a German U-boat, with a complete set of codes. Stephenson only knows one man in the world who can get that for them: Lucky Luciano. So, they go visit Luciano in prison, and in exchange for a post-war vacation to Italy, Luciano says he will arrange it. Luciano says they will deliver the U-boat to the British in Jamaica.
Sometime later, back in London (where preparations for air raids are in full effect), a young blonde woman in the Naval Services – Lieutenant Marianne Bearing – enters an admiral’s office, and is given orders to find Fleming and drag him out of whatever bed he is in.
The admiral wonders if Fleming has gone through with some hair-brained scheme involving getting a pair of German prisoners of war to give him some vital information. Bearing does not know, but requests the authority to do whatever it takes to bring Fleming; the authority is given.
Sure enough, Fleming is in a nightclub, with Lady Ann O’Neill, who is assisting him in trying to pull off his scheme: to ply the two Germans – one of whom is played by a young Christoph Waltz – with drink and food in an attempt to learn how the German U-boats made it through the British minefields near Norway. Ann speculates that she might have more luck seducing them. A shadowy figure observes them from a balcony.
Fleming and O’Neill drop the POWs back at their barracks; their fact-finding mission has failed. As they drive off, a figure on a motorcycle pursues them. The driver deposits Ann at her home, and Fleming gently chides her for being married to one man but being a mistress to at least two others (Lord Rothermere and himself).
Fleming’s driver takes him home. As they drive, Fleming notices that the car is being pursued by a motorcyclist, who overtakes them, passes them, and shoots a look backward.
As Fleming gets out of the car, he seems worried, and air-raid sirens punctuate the atmosphere. A figure leaps at him, pins him against a wall then rips off its helmet, revealing – of course – Lieutenant Bearing, who kisses Fleming passionately. Fleming leads her inside, straight to the bedroom; but Bearing informs him that she is under orders to get him out of bed. He is also supposed to come with her. Bearing complains of having gotten an awful lot of dust down her back; it seems to be collecting in her boots, and even inside her trousers, and Fleming allows as to how they’d better get them off.
Fleming reports for duty, first hobknobbing with Admiral Godfrey’s starchy secretary. The two of them flirt about a hypothetical week of golf they could share; “Your balls or mine?” Fleming asks.
The Admiral asks Fleming if he has been hit by the odd bomb; Fleming allows he has had a dusty near-miss. The Admiral informs him that he is being sent to Jamaica to investigate reports of a German U-boat being in the area. His old friend Ivar Bryce will be there, and the two of them are to stay until the matter is resolved. Admiral Godfrey is sure they will be miserable. Godfrey also has a gift from the Americans (for Fleming’s apparent help in writing the blueprints for their “secret intelligence setup”): a Colt .765 automatic pistol.
Fleming returns home, and flings his hat onto a coat rack. He hears noises, and takes his new Colt out, he finds Ann in his bedroom, forlorn as a result of the news that her husband has died in Italy. “Death was his best revenge,” she says; she seems convinced that Lord Rothermere will want to marry her now, and even though she says she does not love him, the implication is that she will have no choice but to accept.
Later, in Jamaica, Fleming and Bryce lounge around outside the villa where they are staying, and Fleming expresses a desire to live there permanently. He asks Bryce to arrange for him to buy a piece of land; “I’m serious,” he says, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life in Jamaica.” He declares his intent to write the spy story to end all spy stories. Fleming grabs Birds of the West Indies and says he’ll call his spy James Bond.
Fleming and Bryce meet with a rather portly Admiral – “Good lord,” says Bryce; “is that one Admiral or two?” – and swim out to the U-boat to open it. They get inside and retrieve the codes from the submerged vessel, and somehow sink it. The admiral is nonplussed by the entire affair.
Fleming and Bryce float down a river, and discuss Fleming’s parents a bit. Fleming says that his mother always said he would never really fall in love; “funny, that,” he says, presumably referring obliquely to Ann. He goes on to say that he sort of associates love with pain and loss. “This place is dangerous,” Fleming says; “its beauty, I mean.” “That’s why you bottle up all your feelings,” Bryce speculates. “That’s what M always said,” replies Fleming. Bryce asks who “M” is, and is told that it stands for “Mama.”
At a piano recital, Ann and Lil talk – to the chagrin of the people around them – about the prospect of Ann marrying Lord Rothermere. Loelia wonders what she’ll tell Ian. Ann replies that she’ll tell him the truth, and says that Fleming has not asked her to marry him; he doesn’t want to marry anyone, evidently.
Later, Noel Coward is giving some sort of a recital himself – possibly an impromptu one – and Loelia continues to talk about Ann’s prospects, this time with a companion. Ann, meanwhile, dances with Ian. Afterward, she – seemingly having told Fleming that she will marry Rothermere – tells him that she does not expect him to be faithful to him. But she tells him that she loves him, and the two kiss.
Back at Naval Intelligence, Fleming flirts with Bearing a bit. He is out of cigarettes, and sends her out to get some for him. An air raid commences, and she is killed in a blast.
Some time later, Rothermere and Ann visit Ian at a club and offer their condolences. “I didn’t know how much she meant to you,” says Rothermere. “No; neither did I,” says Fleming wistfully. He tells Ann he is angry, because all the wrong people have died; he points out the indolent rich all around him.
Back at Naval Intelligence, Fleming finds that Godfrey is gone and has been replaced. The Admiral is none too pleased with Fleming’s record, especially with the five thousand pounds that went to Luciano. The Admiral seems to be putting an end to Fleming’s war. Chastened – or, perhaps, merely resigned – Fleming retreats to the outer office, where he pulls blueprints for Goldeneye out of a tube and hangs them on the wall; he sits, smoking and admiring them, contemplating the future ahead.
At a cinema, Churchill declares the European war to be at its conclusion. Fleming watches, with Ann at his side. Fleming asks if she will go with him to Jamaica; she says it is impossible, but says she will visit him there someday.
At Goldeneye, Fleming and Bryce look out on the sea. “It’s like a dream,” says Fleming, clearly enchanted. Later, he sits typing at a desk.
One morning, Coward brings Fleming mail and a couple of telegraphs. Among the correspondence: Ann, declaring her wish to be allowed to come and see Fleming’s home. He smiles. We hear Ann’s voice as he reads the letter, and as Ann speaks, there is a time jump; Fleming, some time later, is sitting at his writing desk, reading the letter again, clearly moved.
We hear his written reply, which includes an invitation for her to be the first person in the world to read about James Bond. “What do you think of the title Casino Royale?” he asks. Someone calls for his presence, and he goes outside. He is, obviously, hosting a small party at his home, attended by Coward – who is singing – and Bryce and Loelia, among others. Fleming, however, stays more or less in the shadows.
There follows a sequence in which a woman rises – not unlike Honey Ryder – out of the surf and approaches Fleming. The two of them join hands and go off together, and there is then a scene of the two of them spending time together on a boat.
Ian and Loelia meet Anne at the airfield. Later, Ann paints a portrait of Goldeneye while Ian gives her on update on what James Bond has been up to. (He’s evidently just earned his Double-0 status at Royale les Eaux.) The two of them behave as lovebirds, and Loelia declares her boredom with the whole affair. She stalks off, waking Coward from a nap to join her. Later, Ann and Ian, silhouetted against the setting sun, kiss. Even later, they lounge in the midnight surf. This is paradise.
Back in London, Fleming is summoned to the offices of the Sunday Times. There, he is told by Lord Rothermere that Ann is pregnant by Fleming. He says that he wants the two to not see one another again, and storms out.
Later Fleming has a physical. The doctor tells him that his general state of health is alarming.
Fleming visits Ann and Rothermere in hospital. “Your child lived eight hours,” Rothermere says. Ann and Loelia discuss divorce and its downsides. Loelia says she feels Ann is less interested in divorce than in marriage and she knows who with.
Later Ann ties Ian up in bed, with Loelia in the next room. Ian proposes marriage; Ann accepts. Lil has to be called in to burn through the restraints. “This Bond thing has got most frightfully out of hand,” she says.
A Jamaican minister performs the wedding. Fleming’s housekeeper brings them a cake, which evidently is inedible. Later, Ian and Ann bury it on the beach while Coward sings a song he composed for the newlyweds.
We flash back forward in time, with Fleming talking about Coward’s having tied one of his own shoes to his car and driven off after the wedding. As the interview continues, a man walks up from the beach and introduces himself as “Bond; James Bond.” It is the ornithological author for whom Fleming named his character! Fleming autographs Birds of the West Indies for him.
Fleming and Ann visit a shabby cinema, where Dr. No is playing. Someone leaving is overheard saying that it isn’t as good as the book. Cut to a reprise of the image of the lovers standing against the setting sun, and end credits roll.
- Charles Dance as Ian Fleming
- Phyllis Logan as Ann Fleming
- Patrick Ryecart as Ivar Bryce
- Marsha Fitzalan as Loelia
- Ed Deveraux as Sir William Stephenson
- Richard Griffiths as Second Admiral
- Lynsey Baxter as Wren Lieutenant
- Julian Fellowes as Noel Coward
- David Forman as Ernie Chang
- Joseph Long as Lucky Luciano
- Donald Douglas as Lord Kemsley
- David Quilter as Lord Rothermere
- Donald Hewlett as Admiral Godfrey