Words: Thomas Stichbury
“Mr Hunt, your mission should you choose to accept it – ” dammit, wrong spy franchise. OK, confession, I’m not the biggest James Bond aficionado, in fact, I think I’ve only seen two or three films in the series.
Maybe it’s the obsession with fast cars – I was, and still am, far more fond of roller-skates – or the toxic masculinity and casual misogyny.
When the opportunity arose to attend Secret Cinema Presents Casino Royale though, I snapped up the invite.
Why? One, I’m a journalist so I never turn down a freebie; two, I wanted to find out what all the fuss about Bond was; and three, I hoped to scratch a nagging itch that maybe, just maybe, I should have pursued a career in espionage.
Last year, the Secret Cinema team brought the love story of love stories to experiential life, Baz Luhrmann’s lush take on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
This time around, they cracked open their big box of tricks and turned their attention to 2006’s Casino Royale (one I had watched), directed by Martin Campbell and starring Daniel “hubba hubba” Craig and Eva Green.
Swept into the world of international ops, highly classified information and shady figures wandering around wearing fedora hats – so not incognito – it should come as no surprise that I am under the strictest instructions not to spoil anything that goes down at the “secret London location” – or risk having my testicles mercilessly whipped (only kidding, that [spoiler] happens in the movie).
So, apologies in advance if what follows is about as vague as trying to piece together the jagged shards of your memory the morning after the night before at XXL.
What I can reveal is that I was enrolled into “Operation Wildcard”, assigned a cool-as-hell alias, super-rich socialite Juniper Booth, and given free rein to concoct a cover story – mine involved a wealthy biological daddy, even wealthier sugar daddies and a misjudged foray into the production of mushroom milk.
Running late on the day (some of us don’t have the luxury of racing around in an Aston Martin, James, and rely on the Tube), I’m immediately thrown into the action to foil a fiendish terrorist plot.
At times, it did feel a bit like a game of fetch, tracking down one character, only to be sent rushing around again to find another, but the stunts are incredibly well-crafted and the performances from the actors are spot on.
I particularly enjoyed my run-in with M, who didn’t break when I told her she is a dead ringer for Judi Dench. “She’s an actress, isn’t she?” she replied, with a playful smile.
This save-the-world malarkey also proved to be rather knackering, even when you are faking it, but thankfully you’re permitted to drink on the job with plenty of bar options, and the food is top-notch too.
A couple of hours in, I’d half forgotten that I was also here to watch the film itself, the screening for which took place in an opulent ballroom and featured live theatre re-dos of key sequences.
Not recreating Craig’s budgie-smuggling exit from the sea was a massive miss, mind. Maybe they didn’t have the cleaning budget to mop up everybody’s drool afterwards.
High-octane, imaginative and utterly immersive, Secret Cinema Presents Casino Royale is 00-heaven for Bond fans, and I’ll admit the experience left me a little stirred too.
As for any aspirations to become a spook, I don’t think it’s for me. But, hey, isn’t that exactly what a spy would say…