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Published on December 1st, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


When Eight Bells Toll Film Review: A Real James Bond


Director: Etienne Périer.
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Robert Mortley and Natalie Delon.

When Eight Bells Toll is an exceptionally well-made film that is almost flawless in its gritty portrayal of British Intelligence operative, Philip Calvert.

If James Bond was a real person he would be Philip Calvert. One would have to wonder about the circumstances that lead to a witless, anaemic James Bond franchise becoming successful. If Bond offered ludicrously impossible stories, hammy acting and out of touch fantasy then When Eight Bells Toll presents the brutal reality of what it was really like to work as an intelligence operative.

Philip Calvert (Anthony Hopkins), Uncle Arthur (Robert Mortley) And Charlotte (Natalie Delon) In When Eight Bells Toll

‘At just 33 years of age and with just four years experience in the film industry Hopkins gives the perfect performance.’

It is a minor tragedy that Philip Calvert did not become a franchise.

Anthony Hopkins is mesmeric as the intelligent, anti-authority and unstable Calvert. If ever anyone needed to back up the argument that actors are born not made, Hopkins in When Eight Bells Toll is the paragon of this. At just 33 years of age and with just four years experience in the film industry Hopkins gives the perfect performance. His highly intelligent character is semi-permanently unhinged, extremely violent and cares little about other people.

Natalie Delon delivers a complicated performance as the femme fatale, Charlotte. Using the tropes and clichés of the blonde bombshell, she creates a confusing and beguiling character that breaks the mould of convention.

Charming, seductive, intelligent and possessing a cultured vulnerability, Charlotte is a character that constantly and self-consciously switches between the genuine and the created.

Uncle Arthur (Robert Morley) In When Eight Bells Toll

‘Insensitive, snobbish and quick-witted he commands our attention’

Robert Mortley is excellent as the aesthete, Uncle Arthur. With a penchant for good biscuits and tea he is a part parody of the elite that reside atop of bureaucracy. Insensitive, snobbish and quick-witted he commands our attention from the moment he enters the screen. Nonetheless, it is important to draw attention to the fact that Arthur is quite a likeable individual despite his many flaws. What originally appears as a two-dimensional character reveals himself to be much more rounded and complicated as the film progresses.

The plot of the When Eight Bells Toll is incredibly well thought-out. Murderous thieves hijack ships carrying precious cargo, in the latest case, gold bullion. Both thieves and the hijacked ship simply disappear without trace, puzzling the authorities. Without revealing the mystery it is very easy to accept this story.

Sir Anthony Skouras (Jack Hawkins) In When Eight Bells Toll

‘keeping in touch with people, particularly in Scotland’s remote and rugged inhabited islands, was difficult.’

This also highlights the difference between the modern world and the 1970’s era that we have left behind. In the 1970’s the world was cut-off. Modern communications was in its infancy and satellites were just starting to populate geostationary orbit. In such a time keeping in touch with people, particularly in Scotland’s remote and rugged inhabited islands, was difficult.

Nowadays, everyone is connected via mobiles and broadband Internet. Hundreds of satellites fly over the world continuously recording what is happening on the Earth’s surface. Even the oceans are wired up with hydrophones to document incidents that occur on the planet’s waters.

In short, the plot of When Eight Bells Toll could not occur today but it certainly was more than plausible back then.

Charlotte (Natalie Delon) In When Eight Bells Toll

The Scottish islands and the Atlantic Ocean are shown to be a bleak, harsh environment, a place far removed from the fanciful exotic locations that normally populate espionage films. The ocean is a dominant character in When Eight Bells Toll. It is powerful, unforgiving and its dark hue adds to the movie’s gritty nature.

‘dwell sexual comfort from naked pictures.’

Another thing that is often whitewashed or avoided altogether in many spy films is the misogynistic, overt objectification of women by men. This is reified in the scenes showing the splattering of nude pictures of women decorating a sailing boat.

There is honesty to the world that When Eight Bells Toll portrays. This is the real world, a world in which groups of men who spend long periods of time away from women dwell sexual comfort from naked pictures.

When Eight Bells Toll

When Eight Bells Toll stubbornly refuses to present its universe as either simplified or consoling. Philip Calvert is a complicated figure far removed from the sanitised nicety of James Bond. He posses many of the traits of Bond, he is charming, seductive and engaging.

However, where he differs is in be truly egotistic, murderous and anti-authority. There is no easy black and white morality, no clear-cut ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’ because in reality these concepts just simply do not exist. For these reasons When Eight Bells Toll is a near masterpiece and we can only sadly lament at the franchise that could have been.

Recommended Viewing

You can obtain When Eight Bells Toll here from Amazon.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: When Eight Bells Toll from here.
For Germany: When Eight Bells Toll.
For France: When Eight Bells Toll.

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2 Responses to When Eight Bells Toll Film Review: A Real James Bond

  1. Jim Roy says:

    I remember this film from when it was first released! I saw it multiple times when it first came out and it has always been a favorite of mine! I’ve been a fan of Alistair Maclean’s novels (I’ve read them all) and love that HE wrote the screenplay for this film! Because of that it is one of the closest and BEST of all the film adaptations of his work. I hope they release a U.S. compatible DVD soon!! It is one film that I would purchase immediately if they did!!

  2. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jim.

    It’s a terrific film with well-rounded characters.

    Regions are a blight on consumers. A multi-region player is the only answer to these problems.

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