But Connery had not been Fleming’s first choice for the role. In fact, Fleming’s first choice was David Niven, the actor who would play the “original” James Bond, “Sir James Bond 007”, in Casino Royale.
When we first meet Niven’s Bond, he’s retired, living on a country estate (surrounded by lions) and has no interest in returning to serve Queen and Country. His opening monologue gives a very different and damning take on Bond from the Eon films or the Fleming books.
“In my time, espionage was an alternative to war. The spy was a member of a select and immaculate priesthood, vocationally devoted, sublimely disinterested. Hardly a description of this sex acrobat who leaves a trail of beautiful dead women like blowing roses behind him.
The sex acrobat in question is “that Limiter you gave my name and number to”, a not-so-subtle stunt that implies Connery’s Bond is the impostor, with an added bonus once you know Niven was the Fleming’s first choice.
The “select and immaculate priesthood” line is (probably) unwittingly echoed by Craig’s “half monk, half hitman” line in the Eon version of the film, but it also portrays a version of Bond who is far more likable and admirable. as the murderous, misogynistic, state-sponsored killing machine that Craig originally portrayed. (One thing that has always elevated Craig’s version of Bond is his obvious disdain for the character. Once, when asked what people could learn from Bond, Craig simply replied, “nothing.”)
A lighter link?
It also introduces something that was missing, or at least in short supply in the later era of Bond films: self-awareness. Over the years, Bond films have gone from gritty to glamorous, from played straight to bordering on self-parody. The pendulum was overturned and left for dead when the Austin Powers the movies skyrocketed into public consciousness in the late 90s, and Bond has been played with absolute seriousness ever since.