Books & Literature

Book Review: From Russia With Love, by Llewella Chapman 

FILM STUDY: Llewella Chapman’s study of the iconic film pinpoints its place within the James Bond film franchise, and its significant cultural value to critics and fans as well as this film’s important place within British cinema history more widely.

A detailed examination of the second James Bond film that lifts the lid on the early days of the monumental franchise.

With the release of Dr. No in 1962, EON productions had started to create a viable franchise based on the successful series of novels written by Ian Fleming featuring super-spy James Bond. The almost immediate success of that first film — due in no small part to leading man Sean Connery’s ground-breaking performance — meant that the second film would need to up the ante. 

This volume of the British Film Institute Film Classics series published by Bloomsbury takes the reader through the pre-production, production, post-production, and fallout from that film: From Russia With Love. Author Llewella Chapman brings a clinical eye to the many documents and interviews given about the film and presents a dynamic view of the process of bringing Fleming’s 1957 novel to the screen.

This short volume (roughly 100 pages) packs a lot of information into it as well as a number of full colour photos from the film. Throughout the book, Chapman cites her sources impeccably (with well over 100 footnotes and a substantial reference list). This is clearly a labour of love for the academic who cites the film as her favourite film in the Bond series.

If Dr. No established the franchise, it was this film that truly set the bar for later instalments. The iconic gun-barrel logo was refined here, as was the opening credits sequence. Many familiar Bond tropes would also make their debut here. Chapman keeps her personal feelings very much in the background as she navigates her way through the many anecdotes about the making of the film, and this is to her credit.

She details the long scriptwriting process that bogged down production for some time and also how the then-political climate influenced the story in many ways. She also goes through the process of casting the various supporting cast, including Italian Daniela Bianci as the “Bond girl”, Lotte Lenya as the villainous Rosa Klebb (including the number of critics who questioned her character’s sexuality in their reviews of the film), and Robert Shaw as Grant, the hitman sent to kill Bond. She also tells the tragic story of Pedro Armendàriz, who plays Ali Kerim Bey, who died shortly before the film’s release.

Chapman also discusses the release of the film and the heavy marketing that was done to promote it. It is a fascinating read to comprehend the high level of market saturation that this film had. Most notably, however, is the chart detailing the salaries that the principal cast and crew received for the film — Connery getting a huge chunk of the film’s budget while composer John Barry barely got 1000 pounds for his iconic score (sadly very much the norm in those days).

This is a riveting read and one that Bond fans will devour. It is also a good study on film for the day and how external forces shaped the film away from its source material. If you are a Bond fan, or just a fan of cinema in general, this is well worth the effort of tracking down and reading.

Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Twitter: @Wagnerfan74

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: October 2022
RRP: $24.99

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