There aren’t many film producers who can get thousands of people cheering just by stepping onto a stage, but when Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson appeared at the premiere of “No Time to Die” at London’s Royal Albert Hall, they got the full rock star treatment. “The day has finally come,” declared Wilson. The cheering barely stopped for the rest of the evening.
This was no ordinary film premiere — or even an ordinary Bond movie premiere. Yes, it was a lavish, star-studded black-tie gala in one of the capital’s grandest and most beloved buildings. But the event’s sense of occasion had its roots in March 2020, when Covid-19 cases were spiraling, and Broccoli and Wilson announced that they were postponing the release of “No Time To Die” from April to November. In retrospect, it was a sensible and even inevitable move, but at the time it was momentous. No other major films had been delayed at that stage, and many of us thought that if cinemas closed at all, they would reopen within a few weeks. Postponing a long-awaited Bond movie by seven whole months? It was shocking. Positively shocking.
After that, the British film industry came to view “No Time To Die” as more than just a movie. It was the movie — the knight in shining armor that would save cinemas if it arrived in time, or destroy them if it didn’t. No Disney or Marvel blockbuster compared. When its release date was pushed back a second and third time, pundits were furious. But when it was finally yanked in the other direction, from October 2021 to the end of September, it felt as if the dove had just flown back to the Ark with a twig in its beak. The film’s premiere wasn’t just a celebration of James Bond, but of the prospect of normal life resuming. And if you had a sip of vodka martini every time someone used the word “celebrate” during the red-carpet interviews, you would have collapsed before the opening credits.
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Rami Malek, who plays the film’s main villain, was one offender. “It’s been such a difficult couple of years,” he said. “We’ve sacrificed a lot, we’ve lost a lot. Hopefully we can celebrate a lot.” Wilson and others pronounced the premiere a celebration of the National Health Service workers who did so much throughout the pandemic. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the film’s co-writer, summed things up in a less reverent fashion: “We haven’t been sexy for two years — and tonight it’s going to be sexy.”
That didn’t seem likely earlier in the evening. Guests had been told in advance that if they didn’t bring proof of a negative Covid test, they would be turned away. When they arrived, they queued along the streets of South Kensington in the rain, and waited while their test results and their bags were checked, which hardly added to the festive mood. Inside the packed Albert Hall, there was something unnerving about the lack of anti-Covid precautions in place. Malek’s character may have worn a Phantom of the Opera mask in the film, but no one in the domed auditorium was wearing any kind of face covering.
Soon, though, the party atmosphere took over. Broccoli and Wilson got their cheers — especially when Broccoli caught Wilson unawares with a tribute to “an amazing producing partner and brother.” (Wilson is the half-brother of Broccoli and has had cameo appearances in Bond movies since “Goldfinger.”) Cary Joji Fukunaga, the film’s director, joined them for a brief, gracious speech. And he introduced 11 of the main cast-members: no one, it seems, was inclined to give this premiere a miss. A pith-helmet-wearing military brass band then tootled a fanfare, and four royals waved from their box: Charles and Camilla, and William and Kate, who wore a sparkly dress worthy of Shirley Bassey.
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But there was never any doubt who the star of the show would be. It was Craig, Daniel Craig, resplendent in a double-breasted raspberry-colored velvet jacket. The affection that everyone involved in the film has for him was mentioned again and again in the evening’s speeches and interviews, and the franchise’s fans have come to share those feelings. When he expressed his elated disbelief that the premiere was happening at all, no one was going to cavil about social distancing. “Just look at this,” he exclaimed. “Look at us!”