Why James Bond loves the Caribbean
The world is not enough for James Bond, but he’d settle for the Caribbean. Neil Alcock pulls on his tiny trunks and asks why it is that, for 007, the islands are forever
‘James Bond will return’ is the promise to audiences at the end of each of the secret agent’s movie adventures. But the newest 007 film, No Time To Die, marks two significant returns. Firstly, a long-awaited, Covid-delayed return to cinemas six years after 2015’s Spectre, and, secondly, a fond return to a part of the world regarded as Bond’s literary and cinematic birthplace: the Caribbean. It’s a fitting tribute to a region that’s been inextricably linked to 007’s history for 70 years – but what is it that keeps bringing Bond back?
As No Time To Die begins, James Bond has hung up his Walther PPK and retired to Port Antonio on the northeastern coast of Jamaica. It’s a fitting place for his retirement (even though it’s destined to be a short-lived one), because just 90 minutes’ drive west along the coast – probably quicker, the way Bond drives – would bring him to Oracabessa: ground zero for the Bond legend.
In 1946, former British journalist, stockbroker and Naval Intelligence Officer Ian Fleming, who had fallen in love with the Caribbean during wartime visits, bought some land just outside Oracabessa Bay. He built a house, naming it Goldeneye, and stayed there for a few months every year to escape the British winters. Here, he would spend the season entertaining guests, snorkelling, shark hunting and soaking up the Caribbean sun.
Fleming longed to write a spy thriller, and in 1952 he sat at his typewriter at Goldeneye and bashed out his first novel: Casino Royale. James Bond was born. Every year thereafter Fleming came back to his beloved Jamaica and wrote a new Bond thriller – 12 in total (plus a handful of short stories), four of which were set partly in the Caribbean.
Ten years after Fleming wrote Casino Royale, and just 30 miles away in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, cameras began rolling on the first Bond movie, Dr No. Starring Sean Connery as 007, Dr No was shot almost entirely in Jamaica. The film makes equal use of the island’s stunning natural scenery (Bond takes refuge from the bad guys at Dunn’s River Falls), its colonial architecture (the murder that kicks off Bond’s first mission was filmed at Kingston’s Liguanea Club) and its industrial side (the bauxite mining facility at Ocho Rios doubled for the villain’s base of operations).
Ian Fleming and Sean Connery on the set of Dr No
Filming Casino Royale on Paradise Island in the Bahamas
Pierce Brosnan on set with Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova for GoldenEye
Roger Moore takes a cheeky break from filming Live and Let Die
In 1973 Roger Moore’s first Bond film Live And Let Die took 007 back to Jamaica, using it as the fictional island San Monique, and several filming locations such as Montego Bay, the Green Grotto Caves and the Falmouth Swamp Safari can still be seen today. The settings of these Bond films gave audiences a taste of the area’s beauty and contributed heavily to the entire series’ idea of wish fulfilment. Few people could easily afford to visit the Caribbean in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the Bond movies became a way to experience its laid-back charm for the price of a cinema ticket.
Bond’s Caribbean love affair was continued in the Bahamas. Visually distinct from Jamaica but equally exotic, the Bahamas became the background for 007’s world-saving mission in Thunderball and its unofficial remake, Never Say Never Again, both of which saw Sean Connery enjoying the views and lifestyle so much that the actor retired there. It’s fun to think that Connery’s real-life retirement was spent in the same neck of the woods as his fictional alter ego’s.
Bond’s love of the finer things in life, which echoed his creator’s, lured him back to the Bahamas several times. The series frequently used the crystal-clear Bahamian waters for underwater filming, and the country had a starring role in Daniel Craig’s first Bond film, Casino Royale. It played itself (remember Bond emerging from the sea in those tiny trunks? That’s Paradise Island, Nassau) and also stood in for Madagascar in the film’s first breathless action sequence around, up and over a building site.
And let’s not forget Puerto Rico, whose lush countryside, perfect beaches and jaw-dropping Arecibo Observatory doubled for Cuban settings in Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond adventure, GoldenEye. Bond’s affinity for Caribbean locations took him back to Cuba in Die Another Day, and to Haiti in Quantum of Solace – although on these occasions, Spain and Panama respectively stood in as lookalikes.
Bond’s connection to the Caribbean is almost spiritual, stemming as it does from his very origins. But this part of the world is also a key element of the Bond lifestyle: it seems that whenever he needs a fresh start or a relaxing break from all that disaster and destruction, back he goes. Any visitor is bound to feel the same. A world away from the mundanity of everyday life, the Caribbean offers the chance to feel like a secret agent or a Bond girl just by stepping out of the sea and on to the beach. Sexy swimwear is optional.
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