Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond TV Poster Image
Sex, booze, and spying in exciting James Bond backgrounder.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Serving one's country is a strong theme, but so is doing it by any means necessary, even illegally. Fleming's womanizing is seen as a charming attribute.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Fleming is a boozer and a womanizer, though he's depicted as a charming rake. Though some might like to fantasize about being him, few parents would want their children to follow in his footsteps, at least not those of his personal life. On the plus side, he's passionately committed to serving his country.


Fleming is serving his country during wartime; there are period-correct bombings, quick shots of dead bodies and Nazis brutalizing citizens, and other violent sights.


Fleming is shown picking up women for casual sex; the viewer sees naked bodies (no private parts), writhing, and thrusting. We also see Fleming and his wife engaging in bondage.


Some cursing, including "f--k" and "s--t," many uses of the word "bloody," and insults such as, "You bastard!"

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In real life Fleming was a heavy smoker and drinker; this is represented on-screen. Characters get drunk and act silly, flirty, or violent; there are references to "needing" a drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond is a biographical series about the real man who wrote a series of thrillers about superspy James Bond. Much like his fictional counterpart, Fleming is presented as a boozer and a womanizer. He picks up (surprisingly) willing women for casual sex; we see naked bodies (but no private parts) and thrusting and hear moaning. After the sex, Fleming is cruel and dismissive to women, who then fall madly in love with him. We see him smoking nearly constantly and drinking frequently on-screen. Fleming and other characters get drunk, flirty, and violent. Fleming is serving in English military during wartime; expect to see bombings and shots of dead bodies, Nazis brutalizing commoners, and other disturbing sights. Nonetheless, James Bond fans in particular may be fascinated to know about the real man who made such an enduring literary character.

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What's the story?

By the end of his life, Ian Fleming was the author of a series of books that turned into a pop-culture juggernaut. But as FLEMING: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE BOND begins, Fleming (Dominic Cooper) was just a disappointment to his family. Kicked out of Eton, fired from every job he'd ever gotten, Fleming was a drunken floozy who'd squandered the advantages given to him by birth as the son of a prominent MP. Why, his mother wonders despairingly, can't Ian be more like his brother Peter (Rupert Evans), a successful author of exotic travel books? Then, a twist of fate transforms Ian's life. The director of naval intelligence recruits him for the department as England is on the eve of joining World War II. The former journalist, banker, and stockbroker has a head for the job and is soon launched on a career of espionage and counterespionage in far-flung locations. Meanwhile, his personal life heats up as he falls in love with, and then marries, Ann O'Neill, a titled woman who shares Fleming's lust for adventure. The two live a heady life, which Fleming later plunders for his series of James Bond books.

Is it any good?

Part of the giddy fun of Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond is catching the Bond references. Ooh, he takes his cocktail shaken, not stirred! Say, he's skiing in the Austrian alps, just like Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me! Thus, Bond fans are squarely in the wheelhouse of this BBC series, but it's not only for Bond geeks. Fans of the sort of slow-burn plotting (and sexy vintage clothes and settings) in Mad Men will appreciate Fleming, with its droll British chat and complex characters.

The comparison to Mad Men is particularly apt because Fleming himself is a hero/antihero in the vein of Don Draper. We don't like him, exactly, with his smug, superior attitude and dismissiveness toward women. But we do find him interesting and the wartime milieu in which he lives utterly fascinating. His life looks to be a James Bond novel come to life, with messy emotional complications. This is adventure plus humanity, a winning combination for those mature enough to handle it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the character of James Bond and how he's similar to or different from Ian Fleming. Did Fleming take inspiration from his own life? Does Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond show this?

  • Watch a James Bond film such as Dr. No. What similarities does it have with the depiction of Fleming? Is James Bond a more or less heroic figure than Fleming? More or less successful? More or less beloved?

  • Women are shown as willing to fall into the arms of Ian Fleming and James Bond. Does Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond show a main character who likes women? Who respects them? Do women come off better in James Bond movies or in Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond?

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