We’ve already said why we love Timothy Dalton as Bond, and why he may even be the definitive Bond. But there’s way, way more to this fine actor than his portrayal of the super spy.
I have to admit, even though I have been a fan of Timothy Dalton’s work for thirty years, I haven’t seen every role he ever played, so I won’t include in my roundup anything I haven’t seen. There are some glaring omissions. I’d love to see Permission to Kill, in which he shared screen time with another favourite of mine, Dirk Bogarde. I haven’t seen Brenda Starr, which he was making when he was offered Bond. Nor have I yet tuned in to his latest TV series Doom Patrol, or caught up with his turn in Chuck.
Then there are a few performances in forgettable productions. I thought he and Joanne Whalley were the best things about the 1994 Scarlett, an indifferent sequel to Gone With The Wind. He was a fine Rhett Butler, but I’m afraid I gave up on that one. My distaste for the new Doctor Who left me in a quandary when he turned up in 2010 to play Rassilon. I hated the episode, but that’s hardly Tim’s fault. And for my money the nadir of his career is American Outlaws, but nobody came out of that movie well… (At least Sextette was deliberately bad. Wasn’t it?)
There are a few other credits that nearly troubled the list, but which were bumped out in favour of something else. The Tourist is a decent film, but it doesn’t stand up to multiple viewings. Loony Tunes Back in Action is fun, especially as Dalton takes the mickey out of his James Bond persona, but the rest of the film is low on quality. The Beautician and the Beast sees Dalton excel at comedy, but there’s a much better example of that at number three…
The following is a list in chronological order, most recent first. They are all productions that Dalton shines in, proves the range of his talents, and demonstrates the star power he brings to his profession.
1. Penny Dreadful (2014-16)
The big advantage of TV over film is that it gives actors more time to explore and expand their character, and viewing audiences get to spend longer in the company of their favourite actors. I always enjoyed Penny Dreadful, which ran for three seasons, but felt that it was right that it quit whilst it was ahead. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm Murray was a kind of Victorian Indiana Jones, or maybe even James Bond’s grandfather. Badass comes effortlessly to him. But we saw here too his paternalistic instincts for Vanessa Ives. The scenes Dalton shared with Eva Green were always electrifying – two fine actors who brought the best out of one another. Penny Dreadful was a series that was more hit than miss, and gave Dalton plenty of standout moments.
2. Toy Story 3 & 4 (2010/2019)
I wonder if Dalton was always at the top of the casting director’s list for the character of Mr Pricklepants, the rather uncertain hedgehog that he lends his voice to? His dulcet tones are immediately recognisable, but there’s nothing heroic or moody about Mr Pricklepants. This is Dalton playing completely against type, but doing it brilliantly. The Toy Story franchise is one of the most popular and lauded in cinema history, and each is a great film in its own right. It’s a boon for fans to see Dalton’s name attached to it.
3. Hot Fuzz (2007)
Deliberate efforts were made during Dalton’s tenure as Bond to tone down the humour of the Roger Moore era. A lazy assumption grew up that Dalton was humourless and couldn’t do comedy. Anyone holding to that view would do well to watch Hot Fuzz, which is perhaps Dalton’s most outrageously funny performance. The brainchild of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who had previously made Shaun of the Dead and Spaced, Hot Fuzz sees rookie cops trying to solve a series of brutal murders in a quiet and idyllic English village. Dalton plays the egotistical manager of a supermarket, who has a taste for flash cars and clothes. Dalton’s showdown with Pegg in a miniature village is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. The all-star cast includes Billie Whitelaw, Edward Woodward, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Colman.
4. Made Men (1999)
Taken in its entirety, Made Men has its share of problems. But for fans of Timothy Dalton, it has its charms. Sheriff Dex Drier is about as badass as Dalton has ever been. There’s one scene in particular when he taunts the victim of a car accident whilst they are dangling from inside the wreckage, fuel leaking all around them. Needless to say, Dalton plays it brilliantly, and it’s inarguably the most memorable sequence in the movie, which is otherwise a run-of-the-mill potboiler. Check out that scene in the clip below.
5. The Informant (1997)
There have been painfully few dramas about The Troubles, and out of those that have been made, they tend to be partisan and agenda-pushing. The Informant (sometimes called The IRA Informant) takes a look at the British army’s involvement in Northern Ireland, and the activities of the IRA, with no romanticism or sentimentality. Dalton plays an edgy police inspector who wants to persuade a young IRA recruit to give evidence against his own. Cary Elwes plays a young British army officer who tries to win the confidence of the young terrorist, using friendship where Dalton’s blunt intimidation techniques have failed. There are some truly shocking moments in the film, which is taut, suspenseful, and captures something of the tragedy of The Troubles, and the fragility of peace in the region. Great to see Dalton is such an intelligent and thought-provoking drama.
6. Framed (1992)
This is a serial that converted me into being a firm fan of Dalton’s. Framed is a clever police thriller from the pen of Lynda La Plante. Dalton plays Eddie Myers, a top criminal on the police’s most wanted list. Young cop Larry Jackson (David Morrissey) can’t believe his luck when he identifies Myers and has him arrested. But his troubles are only just beginning. What plays out is a brilliant psychological drama in which the manipulative, charming and ingenious Myers attempts to win over Jackson, and persuade him to release him from custody. Who will crack first? This is a very strong performance from Dalton as – much like his James Bond – a charming yet amoral player who is capable of anything when it comes to self-preservation.
7. The Rocketeer (1991)
At face value, The Rocketeer is an unremarkable Hollywood family movie. What I love about it is that Dalton finally gets to unleash his inner Errol Flynn that we’ve long suspected has been there. As the villainous Nazi-cum-film star Neville Sinclair, he gets to swing about on ropes with a rapier swishing in his hand. It all makes everything worth it, even Billy Campbell’s rather turgid leading man performance.
8. Hawks (1988)
The film that Dalton made between his James Bond outings sees him playing a middle-aged man dying from cancer. His choice is reflective of the kind of actor Dalton has always been, seeing a duty to his trade to keep stretching himself and remain chameleonic. It’s hard to imagine that Bancroft is played by the same actor who would go on a revenge mission in Licence to Kill the following year. The sensitivity of the film, in dealing with premature death, is affecting. The subject matter has been covered in more detail, and better, in productions since Hawks, which can seem a little tame and far-fetched now. But Dalton and Anthony Edwards (of ER and Top Gun fame) are incredibly believable as two people forging a friendship out of the tragedy of their own sickness and impending deaths. No other Bond (with the exception of Daniel Craig) could have played the part and done it such justice.
9. Florence Nightingale (1985)
This slightly niche television production is still rather lavish, and benefits from having Dalton playing not only the love interest Richard Milnes, but also supplying the voiceover. Another favourite actor of mine is Jeremy Brett, best-remembered as the definitive Sherlock Holmes. Here he plays Florence’s father, and has scenes opposite Dalton – the production is worth it for that alone. Claire Bloom, Timothy West and Brian Cox are also part of a great cast. The end product doesn’t quite live up to the stellar cast, as it’s a touch saccharine and low on moments of high drama, but Dalton fans who haven’t seen it should check it out. He never looks out of place in period costume, does he?
10. Jane Eyre (1983)
In one of the earlier editions of board game Trivial Pursuit, a question posed was: “Which James Bond actor played Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre?” Although the other Bonds had considerable acting merits, a moment’s thought reveals that only Timothy Dalton could possibly have played a literary hero (Moore was excellent as Ivanhoe, but the part was swashbuckling rather than literary). The production is dated: the videotape medium on which the studio work was shot looks cheap now, though it was of course standard at the time. If you can look beyond the theatrical nature of TV drama of that era, the production is very good. Dalton is at his glowering, saturnine best as arguably the greatest and most memorable of the Bronte anti-heroes. It is a shame not much more was seen of Zelah Clarke, as she is a fine Jane Eyre, but it’s Dalton’s Rochester that lives on in the memory. For a whole generation, Dalton was Mr Rochester!
11. Flash Gordon (1980)
A great film and a cult classic, but something of a ‘good bad’ film, and probably about the campest production to bear Dalton’s name in its credits. That said, he plays to type as moody, bad-tempered and swashbuckling royalty. Sam Jones’ rather wooden turn as the title character leaves a whole host of great character actors with room to shine. Brian Blessed shouts his way through, Peter Wyngarde does it all with his voice from behind the mask of Klytus, and Max Von Sydow is the stuff of legend as Ming the Merciless. Dalton gets most of the best lines as Prince Barin, notably, “Freeze, you bloody bastards!” Hard to believe Mike Hodges also directed Get Carter…
12. Charlie’s Angels (1979)
Dalton appeared in the episode of the hit TV series called Fallen Angel. He plays Damien Roth, a diamond thief whom the girls are assigned to identify and bring to justice. In a cute premonition of things to come, Damien is described as being “James Bond-ian”. The same thing happened to Roger Moore on the Saint. Some things are meant to be…!
13. Mary Queen of Scots (1971)
Blond Dalton! This production is probably about the best of the glut of British historical films that he made early in his career. His small role in Cromwell is overshadowed by a shouty central performance by Richard Harris, in a largely historically inaccurate film. In Mary Queen of Scots he has plenty more screen time to shine as the duplicitous Lord Darnley. He is playing opposite Vanessa Redgrave, his partner for many years. Again, very early in his career, Dalton finds himself surrounded by a brilliant ensemble. The wonderfully eccentric Patrick McGoohan plays James Stuart, with a convincing Scottish accent, whilst Glenda Jackson steals the limelight as Queen Elizabeth, the ostensible villain of the piece.
14. Wuthering Heights (1970)
Heathcliff is the sort of part that Dalton was born to play. Romantic, handsome, glowering, animalistic, he’s a character that plays to all of Dalton’s obvious strengths as a performer. This adaptation, in which he played opposite Anna Calder-Marshall, is bleaker and more realistic than the Hollywood version Laurence Olivier starred in towards the end of the 1930s. The location filming in Yorkshire is also much more suitable to Emily Bronte’s story than the rugged yet sun-scorched Californian hills seen in the Olivier version. If anything, Dalton is a little too young for the part, which occasionally makes him seem rather more impetuous than Heathcliff is generally considered. That’s a minor gripe. Director Robert Fuest brought an excellent performance out of a very young Dalton and certainly helped him on the way to international stardom. You can see how he later grew into being the definitive Mr Rochester.
15. The Lion in Winter (1968)
Dalton certainly hit the ground running. He made his film debut alongside Anthony Hopkins. And they were supporting Peter O’Toole and Hollywood legend Katharine Hepburn no less! A big screen adaptation of James Goldman’s play about Henry II’s warring family is theatrical but good fun, especially when O’Toole as Henry rants and raves at his sons. Dalton is astonishingly fresh-faced and handsome, and it’s no wonder he was, in his early 20s, being talked up as a future star. You can see the potential, and history bears out that he lived up to it.
I hope you enjoy my selection of the best from Timothy Dalton’s long and illustrious career. Here’s to many more fine performances from one of Britain’s best actors!