Today: February 22, 2024

Sam Mendes: The Man With The Golden Ticket

Say the name Sam Mendes and one word comes to mind: Bond.

There’s no doubt that the director will be forever credited with giving Bond a massive kick up the franchise. It was in 2012 that Mendes took the helm for what would be the 23rd Bond outing – Skyfall.

He was, perhaps, a surprise choice of director. A darling of the indie scene, who had noticed up both awards and box office success with the likes of Road To Perdition and Jarhead. His debut feature, American Beauty, grossed a staggering $356.3 million and won him an Academy Award for Best Director. But how well could he handle a huge franchise like Bond? As it turned out, very  well indeed.

Skyfall was a billion dollar hit, with Mendes and Daniel Craig the Dream Team that made it all happen.

Moving Bond away the ‘70s kitsch it had been associated with for so long, and into a grittier, post-9/11 world was a move that divided fans, but Eon were delighted with the results. More than that, they were desperate to sign the duo up for two more Bonds, to be filmed back-to-back.

Amazingly, though, Mendes was reluctant to commit. Eventually the back-to-back script idea was abandoned and Bond was effectively put on hold. And all so that Sam Mendes could work on the stage version of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

We’re all so used to the power of Hollywood that it seems inconceivable that any director should be willing to walk away from an international hit to work in the theatre. But, before he made his name behind the camera, the stage is where Mendes learnt his craft, giving angsty spins to old favourites such as Cabaret, Oliver! and Gypsy.

Charlie was to be the first original musical that Mendes had worked on, giving him the opportunity to craft a brand new production, entirely free from the baggage of past performances.  The result is a staggering blend of stage craft and Hollywood pazaz – awash with SFX, filmic trickery and playful theatricals. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is a truly massive production, executed with flair and a generous dusting of magic.

The show opened in June 2013 and has proved itself to be every bit the Five Star family musical that Mendes promised. It’s also daring, dark, and subversive enough to keep the adults entertained while the kids goggle at the spectacle of naughty boys and girls being flushed, shrunk and turned into giant blueberries.

Fast forward to 2015 and James Bond is back and playing to packed houses. Producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli’s decision to wait for Mendes to finish work on Charlie seems to have paid off.  As of 22nd November 2015, Spectre has grossed over $677 million worldwide. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory isn’t doing too baldy either. The show currently holds the record for the highest weekly gross in the West End and is set to run until at least 2016.

Mendes has proved that a ‘safe’ technical director isn’t always the best choice to direct a large franchise. He’s proved that indie directors can handle the challenges of large productions and still maintain the sort of sophisticated, frame-for-frame attention to detail that he brought to American Beauty. He’s also shown that the worlds of film and theatre aren’t so different after all.

Skyfall’s most quiet, human moments have an echoes of Mendes’ Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night. While the breathtaking spectacle of Charlie owes much to the excess of Bond.

What’s next for Sam Mendes? Probably not another Bond, although perhaps it’s best to never say never.

 

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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