With a limit, the next potential James Bond was released. In the latest episode of Happy Valley, James Norton’s villain Tommy Lee Royce did two extraordinary things. First, she got rid of the mangy man-bun that the character had saddled up during her incarceration for unspeakable crimes (just for the extra hair she deserved six months in the cell).
Second, he showed off parts of the action movie as he dared escape from a high-security courthouse when he was about to appear in court. This was followed by a not so audacious move to a newsstand in the back room, where a row of Toblerone hid behind him, before a lycra fighter slipped off disguised as a cyclist.
The scene is over and done in less than five minutes. And in the context of Happy Valley’s black-eyed ambiance and floor-to-ceiling misery, it sounds a little cartoonish and overcooked. But with the limit, the segment triggered another b-word. Did this action hero stunt put the 37-year-old Norton in the new James Bond frame?
Or rather, is it back in the frame? The handsome boy from a luxury family, Norton (his grandfather was a colonial ruler in what was then Tangaikya) has been part of the 007 rhetoric for some time. By bookies’ guess, he’s head-to-head with Bridgerton’s Regé-Jean Page. And the favorites are just behind Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Henry Cavill.
Norton has always tossed aside the question of whether he could one day wear the most iconic slim-fit tuxedo in cinema. When asked if he would be “suitable” to Bond, he recently responded with stern grace. “This question is hard to answer,” he told the Radio Times. “They’re thinking about which direction they want to go and they haven’t invited me to be part of this conversation.”
Could Happy Valley and its latest biff-pow antics make it part of the conversation? His performance as the rapist, murderer, and supreme gas lighter Tommy Lee Royce absolutely shatters the notion that Norton is just a broad pair of shoulders. Or that he lacks the dark charisma necessary to portray Bond.
That was the accusation leveled against him when he was the star of Grantchester, where he played a bland, handsome priest. And in McMafia, where he plays the bland, handsome son of an oligarch.
His personal history also showed that one was floating in a fog of privilege in life. Norton’s well-to-do family includes not only MBEs and colonial officers in its ranks, but also an Archdeacon, a member of the Royal Engineers, and descendants of Irish landed gentry. By private training, he went to Cambridge, where he was a major cheese in the Marlowe Society, and then took a post at the Rada. Check out our most luxurious potential Bond ever.
However, he displayed a completely different skill set in Happy Valley. Superficially my friend, just below the surface, Tommy is a ruthless foe of Sarah Lancashire’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood. He’s a predator and a pervert, but fueled by a combination of psychosis and radiant charm. Season by season, Norton turned Tommy into a charming monster instead of a simple bad buy. Considering the character’s propensity for torture and murder (and manipulating his naive son Ryan this year), that’s quite a feat.
Norton’s chances of becoming Bond depend on what his guardians, the Broccoli dynasty, are seeking. Another Daniel Craig can hide behind that newsstand. He doesn’t have Craig’s composure or turbocharged grumpiness.
But if the Broccolis are looking to go the other way, Norton might be just what they need. On and off the screen, he’s the anti-Daniel Craig. The latest 007 was a grump with a cute center. He grumbled throughout his career as Bond, but later showed off his hidden comics talents as Benoit Blanc on Knives Out. Norton’s Tommy is just the opposite: cute on the outside but cold on the inside as a backstabbed knife. In this way, he reverts to his original Bond, perhaps Sean Connery’s ruthless sorcerer who kills without his conscience.
Meanwhile, in real life, Norton displays a tremendous intimacy. A flashy presence on Twitter. The last time he thanked the director on social media right after Happy Valley. And “the next few episodes are crazy!” Daniel Craig would never in a million years share his enthusiasm with fans on Twitter or throw exclamation points like confetti. Norton doesn’t think anything of it. After over a decade of brooding Bond, could a glamor license be exactly what the franchise entails?