It is a truth universally acknowledged that a British actor in possession of a hit series and a face that hasn’t been thrashed by the ugly stick will, at some point, be mooted as the next Bond.
So it’s surprising that it took Ladbrokes almost a fortnight after the period drama Bridgerton dropped on Netflix on Christmas Day to slash the odds on its star, Regé-Jean Page, becoming 007.
For anyone still uninitiated, Bridgerton is the love child of Jane Austen and Jilly Cooper. It’s a Regency romp for those who feel that Georgette Heyer would be improved by more action on the library ladder.
Celebrated for its colour-blind casting and near parity of male and female nudity, the series is essentially a sexed-up pastiche of the period dramas we all know and love. With the aesthetic of Sophia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette, it is the visual equivalent of gorging on a box of Ladurée macaroons. In short, it was just the diversion the nation needed during a January lockdown.
Regé-Jean Page (RJP) is Bridgerton’s breakout star. He plays the smouldering Duke of Hastings, a reformed rake who teaches his future Duchess the art of self pleasure and commits the sin of onanism in order to ensure that the title dies out in a vendetta against his tyrannical father.
Go online and you’ll find multiple fan pages devoted to RJP and threads discussing everything from the angle of his raised eyebrow to the way he licks a spoon, all of which have helped to ensure slashed odds on the actor taking over from Daniel Craig: they have gone from 40-1 before Christmas to 5/1 earlier this month. Tom Hardy remains the favourite at 6/4 with James Norton a close second at 7/4. Idris Elba is just ahead of Page, with odds of 7/2.
But handing the role to Regé-Jean Page is a no-brainer — and not just for his 2.4m (and counting) Instagram followers.
Unlike Tom Hardy (5’8”), RJP is tall (six foot-ish) and classy, rocking a cravat and breeches with suave insouciance. Pivoting from playing a duke to the Eton and Fettes-educated spy would be a doddle. However he does need to look at the way he wields his cutlery (a real duke would never hold a knife like it’s a fork). Hardy, on the other hand, is now so heavily inked, he resembles a former SAS operative struggling to adjust to life on Civvy Street.
At 31, RJP is the perfect age to be brought into the franchise. Daniel Craig was 38 when he took on the role in Casino Royale (2006); that’s younger than both Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton in their debuts. Yet Craig looked craggy in 2016’s Spectre and is positively cadaverous in the trailers for his swansong, No Time To Die.
Two of the three frontrunners, Hardy and Idris Elba are knocking on a bit (43 and 48 respectively). The producers don’t want a repeat of Roger Moore’s last outing as Bond. He was 57 in A View To A Kill (1985) and had the audience on the edge of their seats for the wrong reason — out of fear that he’d keel over in the action scenes. “Moore isn’t just long in the tooth — he’s got tusks” was the verdict of the Washington Post’s critic.
Given the interminable waiting for the release date of No Time To Die (currently scheduled for 2 April), a fresh young face is exactly what the franchise needs for the reboot.
Plus, there's the issue of Bond's physicality, which, ever since Daniel Craig emerged from a glittering Caribbean sea in a pair of rather tight-fitting trunks, has undoubtedly become part of the brief. There’s been ample opportunity for the nation to, er, get to know RJP during the lengthy bare-chested knuckle boxing segments in Bridgerton — and he would have no trouble donning James Bond’s tiny blue swim shorts.
Second-favourite James Norton was underwhelming in the action scenes in BBC 1’s McMafia. Before Danny Boyle quit No Time To Die, he’s rumoured to have vetoed Norton, saying he wouldn’t have a Bond who couldn’t run.
With the spotlight shining on him in the middle of a pandemic, Page hasn’t — yet — had to field too many questions about Bond and blow his chances by talking about it too much. Idris Elba's chances of taking on the role were perhaps hampered by this sort of hype, though all sympathy to him for having to repeatedly address the boring issue of being the first black Bond.
Which brings us to the last point in my case. It won’t have escaped your attention that there’s been a bit of debate over the past few years as to whether the next James Bond should be a British BAME actor. With Zimbabwean heritage, Regé-Jean Page ticks that box. But if Barbara Broccoli wants to do more than box tick, RJP would be a smart hire: he's a fine actor in his own right and has the je ne sais quoi needed to pull off Ian Fleming's hero. And, if Bridgerton is anything to go by, Miss Moneypenny will be swooning quicker than you can say shaken, not stirred.