A/V Room









He's not a terrible spy, it's just that he's not very good!

Story by: Jack Foley

HE’S played some of the most wretched comedy characters in recent memory, from the self-centred Bean, to the scheming Blackadder, but now Rowan Atkinson has turned to something altogether different for his latest incarnation - a hero.

Johnny English treads foolishly, on behalf of Queen and country, where others simply wouldn’t dare, fuelled by a desire to do the right thing, no matter what the cost to himself, or those around him.

Yet in spite of the numerous mishaps which befall him, some of which make Inspector Clouseau appear intelligent, there is a redeeming feature about the character which makes him appealing to audiences.

"Johnny English is not an immediately ridiculous, or silly character," says Atkinson, while describing him at a recent London press conference, held at the Dorchester Hotel. "I think he's quite a serious-minded man.

"It's just that he has failings which become obvious out of the discrepancy between how good he thinks he is and how good he is, which is where the comedy comes.

"But, at the same time, he's not terrible. He's not a terrible spy, it's just that he's not very good and he's certainly not good enough to be agent 1, which is the job that he’s given."

Director, Peter Howitt, concurs, stating that the interesting thing about Johnny English, as opposed to Bean or Blackadder, is that he is an incredibly selfless character.

"Obviously, the Blackadder character is only looking out for his own skin and how he can manipulate any situation to reach the ends that he requires for his own personal gain, and, likewise, Mr Bean is very self-centred, but Johnny English is neither of those.

"He likes the adulation and he has en ego, but he's essentially a very good man, and a very loyal man, because if you strip away the comedy, he is a hero. And in any film where you have a hero, you want the audience to want that man to succeed, because a hero requires the audience to root for them."

The character of Johnny English, the James Bond wannabe with a penchant for failure, was first introduced to audiences in a series of adverts for Barclaycard, which spanned 17 missions, and won several awards.

Yet as keen as Atkinson was to develop him further, talk of a franchise remains premature, while comparisons with another Bond spoof, Austin Powers, also appear unwarranted.

"Clearly, if this film was a huge success, and I think it would have to be a very, very big success, then there is the potential for a franchise," states Atkinson. "But I have no particular ambitions to do it, or not do it.

"It's quite a flattering idea if it could become something that we could do more of, but it all depends on the commercial reality of it.
"As for comparisons with Austin Powers, I think that what's good about the whole Johnny English idea, is that it is very distinct. I think people assume that it is going to be a kind of Austin Powers, but I think it is actually a million miles away in tone and style."

Yet James Bond does remain a primary influence, given that English dreams of exuding the same kind of charm and charisma as a latter-day 007, while being equipped with some of the tools of the trade - most notably, the gadget-laden Aston Martin.

"The whole movie, basically, is about a fantasy fulfilled on the part of Johnny English," adds Atkinson. "You see his fantasy at the beginning, and then you see him living the fantasy.

"Of course, his fantasy, undoubtedly, is James Bond in all his shapes and forms. And I think Roger Moore is who Johnny would probably have in mind; I think those mobile eyebrows are very much something that Johnny does."

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