‘You have to work very hard to make something look easy.’ So says Sean Connery, quoted in Bill Desowitz’s James Bond Unmasked. In many ways you could quite easily relate this expression to Desowitz’s own work, for this is a book that comprehensively examines all the Bond films in the fifty year old hit franchise.

2012 has been a bit of an annus mirabilis for the UK. For a start there was the Diamond Jubilee and then the Olympic games, the latter of which managed to enhance worldwide understanding of UK culture with its surprisingly spectacular opening ceremony – after all, who would expect the Queen and James Bond, both of whom have notable anniversaries this year, parachuting into the Olympic stadium? For Mr Bond is celebrating his golden anniversary, at least on celluloid. It is fifty years since Dr. No (1962) launched the official James Bond film series. With Skyfall (2012) doing fantastic business at the box office, this is an ideal opportunity to explore the previous outings in the series as well as to examine the franchise, its development and its legacy. James Bond Unmasked takes us on a journey with Britain’s most famous secret agent.

Many of those involved with the franchise are interviewed here, giving a fascinating perspective on the series. This, then, is the culmination of many years of work discussing 007 as Desowitz critically examines the films as well as breaking down the plot structures and describing how the films were made. Rather than simply relate what is on screen this process has a number of useful purposes because it helps show the way that the films have developed over the years, which is no small matter considering the length of time over which the films have evolved, particularly because of the changes in cultural attitudes over that time period. The book discusses the relationship between the time of the film’s creation and the way that cultural mores and censorship have altered the character, not only from the source books but also Bond’s depiction on celluloid. The latest Bond, Daniel Craig, is clear in his understanding of the background of the character and other actors’ interpretations of him even as he is becoming the recognised Bond of the new era.

The evolution of the franchise is explored and aspects of the films that could have sunk or significantly altered the overall perception of the series are not ignored. Desowitz looks in detail at how elements of the films have a thematic repetition that enhance familiarity with the series; the evolution, or occasional lack thereof, of gadgets, girls and gung-ho violence, whilst also noting the variation in depiction (particularly in the analysis of the Roger Moore era) of plot and characterisation that reflects the time of each film’s creation.

There are a number of nice illustrations that focus on the creation of the films and the publicity rather than the usual shots of the films themselves. Overall, this is a fine way to explore the Bond franchise both as a series and an institution; one that has maintained a cinematic presence when many others have long departed. A combination of the familiar mixed with the new has ensured the series’ success over the many decades. James Bond Unmasked combines similar elements – what you know of Bond and those involved and what they reveal in a wider context – to provide a fascinating read.