Ian Fleming, known worldwide for creating super spy James Bond, had a background in intelligence work, an eye for women, and a talent for unpredictability.
He also had massive insecurities, numerous love affairs and was overshadowed by his older brother, who was a published novelist.
All of this is seen in “Fleming: The Man Who Would be Bond,” a new four-part series from BBC America starting Wednesday.
The line between biographical reality and fantasy feels thin in this series, with its dashing rescues, heavy smoking, sex and at least two rapes.
At the beginning of World War II in 1939, the young playboy, Fleming (Dominic Cooper), was living in London on the family dime, chasing women and finally getting recruited by Naval Intelligence.
The most elusive was Ann O’Neill. They flirted, had affairs, then finally wed in a love story that was riddled with infidelity from the start. She was married to a baron serving abroad on military duty, and conducting an intrigue with another man when she met Fleming.
O’Neill is played by Laura Pulver, known for her role as Irene Adler in “Sherlock” and on HBO’s “True Blood.” Pulver knew about Ian Fleming from her childhood in the U.K.
“Being a Brit, you obviously grow up every Christmas with a new Bond film on the telly,” she says. “It’s kind of part of our history, our arts and culture history. I knew nothing really about this man.”
Pulver, who now lives in Los Angeles, was given a lot of background by Mat Whitecross, the director who provided her with copies of O’Neill’s diaries.
“I started to read about her early childhood. Her mother had passed away,” says Pulver. “She’d been raised by quite an abusive nanny, and passed around, like a bit of an aristocratic wife.
“You can start piecing together this woman in search of love and so confused by the bedroom side of things. It all becomes so tragic, and understandable Her family motto during the war was ‘it was no longer fashionable to be dull.’”
Pulver enjoyed making the miniseries in Budapest, standing in for wartime London, despite the January-through-March chill. The costume director, Caroline Harris, bought actual dresses from the 1930s and 1940s but they were too fragile, so the costumes were remade in Hungary. “30 hours of fittings is unheard of,” Pulver said, “it’s insane.”
She finds it tragic that in the end when Fleming did marry O’Neill in 1952, their marriage was riddled with numerous marital affairs.
Ian Fleming died in 1964 from a heart attack. O’Neill died in 1981.
FLEMING: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE BOND
Four weekly hours start Wednesday night at 10 EST