There weren’t any movie stars at the British Embassy Tuesday night, but there didn’t need to be. In good supply were some of the individuals who inspire screenwriters and directors to create gripping spy stories—former American, British and Russian operatives. This was fitting because the party was for James Bond’s 50th birthday—quite a notable birthday, since the world’s most famous spy doesn’t age; he simply changes identities as needed. Once upon a time he was Sean Connery, then Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now, Daniel Craig.
Every Bond fan has his or her favorite iteration. For the party’s host, British ambassador Peter Westmacott, it’s Pierce Brosnan. For Dame Stella Rimington, the first female director general of MI5—a real-life “M”—the number-one Bond was Roger Moore, though she admits to drifting toward Craig. She’s unequivocal yet diplomatic when asked about her favorite villain: the menacing bad guy Javier Bardem portrays in the latest Bond film, Skyfall. “Of course, it’s all tongue in cheek,” she said.
Rimington easily could have been the center of attention at the Bond party, but she had competition from former CIA directors Stansfield Turner and William Webster, as well as notorious former CIA operative Tony Mendez, whose story of rescuing hostages from Iran is the basis of Ben Affleck’s film Argo. (Affleck portrays Mendez in the film.) From Russia—with or without love—was former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who once ran KGB operations in the US. He now lives in Washington and teaches at Catholic University.
Also involved in hosting the party was the International Spy Museum and its founder, Peter Earnest. This week the museum debuts a special exhibition of Bond memorabilia, some of which was at the party, including the metal teeth worn by Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and a necklace that concealed diamonds from Die Another Day. The interactive exhibition is called “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of James Bond Villains.” There was a martini bar, where guests could order their vodka or gin shaken, not stirred.
Many of the guests went from the party to a special screening of Skyfall at the Loews theater in Georgetown, so there weren’t too many opportunities to get reviews, though Dame Rimington, who had seen the film, did make an important point. [SPOILER ALERT] She was a little put off by the fact that in the film M, portrayed by Judy Dench, is ultimately replaced by Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes. “Why go back to a man?” she asked. “I thought we’d pushed through on that.”