Crowley’s demonic Bentley in Amazon’s “Good Omens” celebrates man and machine
Before Terry Pratchett’s passing in 2015, he implored Neil Gaiman to adapt their 1990 novel Good Omens himself. Previous attempts by other writers to adapt their story had failed—Pratchett felt that no one else had the same passion for and understanding for Good Omens as he and Gaiman had. Gaiman finally got it right with Amazon’s new miniseries, a faithful adaptation that features David Tennant as the demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as angel Aziraphale, unlikely friends with a long history who join forces to halt Armageddon.
Crowley and Aziraphale have spent so many centuries planet-side that they’ve “gone native” and developed a taste for earthly delights: fine food, old books, good music. Crowley’s soft spot is for his car: he may be evil but he’s not incapable of love, and he has plenty of it for his 1933 Bentley.
In the novel, Crowley explains their symbiotic relationship: “I had it from new, you know. It wasn’t a car, it was more a sort of whole body glove.” Series director Douglas Mackinnon likened Crowley’s relationship with his Bentley to Doctor Who and the TARDIS, and script supervisor Jemima Thomas observed, “Aziraphale has his bookshop, and I know Crowley has a flat, but in some ways the Bentley is more of a home to him. He loves it like a child.”
Crowley’s connection with his Bentley is quite literally magic, and he often uses his infernal power to control the car. One perk of being a demon is that he’s never had to buy petrol. He can turn off the lights with a snap, repair dents and dings, and drive through fire with sheer force of will alone. The glove compartment even contains an endless supply of Crowley’s favorite sunglasses.
Another one of the car’s idiosyncrasies is that it always plays Queen: Gaiman and Pratchett wrote, “Admittedly [Crowley] was listening to a Best of Queen tape, but no conclusions should be drawn from this because all tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums.” Crowley’s affection for his machine is evident in every scene they share—he’d even kept his car scratch-free for 90 years. (In one scene set in the past, though, we can clearly see bullet holes in the car’s window, a detail explained in the novel: “The only time Crowley had bought petrol was once in 1967, to get the free James Bond bullet-hole-in-the-windscreen transfers, which he rather fancied at the time.”)
In the novel, Crowley drives a 1926 Bentley, rather than the ‘33 in the TV adaptation. Gaiman explained that the ’26 Bentley just sounded right to him, but, it “was in the days before Google.” As it turned out, a 1933 Bentley was closer to what Pratchett and Gaiman had envisioned. Rolls-Royce Ltd. purchased Bentley in 1931 when the company was forced into liquidation by the Great Depression, and Rolls debuted the new Bentley 3½ litre in 1933. Rolls-Royce’s acquisition of the Bentley made for an unusual pairing: Rolls-Royce was about elegance, luxury, silence, whereas the noisier Bentley had been a car for “the Bentley boy,” a slightly different, more macho customer. The 1933 Bentley combined a modified 20/25-hp engine with a Rolls-Royce chassis to create the Rolls-Bentley, and its engine upgrades included redesigned manifolds, increased compression, and twin carburetors.
Rolls-Royce advertised the Rolls-Bentley as “the silent sports car” and dubbed them Derby Bentleys due to their production at Rolls-Royce’s factory in Derby, England. (Older models were referred to as Cricklewood Bentleys.) They sold only the basics: an engine, gearbox, and chassis, and coachbuilders then created the car’s body according to a buyer’s wishes, so each Bentley was a unique work of art.
The resulting car is perfect for Crowley: old-fashioned, posh, and—with its sleek, beetle-black paint and iconic silver-winged hood ornament—a little diabolical. Its license plate reads “NIAT RUC,” which is engraved on the mausoleum in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life’s suicidal leaves sketch. “NIAT RUC” is “curtain” backwards — as in, “the final curtain.”
Because Crowley’s a literal speed demon who loves racing down Oxford Street, the car in the show had to be able to go 90 mph—a speed not possible for an actual Bentley. In episode 6, Crowley makes the lofty claim that, “you wouldn’t get that sort of performance from a modern car,” but he is, of course, blinded by love. VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara explained, “In the book, there’s tons of references to him driving at 120 miles per hour. We had a real Bentley. It could go about 30 miles per hour. Everything past that was digital.”
So they used a real Bentley, lots of CGI, and a handmade “clone” as a stand-in when they needed to damage the car. Interior shots were done old-school with a form of back projection: filmmakers projected real footage of scenery and the exterior of the car onto a set with a stationary car. Done this way, the lighting looks much more realistic than if they’d used green screen, and the actor can actually see and react to his surroundings.
The crew took painstaking care not to damage the real Bentley they had at their disposal. A particularly tricky stunt involved blowing up the car.
Special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves explained that they used a real Bentley shell for the model that explodes, but even the shell, “was really expensive, as the car is so rare, and so we only had one shot at blowing it up and the pressure was on!” The owner of the real Bentley was none too pleased by this: “When we were rigging it, the guy who owns the original vehicle was eyeing [the model] up. I could tell that what we were about to do to it was breaking his heart. At one point, he asked, ‘Are you really blowing this up?’ And I replied, ‘It’s either yours or this, so what would you rather?’”
When the Apocalypse begins to heat up, Crowley drives through a ring of hellfire in his beloved Bentley while blasting Queen’s “I’m in Love with My Car.” It’s an indelible image. The car travels in its own ball of flame, and it should be reduced to nothing more than metal and melted rubber, but it’s Crowley’s imagination—and his mystical, personal bond with the car—that hold the Bentley together. After all, Crowley had “started the journey in his Bentley, and he was damned if he wasn’t going to finish it in the Bentley as well.”