As much as the Beatles, it was Connery’s charismatic Bond that kept postwar Britain alive self-esteem. Does Britain appear to be pathetically declining on the world stage? Oh no. Britain is still powerful – but in secret, you see, like 007. Connery’s Bond created the idea that branding of soft culture, tricks and toys, gadgets and cars, could be just as powerful as real power and wealth. He has played the role seven times, in Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) then two bonds after the fact, Diamonds Are Forever ( 1971)), when his hair suddenly seemed to show after a few years of retirement, and Never Say Never Again (1983), effectively a Thunderball retread. His public image merged with that of 007, and he accepted that burden with the same dangerously simmering resentment and the same controlled anger that made him such a glorious success as Bond. Perhaps only Daniel Radcliffe experienced the same total immersion or the same self-annihilation.
Connery has gone on to great things outside of Her Majesty’s Secret Service – but it took a while. Long after handing over his gun and relinquishing his Double O license, Connery maintained the prerogative of sensuality. For the 1999 burglary, approaching 70, Connery was seen as a main actor and a highly plausible romantic partner for Catherine Zeta-Jones, 30.
Her appearance in Hitchcock’s Marnie in 1964 focused on the dark side that had been nurtured in the Bond franchise, but without the rationale for Secret Service missions it seemed more unsettling. Its wealthy editor Mark Rutland is arrogant, possessive – and rapist. Connery’s Saturnine Dark responds to the strangeness and anguish of Tippi Hedren’s mysterious Marnie.
Connery’s other big image from the Bond years was Sidney Lumet’s brutal The Hill (1965), in which he plays a soldier sent to a military prison camp in the Libyan desert and forced, along with the others, to face punishment. such sadists as climbing an artificial “hill” in the middle of the scorching sun. This role showcased the rougher, tougher side of young Connery that 007 had smoothed out somewhat.
The ’70s were a mixed bag for Connery. He appeared as the mysterious exterminator Zed in John Boorman Zardoz’s cult science fiction (1974), and the famous image of Connery in a bizarre red posing pouch and thigh high boots is something that has tested the faith of Connery fans. for decades. He had another brilliant and brutal role in Sidney Lumet’s The Offense (1971) as the cop who murdered a suspected child molester during questioning and whose motives are gradually revealed in a flashback.
He had two other great films during this period. John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975) was a classic lean-style epic, based on the Kipling short story, in which Connery and Michael Caine play former British military cankers Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan. Trying their luck in the fictional and ominously named land of Kafiristan, they seek to become incredibly rich when the gullible natives mistake them for gods.
Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian (1976) found a calmer, softer register in Connery, grateful for his years of progression, truly for the first time in his career – playing the aging Robin Hood, opposite Audrey Hepburn’s Marian .
The ’80s saw Sean Connery in various fall and humorous moods of self-mockery. His simmering and brooding had aged well to potent maturity – Connery endured countless “single malt” analogies from well-meaning interviewers – and that once dreaded baldness resembled genuine masculinity. He played Agamemnon in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), and he also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), playing the brave right-arrow cop Jimmy Malone, who helps Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness takes on Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro.
Connery’s comic book chops were on display playing Professor Henry Jones, the disapproving father of Indiana Jones, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – although Connery is only 12 years older than Ford. There were other roles, and Connery contributed to Finding Forrester (2000) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) with a lot of poise. At that time, his legendary status, quite distinct from Bond, was something he carried with him.
I only met Sean Connery once, in 1999, at the Edinburgh Film Festival, of which he was the patron, presented by the festival’s artistic director, Lizzie Francke. Unlike other men his age, Connery seemed to have grown with his years, and I remember almost leaning back to look at him, like he was trying to see the pole on top of a famous building – although maybe it was just a natural admiration. He stood still like a statue at these public events on the red carpet and let the guests and the paparazzi come to him.
I remember him telling me, abruptly, and with a formidable disagreement, “Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher is a great movie. It was the opening film in Edinburgh that year. Of course, I agreed, but I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to do or say other than opening and closing my mouth in a silly way, like a goldfish, and finally squealing “Yes”. After a second or two Sir Sean turned and resumed his conversation with Lizzie, used to this kind of encounter with bewildered male journalists. But I’m glad I said something to this legendary character – and I didn’t try to introduce myself formally.