Born Thomas Sean Connery on 25 August 1930 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Connery was a bodybuilder before taking to a career in acting in the 1950s. He started on stage before early roles in films such as On The Fiddle and Darby O’Gill And The Little People.
Sean Connery always had a strength and maturity buried deep within every character he had ever played; a resonance that adds an important layer to every role. He originated the character of James Bond on the big screen – it is hard to believe he was only 33 years old when he first portrayed Bond in Dr No back in 1962.
Connery grew tired of the role and the public scrutiny and subsequently decided to quit the series. Faced with the loss of his star, Cubby Broccoli hired Australian model George Lazenby to strap on the Walther PPK in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film took a more grounded approach to the series, and it is seen by many to be one of the best films in the franchise. The film would have been made all the better if it had been Connery’s swan song (as had been originally planned) but alas that was not to be.
Connery fought hard to move away from the role of Bond in the 60s, taking varied roles such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and the maligned western Shalako between Bondian jaunts. He left the character behind after 1967’s You Only Live Twice, but was lured back with a staggering $1.25 million paycheck for Diamonds Are Forever, a tale based loosely on Howard Hughes’ residency in Las Vegas. Ditching any realism, the film was even more tongue in cheek and helped pave the way for the Roger Moore films for years to come.
The seventies saw Connery take a lot of risks, which somewhat damaged his bankability. Film’s like The Offence, Zardoz, Robin And Marion and The First Great Train Robbery subverted his James Bond image, however in retrospect they make his career so much more interesting.
Sean Connery was one of the largest movie stars in the world by 1972 – he flew against this in a spectacular fashion when he made The Offence. Connery was only in his early 40s when he made the film but he looks much older and weather beaten. He ditched his toupee for the first time and embraced every unflattering facet of his character in a way that shows an eagerness to shake-off his screen persona. Many actors have tried to subvert their movie star looks but they usually tackle this on a superficial level. Though Connery looks from within, building on emotion and rage to deliver a character who is almost devoid of any redeeming qualities. He may be on the right side of the law, but he’s on the wrong side of humanity.
If Connery wanted to throw down the shackles of James Bond, then he did it with certainly with Zardoz. He clearly had faith in Boorman’s strong vision, however he might just have been the only one who understood what that vision might have been.
The 1974 drama Ransom (aka Terrorists) may not be an edge of your seat thriller in the modern sense, but it has enough tense moments and well constructed scenes. Connery impresses as the gruff military man caught between his sense of duty and the political maneuverings of his superiors. Wrede uses the Norwegian locations to good effect, offering up unique visuals which help differentiate it from similar films. This 1970s thriller may not be the best film in Sean Connery‘s filmography but it features some unique elements which make it stand out.
In 1981 Connery starred in Outland, Peter Hyam’s loose remake of High Noon, while the same year saw him take-on Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. He returned to the role of James Bond in 1983 with the unofficial Bond movie, Never Say Never Again. The film went head-to-head with Roger Moore’s Octopussy at the box office and although it didn’t come out the winner, it is a great ‘80s-era Bond movie.
Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Highlander and The Name of the Rose saw Connery dabble in medieval thrills and he finally snagged an Academy Award for Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. The remainder of the ‘80s saw Connery deliver sterling work in The Presidio (with Peter Hyams again), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Family Business.
Highlander’s casting might seem to be off the wall, with Frenchman Lambert playing a Scot, while legendary Scot Sean Connery plays McLeod’s Egyptian-Spanish mentor. None of that matters however as Christopher Lambert has never been better and Connery infuses the film with an energy which lifts the film above its B-movie leanings (and he appears to love every minute of it).
Sean Connery and Harrison Ford really sold their relationship in the 1989 adventure and Steven Spielberg’s pic is the best Indiana Jones movie. George Lucas and Spielberg thought it was a great idea to cast the former James Bond as the father of Indiana Jones. (Indy was created after Cubby Broccoli turned down Spielberg’s request to direct a Bond movie.)
The 1990s saw an increase in Connery’s box office might, delivering starring roles in the likes of the Jack Ryan adventure, The Hunt For Red October (where he famously ‘shails into hisshstory’), The Russia House and Rising Sun. He also delivered one of his best non-Bond action films in Michael Bay’s The Rock in 1996, although wasn’t so successful with 1998’s The Avengers. However, Connery illustrated that he still had what it takes to headline an action-thriller with Jon Amiel’s slick cat and mouse thriller Entrapment in 1999.
Sean Connery received critical plaudits for his first film of the new millennium, Finding Forrester, but The League of Extraordinary Gentleman was to be the last time that Connery was to grace the big screen. It’s a good showcase for Connery’s iconic, gruff movie star charisma – you’ll come away disappointed but you can’t deny that The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen is flawed fun. It’s the final film in a late-career run of action movies for the former James Bond but sadly it’s not quite up there with The Rock or even Entrapment.
Over the decades Sean Connery delivered many powerful performances, creating the template for James Bond, while also showing that growing old doesn’t mean that your days as a leading man have ended. Connery had a varied filmography, with great drama sitting alongside action movies and quirky curiosities. It’s a great career – one which he must surely have been proud of.
Sean Connery died aged 90 years old at his home in the Bahamas on 31 October 2021. .