The lighting of a cigarette. The famous John Barry theme music. “Bond, James Bond”. The camera finally reveals Ian Fleming’s legendary spy to the world, in the face of the Scottish Sean Connery, who has passed away at the grand age of 90. In terms of cinematic introductions, it is one of the most iconic, igniting one of the longest running and most successful film franchises of all time. In terms of actors, he is one of the most distinct, winning and infallible presences in motion picture history.
Connery won the Bond role through pure charm, allegedly wearing scruffy clothes to his meeting with the producers yet displaying enough rugged masculinity to seal his place in the hall of fame. His performance as the globe-trotting British agent is one that has stuck to the core of my childhood. My first experience with Connery’s Bond was with Goldfinger wherein he emerged from the water in a tight black wetsuit, only to whip it off and reveal an immaculate white tuxedo underneath, adorned with a red flower. The same sequence closes with him throwing an electric heater at an opponent in the bath. “Shocking” he quips. As far as my seven-year-old brain went, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.
The character of Bond has donned six variations in the mainstream franchise, but it’s always Connery we compare to. He’s the only Bond actor to come back to the role after previously handing it off (twice, if you include the offbeat 1983 film Never Say Never Again) and is the only of the Bond actors to claim that he influenced Fleming’s writings: the author revealed that Bond’s father was in fact Scottish. It is easy to say that we will always compare to Connery because he was the first; the first to order the martini, the first to drive the Aston Martin and the first to remark, “I think he got the point” after harpooning an assailant to a tree. But that is only part of the reason. Connery’s earthy charm, quick wit, just-about-threatening physicality and cheeky smile are quintessential components for the character.
The first five Bond films alone would be a great legacy, but Connery has left a remarkable body of work outside of his franchise, arguably the only Bond actor to do so. Desperate to detach himself from the Bond image, he took on a range of roles: there is Marnie, A Bridge Too Far, The Untouchables (for which he won his Oscar), cult classic Highlander, a scene stealing role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October and the ultimate Friday night with beers film, The Rock. Connery’s very presence in these elevates them to the top levels of big screen entertainment, deploying his thick accent with gusto. His line of work is filled with memorable, funny quotations, making it easy to forget the emotional guns he fired in The Last Crusade or The Untouchables.
If there is one film of special mention it is The Man Who Would Be King, in which Connery was paired with Michael Caine as two British soldiers who journey into 19th century Kafiristan, only for Connery’s character to become a doomed, god-like king. Connery’s favourite film to do, the picture sees his character (Daniel) wanting to do away with his past job in search of something greater. It more than draws comparisons to Connery’s own adventure away from the Bond franchise, but whilst Daniel fails, Connery succeeded massively. The Man Who Would Be King? The Man Who Was a King.
Sean Connery has passed away at the age of 90 on 31st October 2020. Watch a clip from Dr No below: