Seven of Sir Sean Connery's greatest performances

CINEMAGOERS still adore Sir Sean Connery's iconic portrayal of James Bond, but the Edinburgh-born actor has shined in many other guises, finds Matthew Dunne-Miles

Sir Sean Connery in 2006. Picture: Getty Images
Sir Sean Connery in 2006. Picture: Getty Images

Sir Sean Connery made his name as the dashing leading man in his early years, but in his post-007 period he moved into seniority with aplomb, often stealing scenes with a salty charisma. Here, we chart some of his most memorable roles through the years.

Goldfinger (1964)

Taking on the role of 007 for seven films spanning two decades, Connery still remains the quintessential James Bond for many. Goldfinger may not have been the first outing as the Mi6 operative, but by this time he’d mastered the aura of devil-may-care suaveness and cold-hearted ruthlessness.

Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would be King. Picture: PA
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In a sense, Goldfinger became the template for the entire Bond franchise, and Connery revels in the role in this third instalment. The glances, the quips, and the action scenes are tersely delivered, and it remains the quintessential Bond film.

Marnie (1964)

After the success of Goldfinger, Connery was worried about being typecast and turned down several roles offered to him by Eon productions. Connery wanted instead to work with Alfred Hitchcock, and so he was cast as the lead in a film that the director himself described as a “sex mystery”.

Marnie was a side-step for both parties. Hitchcock was moving away from the horror elements of Psycho and The Birds and into a drama which focused on the troubled relationship between Mark Rutland (Connery) and the damaged Margaret ‘Marnie’ Edgar (Tippi Hedren). It was moderately successful at the box office, but it spoke volumes that the Scot shone in a very different kind of film.

Connery gave an Oscar-winning performance in The Untouchables. Picture: YouTube

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Connery became more disenchanted with espionage thrillers by the ‘70s and sought to establish himself as a serious actor. Coupled with a small role in an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express in 1974, The Man Who Would Be King was Connery’s chance to portray a more mature role alongside fellow British institution Sir Michael Caine.

In the film, two soldiers of the British Empire become disillusioned with their service in British India and travel to the remote region of Kafiristan, where they’re treated as kings.

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The Man Who Would Be King was widely admired and harked back to an age of film-making seen in director John Huston’s masterpiece The African Queen. Connery himself has said that this was one of his favourite on-screen roles.

Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would be King. Picture: PA

The Name of the Rose (1986)

As with all careers that span several eras, the early ‘80s saw Connery out of favour in Hollywood. When he was cast as William of Baskerville in crime thriller The Name of the Rose, based in the monastic community of medieval Italy, Columbia Pictures pulled out of the project completely.

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Despite that, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s adaptation of the Umberto Eco novel revived Connery’s fortunes. He was hailed for his role as the calculating non-conformist monk looking to pick apart a murder shrouded in mystery.

The film was a flop at the American box office, but it did better in Europe due to its intricate plot and stunning backdrops. Connery went on to collect a BAFTA for Best Actor and The Name of the Rose was awarded a French film industry César Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Connery gave an Oscar-winning performance in The Untouchables. Picture: YouTube

The Untouchables (1987)

Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables was Connery’s definitive post-James Bond role, and it seemed the public finally accepted the break away from the 007 persona, too.

Sir Sean plays the role of Irish-born beat cop Jim Malone, who becomes the confidant of Chicago prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and shows him that the only way to fight the mob is to get his hands dirty – a lesson delivered expertly via the “they pulla knife, you pull a gun” speech in the pews of a church. Despite sharing the bill with a number of A-listers (including Robert De Niro as a baseball bat-wielding Al Capone) and making very little attempt at an Irish accent, the Scot went on to collect his first and only Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

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Though he was only twelve years older than his on-screen son Harrison Ford, Connery was cast as Indiana Jones’ father Dr Henry Jones Senior in third instalment of the franchise. Much like his son, Henry was a wayward explorer who bounced off the rest of the cast with an acerbic wit in this high-spirited adventure movie.

Speaking at the awarding of Connery’s lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute, Harrison explained that Connery had brought his own ideas to how the father-son dynamic. “Look, I’m his father. Whatever he’s done, I’ve done it first and I did it better,” Harrison said.

The Rock (1996)

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With this reputation as part of an elite band of silver screen royalty truly established, Connery was free to pursue less-challenging projects with his ego intact. Michael Bay’s 1996 movie The Rock saw Connery play elderly special agent John Mason, drafted in to stop a siege on Alcatraz as the only man who has ever escaped the legendary prison facility.

As with all subsequent Bay pictures, The Rock is all action and very little substance. But Connery’s role as an ageing British Intelligence officer means we do get something of a glimpse into how a silver-haired Bond might’ve operated, with all the deadly instincts and killer one-liners still intact (John Mason uses the phrase “of course you are” after being introduced to Nicolas Cage’s character for the first, a trademark nod to Diamonds Are Forever)