'Sean Connery: the Measure of a Man' book review
A new Life of Sean Connery can only swoon over the actorâs magnificent musculature, says Lewis Jones for The Telegraph
"Sean Connery IS James Bond,â as the posters used to shout. Except, of course, when someone else is playing Bond, or Connery is playing someone else. This is the gist of a new book by Christopher Bray.
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âI have, I should stress,â he says in his introduction, âno wish to know Sean Connery,â as he sounds rather âcombativeâ and âpricklyâ. Connery âhas not co-operated on the bookâ and nor âwere many people who know or have worked with Connery willing to talk to me about himâ. For âthe purposes of research, I have had recourse to the same few interviews he has grantedâ.
I am sure that many celebrity biographies are written from a similar position, but few authors are honest enough to admit it. Brayâs candour is admirable, but it does raise two questions. Why did he write his book? And, more urgently, why should we read it?
The answer to the first question seems to be that he likes to watch Connery: âI like watching him move through a room. I like watching him sit down and cross his legs. I especially like watching him open and close doors.â So he naturally hopes that his book will appeal to others who like to watch Connery, or to read about his âburly charmsâ, his âmagnificent musculatureâ, âsilky mobilityâ, âcarnal brutishnessâ, âgorgeousnessâ et cetera. We get the picture.
There is a biography amid this swooning appreciation and fairly well known it is (there have been five others). The descendant of Wexford tinkers, Connery was born in Edinburgh in 1930 and left school at 13. Invalided out of the Royal Navy, he worked as a milkman, apprentice French polisher, lifeguard, and won a bronze medal in the 1953 Mr Universe contest. After landing a role as a chorus boy in South Pacific, he became a jobbing actor in London and played heavies in such films as Hell Drivers (1957).
Then came his apotheosis. Quite a few actors were talked of as possible Bonds â David Niven, James Stewart, Richard Burton, James Mason, Dirk Bogarde â but Bray argues that this was merely to hype the role, as they were all established and expensive. Cubby Broccoli wanted an unknown actor, not a star, and the only real contenders were Connery, Patrick McGoohan and Roger Moore.
Ian Fleming is said to have objected to the choice of Connery â âthat f---ing truck driverâ â and Bray takes up the cudgels on Conneryâs behalf. âFlemingâs original Bond,â he writes, âwas an insufferable bore â priggish, snobbish, public-school effete and almost gruesomely uncultured.â
This is unfair. It is true the films have long since eclipsed the books, but the early ones were well written and stylish, as well as extremely popular. And though Connery was certainly magnificent in the role, it is pushing it to argue that he was somehow waging class war with his âlanguorously insurrectionary take on what he saw as this jumped-up imperialist boreâ. Bray seems to have been infected by his heroâs evident chippiness.
Still, Connery did define the part, and was defined by it in turn, as Bray acknowledges in his rather laboured attempts to relate Conneryâs subsequent roles to Bond: as Danny in The Man Who Would Be King (1975), he is apparently ârelishing the chance Hustonâs script affords him to poke fun at Bondâ; his gentleman thief Edward Pierce in The First Great Train Robbery (1978) âis a kind of prototype 007â; and Major Robert Dapes in Cuba (1979) âwas, after all, a kind of footloose 007â.
All this is another way of saying that Connery is an actor of limited range, essentially playing an idealised version of himself. He has twice â in The Wind and the Lion (1975) and The Next Man (1976) â played Arabs with Scottish accents: the âmad sheikh of Aberdeenâ as Russell Davies put it. âIf I didnât talk the way I talk,â Connery told John Boorman, âI wouldnât know who the f--- I was.â
Brayâs critical perspective, which is really the point of his book, strikes me as consistently wonky. He deplores âthe lame espionage shenanigansâ of The Russia House (1990), for example, which is a bit rich, and his list of Humphrey Bogartâs best films excludes both The African Queen and Casablanca. His grasp of English is wonky, too â he constantly misuses âputativeâ and bafflingly deploys ârapineâ as an adjective.
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