Sean Connery was an Arsehole. So What?

Connery in Goldfinger: the king of the svelte aftershock
Connery in Goldfinger, 1964. (Michael Ochs Archives)

Yesterday, one of my friends told me that she wasn’t mourning Sean Connery’s passing because he has been accused of being a wife beater (and the late Sir Sean has indeed gone on record saying he felt it was acceptable for a man to occasionally slap his spouse about). Now, needless to say (or is it?), I don’t agree with Connery on this, but does his view on women suddenly cancel out his achievements as an actor? Should QE2 cancel his knighthood, and the Academy take back that Oscar it gave him for Best Supporting Actor? Maybe they should, if the knighthood had been for Contributions Made to Marital Bliss, and the award had been for Best Husband. But they weren’t.

People are regularly disappointed to find out that their idols have feet of clay; no more so than today, when we see great historical figures literally dragged off their pedestals for having been less than admirable human beings behind their historic personae. Today, public figures are expected to be all-singing all-dancing well rounded clean cut family men (and women) if their achievements are to be applauded. The poster boy of young liberal inclusive political leadership, the walking wet dream of LGBTQ tolerance, Justin Tredeau, was rudely torn down from feminist lavatory walls worldwide, when twenty-year-old photos of him with some paint on his face were found out. Connery’s behaviour with his former wife has nothing to do with him being a great Bond. The fact that Winston Churchill thought poorly of Indians doesn’t change the fact that he led the United Kingdom out of its darkest hour, in World War Two. The Mahatma Gandhi thought blacks were inferior to him, and he had decidedly odd relationships with his grandnieces, but he remains one of the great leaders of the Indian struggle for independence. Michael Jackson’s well-reported sexual attraction to children hasn’t removed him from his status as the King of Pop. Or has it?

It isn’t Sean Connery’s fault that we demand the greatest Bond be also the greatest husband. Did Sir Sean ask to be the icon of sartorial style and gentlemanly conduct that we assume he was at home on a Friday night (and every other night he wasn’t piloting a DB5 to the Casino Royale)? To assume that a great actor or rock star, a champion footballer or racing car driver, is nothing more than the costumed figure we see on our TV screens is to assume that human beings are two-dimensional caricatures of our own creation, and not real multi-faceted personalities who are very good at some things and just shit at many other things. That takes some really shallow thinking to achieve, because if a great actor or footballer must be a great father and husband, it therefore follows that a bad actor or footballer must be a bad father and husband as well. Human value measured by career success, and nothing more.

This fallacy means that we can’t watch reruns of House of Cards anymore, because Kevin Spacey is a paedo. We can’t watch Roman Polanski’s movies because he is a rapist. We can’t watch yet the next interminable cut of Apocalypse Now because Marlon Brando made Maria Schneider cry. In 1972. We will have to drive across Germany using just B-roads because the autobahns were built by you-know-who.

So who are we mourning when we mourn Sean Connery? We are mourning Sir Sean Connery, the Academy Award-winning working class milkman who was knighted for his contributions to British cinema. We’re mourning one of the great stars of his generation who, for all his success, was more than happy to say “fuck off” to Hollywood. We’re mourning the crusty and cantankerous Scotsman who never bothered to lose his Scots accent even when playing a Soviet submarine captain. We’re mourning the man who pulled a gun when faced with a knife. We’re not mourning Sean the father or Sean the husband or Sean our best friend. How could we? We never knew that Sean Connery, and he didn’t know us. The only Sean Connery we can possibly mourn is the Sean Connery we know. The man we saw on the screen, and who we will see no more.

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