Oh yesh, he's the Great Pretender

Today the Scots go to the polls. But what will become of their most famous son once his SNP job is done?

In The Man Who Would Be King, John Huston's adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's story about two soldiers of fortune in mid-Victorian Afghanistan, Sean Connery plays the eponymous dreamer, Daniel Dravot. He and his buddy, Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine), narrowly avoid being killed by local tribesmen when the masonic pendant Dravot wears is taken for a sign of divinity. Elevated to the throne, worshipped as a demigod, festooned with regalia, installed with law-giving powers, he basks in adventitious glory. Peachy pleads with him not to let it go to his head, reminds him that he's only human, begs him to collar the gold and escape. But the more he remonstrates, the more serene, kingly and ex cathedra becomes Dravot. Though only pretending to be a god, he feels himself turning into one.

Watching Sean Connery's recent flirtations with Scotland, the SNP, the Scottish newspapers and his own amour propre, you wonder how much he buys his own triumphal image, both in his native land and beyond it. For if ever a man approached the condition of royalty without benefit of aquamarine haemoglobin, it is he. "His status is now more than that of megastar. Somewhere along the line he has become an icon," wrote Magnus Linklater in The Times. The Press alternate between calling him "The World's Most Famous Scotsman" and "The Greatest Living Scotsman" as if the terms were interchangeable.

As an actor, he long ago transcended acting; once he stopped being James Bond, he became simply Sean Connery being virile at a screen near you. Advertisements for the 1974 film Ransom carried the legend "Connery Won't Pay...". As I write, his new movie Entrapment, partly filmed in Scotland with Catherine Zeta Jones, is at the top of the US box office, despite poor reviews. He has become unassailable, critic-proof.

Courtliness and violence strive for the upper hand in all his performances. In The Untouchables (for which he won his only Oscar), he played a seen- it-all Irish cop, upstaging Kevin Costner and his besuited enforcers with genial charm. Playing Harrison Ford's father in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, he made you believe he might have taught the Great Action Hero everything he knew. He radiates intelligent truculence, two-fisted wisdom, flashing-eyed combativeness, old-sea-dog bloody-mindedness (as in The Hunt for Red October when, playing a Russian submarine commander, he delivered the much-imitated line, "Gentlemen, we shail into hishtory"). He was the perfect knight in First Knight and Highlander, the perfect monk in The Name of the Rose. No matter how lousy his material, Connery strode through it demanding attention and respect - a modern-day, Scottish John Wayne.

And his private life seemed to mirror this natural authority. He was straight-talking, given to punching members of the press and ticking off obstreperous youth. His manliness shaded into full-on sexism when he suggested that there was nothing wrong with slapping women; but his audience even forgave him that.

And though he's been a tax exile for 20 years, in Marbella and later the Bahamas, Scottish people, by and large, forgave him for being an absentee patriot. He was their guy, their ex-milkman, their "Big Tam" from Fountainbridge, a global success story whose vast income was once threatened by a 98 per cent tax bill - and which money-wise Scot would not leg it to the Spanish coast or the Caribbean to conserve his money?

He seemed to love his home. Connery supported the Scottish Nationalists 20 years ago, giving rousing, a-nation-once-again speeches when the notion of an independent Scottish assembly seemed like dreamland. He spent a million quid from his Diamonds Are Forever fee to set up the Scottish International Education Trust in 1971, to help young go-getters from poor backgrounds like himself - he grew up in an Edinburgh tenement, the son of a lorry driver and charlady, and left school at 13.

In 1993, the Usher Hall in Edinburgh was packed out when he was given the freedom of the City. He made a short, gracious speech, and essayed a little dance on the stage. "Good on you, Tam!," yelled a voice from the gallery and the noble hall exploded in delight.

You could forgive him, therefore, for believing that he could be king. When he arrived in Edinburgh last week to lend his support to Alex Salmond and the struggling SNP, more than a few Scots wondered: might he stop being the actor-as-politician and become a real politician? The Scottish Tourist Board report that Connery is the only human being whom all visitors can instantly identify as a Scot. Was it time the Scots identified him as their natural statesman, their new Braveheart, their leader, just as Ronald Reagan graduated from the silver screen to the presidential office?

Sadly, he displays no desire to shail into Scottish political hishtory. Connery insists he is no politician, "and I have no intention of being one", he said last week. Commentators agree this is probably just as well. "I was watching him before the speech," one journalist told me, "and he was as nervous as a kitten." The SNP bosses were irked by his chronic failure to say the words "Vote Scottish Nationalist", rather than just "Vote". He seemed determined to stay aloof from party politics, recommending simple nationalism, hoping the winner of the election would be Scotland. In his testy response to his "abuse" at the hands of the Scottish papers, he sounded more like a man defending his image than sketching a political future.

So what will happen now between Scotland and her favourite son? Connery promises that he is now looking for a house in Scotland, where he will live for three months of the year. He will play more rounds of golf at Royal St Andrews. But his work for the nation will be as an unconscious figurehead, embodying certain Caledonian characteristics: hard work, financial shrewdness, quickness of temper, ingrained chauvinism, gruff patriotism, distrust of the media, an occasional clip round the ear of the young, a balled-fisted directness, a refusal to get too big for his Hollywood boots.

In a career lasting over four decades, when the image of the Scot has shifted from the White Heather Club to John ("We're all dooomed") Laurie in Dad's Army to the Bay City Rollers, right up to the supine junkies of Trainspotting, Connery has remained true to an alternative Scottishness - uncompromising, unsentimental and never forgetful of the past. To a people in need of a passionate rallying-call to independence, his very existence is worth a hundred Bravehearts.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'