Rebecca Tyrrel: 'Julie Christie has made an art form of turning down films such as The Godfather'

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Who knew that Julie Christie, who hard as it is to believe turns 71 today, was considered for the part of the first Bond girl 50 years ago, but was cast aside for being too flat-chested? Ursula Andress got the part instead and looked marvellous with that weirdly sexy knife slipped into the belt of that white bikini and... well, it is clearly time to make a bad joke about Christie, never before or since, having her knockers. And would we all have been debating, 50 years on whether she and Sean Connery did or didn't do it on the beach, much as we still discuss in polite circles exactly what went on with Donald Sutherland that night in Venice during the filming of the legendary sex scene in Look Back in Anger?

Robert Altman said of Julie, "She's my incandescent, melancholy, strong, gold-hearted, sphinx-like, stainless-steel little soldier". Clearly impressed, then, and while it is tempting in the light of this to be aghast at Bond producer Cubby Broccoli's dismissal of her, she would no doubt have refused him anyway. Christie, who was hardly 007 conquest fodder even at 21, has made an art form of turning down slightly meatier dramatic roles than that of Honeychile Ryder.

Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather, Chinatown, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, American Gigolo are just a few of the films she wanted no part in. She turned down Doctor Zhivago several times before changing her mind; a right Dr No herself then, it would seem, with her honorary doctorate from Warwick University.

She didn't say no to Darling in 1965, though, for which she won her only Oscar (how many she might have won had she been a mite less choosy we wonder); or to Warren Beatty, with whom she starred in Altman's McCabe & Mrs Miller in 1971, midway through their seven-year relationship – though then again who did?

Christie, who was born on the tea plantation run by her father in Assad, India, and did her drama training in Frinton, Essex, only said yes to marriage five years ago when she wed her long-time partner Duncan Campbell, the Guardian journalist. Ever the perfect antidote to Hollywood decadence, she lives as reticently as always in a London flat and on her modest farm in Wales.

Al Pacino once called her "the most poetic of all actresses", and so say all of us to that. Happy Birthday Julie Christie.