This afternoon Sean Connery appears on screens as he leads the cast in 1978’s crime thriller The First Great Train Robbery, which airs at 1.50pm on BBC Two. The drama takes place in 1855, where a stylish crook makes an ambitious plot to rob a train carrying gold bullion to soldiers in the Crimean War. Alongside Connery is Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down, in the film which earned director and screenplay writer Michael Crichton an Edgar Award in 1980.
Connery remains one of the UK’s most profitable and loved actors, thanks to his turn as James Bond and award-winning roles in Highlander and The Usual Suspects.
While his back catalogue boasts other celebrated stints in franchises such as Indiana Jones, Connery was left embarrassed by what would turn out to be his last acting role.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released in 2003, and though commercially successful, reviewers slated the film, with one describing it as “just ordinary”.
Reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes claimed the film had a 17 percent approval rating, with critics on average saying the film was worth a four out of ten review.
Celebrated critic Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film one out of four stars, adding: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen assembles a splendid team of heroes to battle a plan for world domination, and then, just when it seems about to become a real corker of an adventure movie, plunges into … inexplicable motivations, causes without effects, effects without causes, and general lunacy.”
Peter Travers, of Rolling Stone, concluded in a similar review: “Except for Connery, who is every inch the lion in winter, nothing here feels authentic.”
Even Connery himself admitted the film was poor, and reflected on it in a 2006 interview with The Times.
He said the film — alongside treatment for a kidney tumour — forced him into retirement from acting.
Connery continued: “I knew if I did [walked off set] it would never restart. The only one [Norrington] was scared of was me.
“He said, ‘Do you want to hit me?’ I said, ‘Don’t tempt me.’
“The experience had a great influence on me; it made me think about showbiz. And I have had other problems: people who raise money on me, then cut me out of it.”
This sped up the Scottish-born star’s motivation to quit acting, as he “got fed up dealing with idiots”.
He concluded: “There is a widening gap between those who know about movies and those who green-light movies.
“Then the s**t hits the fan. The one thing you can’t say in Hollywood is ‘I don’t know’.
“You appear in a film and then you realise the director has directed f*** all.”
In 2004, Connery was recognised as “The Greatest Living Scot” by the Sunday Herald.
Five years earlier, he was voted by PEOPLE magazine readers as the “Sexiest Man of the Century”.
He sadly passed away at his home in The Bahamas in 2020 aged 90.
The First Great Train Robbery airs today from 1.50pm on BBC Two.