Sir Michael Caine has announced his retirement from acting – bringing down the curtain on a glittering career that took him from the fishmarkets of London to Hollywood stardom via one unforgettable car chase in Turin.
The enigmatic star of stage and screen, whose seven-decade career spanned 160 films and a handful of iconic roles, said he would bow out on a high following glowing reviews of his final film, the Oliver Parker-directed The Great Escaper.
Released earlier this month, the British film is based on true events and features Sir Michael as Bernie Jordan, a Second World War veteran who sneaks out of his care home and boards a ferry to attend the 70th-anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Though his performance has been widely praised, Sir Michael, who grew up in southeast London in the wake of the Second World War as the son of a fish market porter, has spoken of his decision not to pursue any further roles and end his film acting career on a high.
“I keep saying I’m going to retire. Well, I am now,” he said on Saturday (14 October) in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He added: “I’ve figured, I’ve had a picture where I’ve played the lead and it’s got incredible reviews.
“The only parts I’m liable to get now are 90-year-old men. Or maybe 85,” he joked to presenter Martha Kearney. “So I thought, I might as well leave with all this. I’ve got wonderful reviews. What am I going to do to beat this?”
Referring to himself and director Oliver Parker, the Italian Job star continued: “We had a great time on the movie, and I thought, why not leave now?”
He added: “You don’t have leading men at 90, you’re going to have young handsome boys and girls.”
Since his first film role in 1950, Sir Michael has starred in at least 160 films and has won several accolades, including Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in 1986 (Hannah and Her Sisters) and 1999 (The Cider House Rules).
Elsewhere in the conversation, the actor discussed how he’d considered himself retired before accepting the role in The Great Escaper, but was convinced to act again due to the quality of the script.
“The character of Bernie is an old cockney soldier, which, funnily enough, I am,” Sir Michael explained. “He fought in the Second World War, I fought in the Korean war, so it’s an entirely different frame of mind, but the same really.
“I’d retired when was sent the script – I’d turned it down three times. But I kept falling in love with him every time I read it, and so I did it.”
In The Independent’s review of The Great Escaper, critic Clarisse Loughrey noted Sir Michael’s more understated moments as a highlight of the film as a whole.
“Caine, as Bernie, allows his natural, domineering presence to carry most of the performance. But there are times when Parker’s camera will settle quietly on his features, as Caine scans the Normandy ocean, lost in the place that changed him and scarred him in so many ways. We feel his sorrow, certainly, but Caine allows the briefest flash of terror to dance across his eyes – it’s as if he never left these beaches.”