Bernard Hill’s career in 10 roles, from Titanic to Lord of the Rings

Actor died on Sunday at the age of 79

Louis Chilton
Sunday 05 May 2024 17:00 BST
Bernard Hill: Actor's most memorable scenes after death aged 79

British actor Bernard Hill died on Sunday (5 May) at the age of 79.

Best remembered for his role as the benevolent King Théoden of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Hill made a lasting impression on viewers throughout his career in film and television.

After breaking through with a key role in Alan Bleasdale’s seminal kitchen-sink drama Boys from the Blackstuff, Hill went on to feature in a number of prominent projects on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s a breakdown of Hill’s career, and the roles that defined him.

Sergeant Putnam – Gandhi

Gandhi wasn’t Hill’s first film role, but it was his first one of note, playing the small part of Sergeant Putnam in Richard Attenborough’s award-winning biopic.

Yosser Hughes Boys from the Blackstuff

Hill’s breakthrough role came in the acclaimed drama Boys from the Blackstuff, playing Yosser Hughes, a Liverpudlian man who unravels when confronted with the injustice of the British welfare system. His catchphrase, “gizza job”, was one of the most iconic and widely recognisable lines of dialogue of the era.

Bernard Hill as Yosser Hughes in Boys From The Blackstuff
Bernard Hill as Yosser Hughes in Boys From The Blackstuff (PA Media)

Doctor David Hawthorne – The Ghost and the Darkness

Hill starred opposite Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas in this historical thriller, in which two lions terrorise a Kenyan community in the late 19th century. Hill meets a grisly fate in the film, which in 1996 was his highest-profile film role to date.

Joe Bradshaw – Shirley Valentine

Hill drew acclaim for playing Joe Bradshaw, the husband of Pauline Collins’s titular Shirley, in this 1989 film adapted from a play by Willy Russell. The film told the story of a middle-aged Scouse homemaker who has an extramarital affair.

Bernard Hill and Pauline Collins in ‘Shirley Valentine'
Bernard Hill and Pauline Collins in ‘Shirley Valentine' (Paramount)

Captain Edward Smith –Titanic

Hill memorably played the role of the ship’s captain in James Cameron’s record-breaking disaster movie Titanic. He later confessed he was surprised by the film’s runaway success. “It didn’t seem iconic from my point of view,” he told Metro. “I know others on the cast don’t see it like that. It was kind of a group thing. A small budget film, everybody really liked each other and there was no strain. It was quite intimate.”

Luther Plunkitt True Crime

Hill gave a compelling supporting turn in Clint Eastwood’s 1999 thriller True Crime, playing Luther Plunkitt, the warden of San Quentin prison who begins to suspect that inmate Frank Beechum (Isaiah Washington) may be an innocent man. Reflecting on the experience, he later recalled: “[Eastwood is] a considerate director; he knows how actors think and he’s massively quiet on the set and he’s got a gentle way in which he approaches the directing.”

Théoden, King of Rohan – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

When we first meet Théoden in Peter Jackson’s fantasy epic, he is a shell of a man, diminished by the poison of the evil wizard Saruman. His character’s arc, from a timid king to a noble, warrior hero, is one of the most uplifting in the entire saga making Théoden a fan favourite for good reason. Hill’s performance is rich in both gravitas and pathos, while his delivery of the line, “Where was Gondor when the Westfold fell?” is still widely mimicked (and memed) by fans to this day.

Hill as King Theoden in ‘Lord of the Rings'
Hill as King Theoden in ‘Lord of the Rings' (New Line)

The Duke of Norfolk –Wolf Hall

One of Hill’s most prominent later roles came in the serialised Hilary Mantel adaptation Wolf Hall, in which he played Thomas Howard, the duke of Norfolk. In the well-received series, Hill’s character was the uncle of Anne Boleyn and a sworn enemy of Cardinal Wolsey.

Judge Hopkins – Paranorman

To children, Hill’s biggest character may be the undead Judge Hopkins, who reigns over the cursed zombies in the dark 2012 kids’ animation ParaNorman. His voice work for the stop-motion film made him one of the movie’s standouts.

The Judge, voiced by Bernard Hill in ‘ParaNorman'
The Judge, voiced by Bernard Hill in ‘ParaNorman' (Universal)

Father Robert Greaves – Unforgotten

The actor revisited his real-life catholic roots to portray a priest and murder suspect in the layered crime drama Unforgotten. “If you’re playing a priest, the worst thing you can do is to play a priest,” he mused at the time. “I think priests are like that anyway. The priests that you get on with, it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing. They don’t go around saying, I’m a priest.”

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