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The Times (15/Jan/2013) - Jon Finch



Jon Finch

Jon Finch was one of Britain's foremost film actors in the 1970s and probably remains best known for his performance in the title role in Roman Polanski's controversial, blood-soaked version of Macbeth (1971). Polanski made it not long after the murder of his wife Sharon Tate by Charles Manson's followers and it seemed to reflect his tormented state of mind at the time.

The film catapulted Finch into the limelight and he went on to a string of other major roles. Darkly handsome, with classic good looks and a brooding intensity, Finch could be hero or villain or suitably ambiguous, a quality exploited by Alfred Hitchcock when he cast him as the murder suspect in his penultimate feature film, Frenzy (1972).

By the end of the decade Finch was rubbing shoulders with Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, David Niven and Maggie Smith in the glossy Agatha Christie whodunnit Death on the Nile (1978). But Finch himself eschewed stardom and media attention.

He reputedly turned down the chance to play James Bond when Sean Connery retired for a second time after Diamonds are Forever (1971) and the role went to Roger Moore. He also turned down the role of Doyle in the TV series The Professionals (1977-83). The character was played by Martin Shaw.

The list of films which Finch might have been in is almost as impressive as the list of films in which he did appear. He was cast as the crewman Kane in Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien and actually started filming it, but had to pull out after he became ill. He had learnt that he had diabetes not long beforehand. John Hurt took over the role, famous for the scene in which the baby alien bursts through his chest. Finch would eventually work with Ridley Scott a quarter of a century later on the Crusader adventure Kingdom of Heaven (2005). It turned out to be Finch's last film.

Although he avoided publicity, he did enjoy the fast life, quite literally -- driving racing cars and parachuting. Latterly he lived alone in Hastings in Sussex. He had been ill recently and his body was found in his flat after friends and family became concerned that they had not heard from him.

The son of a banker, he was born in Caterham in Surrey in 1942. He acted in school and amateur dramatics, served in The Parachute Regiment and then as an SAS reservist. He gained further acting experience in repertory theatre.

In the mid-1960s he began to secure parts in television. He appeared in various series and plays, including Crossroads and Z-Cars, and he had a starring role in the science-fiction series Counterstrike (1969), as a benevolent alien who comes to Earth to protect it from more hostile visitors.

In 1970 he had major roles in two Hammer horror films, The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein, before playing Macbeth in Polanski's celebrated Shakespearean adaptation.

Just 15 months earlier, Polanski's heavily pregnant wife had been slaughtered in their Los Angeles villa by the deranged disciples of Charles Manson. His approach to Shakespeare's tragedy, with its treachery, madness and the slaughter of a family in their own home, was a highly personal one.

Scripted by Kenneth Tynan, financed largely by Playboy and shot in Northumberland, Snowdonia and Shepperton, the film featured a suitably dark performance from Finch, full of incipient violence, and a famous nude sleepwalking scene from Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth.

Finch also had a small role in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) and he went on to star in Frenzy as a bitter former RAF pilot suspected of a series of characteristically grisly murders in which the murder weapon was a tie. It was Hitchcock's first film in Britain for many years. Dismissed as a minor work at the time, its reputation has grown over the years.

Finch played the cuckolded British statesman Lord Melbourne in Robert Bolt's Lady Caroline Lamb (1973), with Sarah Miles as the unfaithful wife and Richard Chamberlain as her lover Lord Byron. In The Final Programme (1973) he played a man whose dead father has left behind the secret of a perfect human being that can reproduce itself. It is a strange, oddly haunting film that has developed a minor cult reputation.

He played Bolingbroke, who becomes King Henry IV, in the BBC television adaptations of Richard II (1978), with Derek Jacobi as Richard II and John Gielgud as John of Gaunt, and in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (1979). He seemed equally at home in TV as film; supporting roles as much as starring parts. His casting brought with it an undeniable screen presence and he was Christ in the mini-series The Martin Chronicles (1980).

He returned to Shakespeare as Don Pedro in a TV version of Much Ado About Nothing (1984), but by that time his best work was behind him. He was Uncle Tom in the BBC adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's The Rainbow (1988), but in later years he was most often to be seen in guest roles in series such as The Bill (1990), Maigret (1993) and New Tricks (2003). In Kingdom of Heaven he played the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

In the 1980s he had been married to the actress Catriona MacColl. The marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by a daughter.

Jon Finch, actor, was born on March 2, 1942. He died on December 28, 2012, aged 70