Watching "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" last night, I happened to realize the actor playing King Théoden was none other than Bernard Hill, who also played Captain E.J. Smith in one of my favorite movies of all-time: "Titanic." During his performance, I also realized that Hill must fancy playing characters who end up looking like deer in the headlights...
As Captain Smith in "Titanic," he is instructed by Bruce Ismay to speed up the ship in order to quickly reach New York - to "surprise them all," "make the morning papers," and "go out with a bang." When the Titanic ends up slamming into an iceberg one night and he learns the "unsinkable" will founder, Smith ends up looking like a wandering zombie. He has a ship of thousands and a handful of lifeboats against a huge, frigid body of water. Once a seeming leader and director, he has become no more than a cowering child.
His performance as King Théoden in "The Two Towers" inspired my déjà vu. At the film's climactic "Battle of Helm's Deep," he leads 300 Rohirrim in defending a fortress sieged by 10,000 of Saruman's Uruk-hai. As I watched the awesome battle, I noticed the return of Théoden's deer in the headlights look and quickly thought back to "Titanic."
What is it about a role that pits leadership against an unconquerable force that appeals to Hill? Although these are the only two films in which I have seen Hill, I feel like I have seen the same character in the land of Rohan and the northern Atlantic - the same look - the same performance. Is Bernard Hill destined to go down in the books as "the fool" in all those movies? What an honor.