Family & Companions
Intense but gentle-looking British leading actor with wide, deep-set, blue eyes and a pensive, sometimes mournful quality, prominent in international films and TV. After brief experience in repertory theater, Powell played bits in films, but fame came when he acted a leading role in the TV series "Doomwatch" (BBC, 1970-71), a semi-rip-off of "Mission: Impossible" about a high-profile and secretive group of watchdog scientists. Powell then returned to features to play prominent roles in films like the fantasy "The Asphyx" (1972). A break came when he played the title role in Ken Russell's comparatively straightforward and handsomely wrought biopic of the sensitive, tormented composer "Mahler" (1973).
Powell achieved his widest visibility in the next few years. He was the protagonist's father in Russell's film of the Who's rock opera "Tommy" (1975). Powell ambitiously moved back to playing title characters himself when he made his US TV miniseries debut in Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977). Powell played other leading roles in TV (a weak remake of "The Four Feathers" 1978) and features (a dull revamp of Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" 1978), but played only a supporting role in the 1982 TV-movie version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
Interested in offbeat roles and challenging subjects, Powell subsequently focused on eclectic fare of a wide international scope. His dignified carriage suited him well in period pieces ranging from the New Zealand-made WWI drama "Chunuk Bair" (1992), to the syndicated miniseries "Shaka Zulu" (1986). Powell was also regularly cast as teachers and artists in roles calling on the cerebral passion of his Jesus and Mahler: a spiritually confused math professor in Krzysztof Zanussi's "Imperative" (1982), a fiery teacher trying to stage "Jane Austen in Manhattan" (1980), and the title poet of "D'Annunzio" (1986). Other roles, meanwhile, required both historical garb and impassioned sensitivity, as with his crazed choirmaster in a remake of Charles Dickens's last work, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (1993).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made first feature film appearances in bit parts in "Robbery" and "Far from the Madding Crowd"
Played breakthrough leading role on his TV series debut, the British drama series, "Doomwatch"
Early US TV credit, "Jude the Obscure", a six-part adaptation of Thomas Hardy's last novel which aired as a miniseries on PBS
Played one of the leading roles in the horror film, "The Asphyx", a British-US co-production
US TV-movie debut, "Lady Killer"
First full-fledged feature lead, playing the title role in Ken Russell's biographical film, "Mahler"
US TV miniseries debut, "Jesus of Nazareth", directed by Franco Zeffirelli; Powell played the title role
First film produced entirely outside the United Kingdom, "Al di la del bene e del male/Beyond Good and Evil", and Italian, French and West German co-production with English-language dialogue directed by Liliana Cavani
First feature credit produced entirely in the USA, "Secrets"
Returned to TV miniseries broadcast in the US with the syndicated "Shaka Zulu"
Narrated the PBS biography, "Pasternak", which combined newsreel footage with dramatizations in which Powell supplied the voice of the Russian author and poet