Robert Powell was a guest speaker at the Art in Marylebone exhibition in London in 2010. An excellent opportunity to listen to ‘Jesus’ (his most famous role) mingle with the followers and philistines, collect a ‘graph and have a vino or three.
Robert had a distinguished TV career with forays into film including the title role in Ken Russell’s Mahler (1974) and Captain Walker in Tommy (1975). As Tommy’s father, he had no lines and appeared mostly in dream sequences. In one such sequence he is seen in a crucifixion pose, a rehearsal for his role as Christ in Jesus of Nazareth (1977) which immediately followed. It was directed by the legendary Franco Zeffirelli as a two part TV film and co-starred Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Rod Steiger and James Mason. Robert received a BAFTA nomination for his performance. He also spent some time in New Zealand filming Chunuk Bair, based on Maurice Shadbolt’s play about the Wellington Regiment taking and holding Chunuk Bair hill on the Gallipoli peninsula during WWI. He played the lead role, Sgt Maj Frank Smith.
I spoke with Robert after his speech about the film. In 1990 I played ‘Scruffy’ in Jonathan Tucker’s moving production of Once on Chunuk Bair, for Invercargill Repertory, my first role for the society and it still remains my favourite. I had drawn a quick sketch of him as Jesus and he was happy to sign it. As there was still plenty of wine, he wasn’t required to perform any miracle.