Oss Ackland’s refined demeanor, inherent confidence, and background in English theater ensured a steady stream of roles on both stage and screen. He often portrayed figures of authority and those in the establishment, although his later film roles in the 1990s and 2000s had a tinge of irony and satire to them, much to his displeasure.
As I grew older, I only knew of him through his smooth and pleasant voice, which reminded me of melted butterscotch. He appeared in many TV commercials, speaking with an elegant and slightly mischievous tone, similar to a news anchor or bishop who appreciated the taste of fine wine or a good cigar.
Ackland’s standout performance was in Michael Radford’s intense and unsettling 1987 film, White Mischief. Set in the “Happy Valley” during the Thatcher era, the film has since been considered for a revival. Ackland’s performance earned him a Bafa nomination and also brought attention to the stunningly attractive Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi. Hugh Grant also had a minor role. While Ackland played a supporting character and may have been overshadowed by the younger, eye-catching stars, he still delivered a powerful and impactful performance.
He was known as Sir Jock Delves Broughton, a prominent member of the group of wealthy British expats living in Kenya during World War II. These individuals had a leisurely lifestyle, but were bored and disillusioned with colonialism. They made a handsome income from farming, but spent their days drinking, doing drugs, and having affairs. Their hedonistic behavior was made even more decadent by their apparent disregard for their country’s wartime efforts thousands of miles away. Sir Jock’s wife is the beautiful and high-strung Diana (played by Greta Scacchi), who entered into their marriage with the understanding that she could have extramarital affairs. She is currently involved in a passionate and erotic affair with Josslyn Hay, the Earl of Erroll (played by Dance).
Ackland’s character, Jock, is a pitiful and sorrowful individual who is also considered despicable and dishonorable. He is forced to hide his true emotions and act as though he is unaffected, but in reality, he is consumed with anger. This ultimately leads to aggressive behavior and a dramatic showdown with Diana. The scene is memorable and concludes with a stunning twist. Ackland portrays the role of an establishment figure who despises himself for going against the traditional English code of not making a scene. He also resents his wife for pushing him to do so. Ackland’s performance was flawless.
Ackland was capable of portraying characters from different social classes, including lower-class individuals. In the 1971 film Villain, directed by Michael Tuchner, he played a small but impactful role as a criminal in the same vein as the infamous Kray brothers. His character had to navigate relationships with both fellow criminals and law enforcement, with Ackland portraying a subservient criminal who teams up with TP McKenna’s high-ranking mobster. Ackland was part of a prestigious group of British actors who were trained in classical acting techniques and brought depth and sophistication to films such as this one.
Ackland’s fans admire him for his striking performance in the British horror film The House that Dripped Blood, released in 1970. The movie is a collection of stories, in which Ackland stars alongside Peter Cushing, and centers around his character’s unhealthy fixation on a wax museum exhibit, ultimately resulting in a disturbing ending.
Ackland bravely accepted some film roles that were not of the highest quality, as he himself acknowledged. He portrayed Matisse in James Ivory’s disturbing “Surviving Picasso” alongside Anthony Hopkins, and also appeared in two Demi Moore films despite reportedly not having a high opinion of her acting skills.
He had a talent for portraying foreign accents with clever humor and enthusiasm, and was convincingly cast as the Soviet ambassador in John McTernan’s film The Hunt for Red October, alongside Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in 1990. He also portrayed a Russian character, the Soviet defense minister, in Kathryn Bigelow’s K19: The Widowmaker.
In the film Lethal Weapon 2, Joss Ackland played the role of Arlen Rudd, a deceitful politician from South Africa. Later on, younger viewers came to know Ackland for his portrayal of Chuck De Nomolos, a quirky teacher turned terrorist from the future in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. De Nomolos held a grudge against the easygoing protagonists of the film.
Ackland was the model English character actor who probably found his best work on the stage or on television but had a robust career in the movies — and his Sir Jock Delves Broughton was a mighty achievement, exposing the hypocrisy and wretchedness in Britain’s entitled upper classes.