Anthony Hopkins did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man.
Treves technically speaking does have to become the purely good doctor which is his arc in the film. It is not there is anything wrong with him, but rather he has a fairly fast realization that Merrick should be treated just like any other man without exception. Hopkins though is very good though in this rather short journey that starts out as Treves first happens upon Merrick who he technically uses for his own purposes as an academic. Hopkins is good though by positing how the sympathy works in Treves. Hopkins very much sells the emotional power of seeing a man like Merrick and how it affects Treves.
Hopkins early on though portrays the sympathy that Treves has as very much real but perhaps not fully thought out in terms of what sort of sympathy he has. It is not the sympathy of one many plight but almost for the plight of an animal instead. Hopkins importantly does not make this as something Treves is doing for any malice, but simply he portrays it as having not had the point of realization that Merrick is a man and should be treated as such. Treves quickly finds that Merrick should not be treated in such a way and Hopkins's performance does very much show a truly good man in Treves.
Hopkins is excellent in being a truly good man in Treves and there is a great deal of power in his reactions to Merrick throughout the film. When Merrick finally speaks John Hurt is very emotional as Merrick even in a modest fashion, Hopkins is left to react to what Merrick is experiencing as well as find how Treves feels about his whole relationship with Merrick. Hopkins is very good though in being the face of a man who genuinely cares about Merrick. It is a powerful empathy that Hopkins conveys and he only succeeds in adding emotional weight to the scenes as well as helps amplifies the power of Hurt's performance.
Hopkins does not just support Hurt though as he is lead as as well because the full extent of his Merrick on his life is reflected in his own personal scenes. Treves expresses sorrow for having used Merrick himself in his own way comparing himself to the freak show host. The idea that the already good Treves would accuse himself as being a terrible man himself is made entirely believable and more important understandable through Hopkins's performance. He shows the shame Treves feels in honest fashion and shows his personal struggle to deal with Merrick the right way in an unassuming yet poignant fashion.
Anthony Hopkins performance as doctor Treves is an excellent example of an actor making the most of what could easily be a fairly simplistic character. Hopkins does this by firstly finding what is great in the simplicity and always showing the goodness of his character in an earnest way that succeeds in bringing a warmth and tenderness to the film. He as well though takes the complexities that are in the role uses them to make an in depth view of this man. Treves could have easily been a completely bland or forgettable character but Hopkins makes him an essential facet to this film.