Bernard Hill did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying King Théoden in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Now how about the second film though. The second film follows the very strings of the story, but the one that actually gets the most focus depicts Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) as they attempt to help the human kingdom of Rohan fight against the evil hordes of Orcs brought down upon them by the evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee). A central figure in this story is that of the King of Rohan Théoden. Although to be sure he isn't at first when he is a slightly moving corpse who basically just gives out orders to make it so his own kingdom will fail since he is under the control of Saruman. Hill does not have much to do in these brief scenes for sure, but he certainly gets his chance to shine once Théoden regains control of himself.
When a King is a supporting character in a film they often are rather simplistic characters either being just kind of simple higher up good guys or bad guys. Bernard Hill deserve a great deal of credit for really making an honest character out of Théoden not just a place holder for power. Hill's work is one that I only appreciate more on additional viewings of this film as he brings so much to this part. What Hill does in the part is create the King as a real man, and what really what there is to the King as whole. When he regains his power it is a great scene for Hill as he goes from the living corpse to the King once more. It is a great scene because Hill naturally infuses into the part the inner strength and really the majesty there should be within a great King.
Of course immediately after that scene where Hill set up the strength of the King the tone quickly changes when Théoden asks to see his son who has recently been killed. Hill has a difficult scene as we did not know the son in any way and we just met Théoden so it very well could have fallen flat, but Hill absolutely delivers in the scene importantly bringing a great humanity to his role. It is a incredible scene not only due to Hill's heartbreaking reaction as he grieves over the death of his son, but as well in this brings a great deal of emotional weight to what will come through Hill's portrayal of Théoden feelings toward the conflict as the whole. There is such a haunting quality Hill brings as he regrets being the one who lives as the young dies and the world around him seems to be turning to darkness.
Hill continues to excel in the role by bringing depth to the part that very easily could have been overlooked. When Théoden makes his decision for his people to whole in the fortification of Helm's Deep this is not a decision that is just there to make the plot move forward rather Hill offers far more in the part realizing the duties of the King in his portrayal. These are not just skimmed over in an improper fashion by Hill he brings a great deal of heart in his performance and Hill always shows the devotion in Théoden to the welfare of his people. There is never a moment where the idea of being the King is that of just being a man of power to have power, what Hill really brings to life is the idea of the responsibility of the power, and Hill expresses this through his portrayal which is commanding yet always carries a certain empathy as well.
When Hill is the most important is in the central set piece of the film which is the battle of Helm's deep. With Mortensen needing to play the role of pretty much the leading action star and Bloom and Rhys-Davies being the killing machine comic reliefs it leaves Hill to be the one to to express what the battle really means throughout its course. Where as soon as the battle begins the others stay fairly consistent in manner Hill is excellent as he portrays the experience of the King in his battle that will either save or destroy his Kingdom. Hill is spellbinding in a scene just before the battle as Théoden asks one of his men if he will follow him to whatever end the battle might bring. Hill's expression conveys the heavy burden responsibility in Théoden, a doubt if he is worthy of such loyalty, and the fear of what may come from his leadership.
As the battle proceeds Hill acts as the face of the reality of the situation and is very effective as his honest portrayal of what the King goes through the experience of the decisive battle. At first with the hesitations but he moves toward confidence as it seems the battle is in his favor. This does not last long though as the battle continues. Hill in every act of battle allows us to see the seriousness of the situation even as the others are jumping head first into crowds of enemies or surf boarding shields. Hill makes Théoden always brings the power alive and makes it more than just a series of action scenes. He always brings the meaning to the moments and is especially powerful at the end of the battle as Hill shows the way the length of the fight has worn down Théoden. This makes it all the more inspiring as Théoden makes one last charge against the enemy. It is an amazing scene for Hill as he brings out the final strength of the King as he makes one final attempt to personally save his people.
I suppose I am committing some serious blasphemy when I say that Andy Serkis's performance as Gollum is not my favorite performance in this film, but even though I like that performance my favorite performance in that film and my favorite of the whole trilogy actually is Hill's portrayal of King Théoden. I just love this portrayal of a character that could have been so easily just brushed aside or been just a pretty unremarkable character. Bernard Hill gives a great performance that doesn't simply any aspect of his performance making Théoden a fully fleshed character and a remarkable look into the mind of this King. Hill brings a true poignancy in his performance giving the gravitas needed for each of his scenes, and his delivery of Théoden's speeches are some of the best moments in the film.