That Finch never achieved the level of stardom that was anticipated may be attributed to his dislike of the kind of media publicity that goes with it and his self-proclaimed lack of ambition. "I never wanted to be a big star," Finch once said. "I usually do one film a year, so I always have enough money to enjoy myself and keep myself out of the public eye. It's a very pleasant life, not one of great ambition." Actually, leaving aside the great expectations, Finch's career was a reasonably successful one by normal standards.
Finch was born in Caterham, Surrey, the son of a merchant banker. He first started acting at school, later gaining experience in amateur theatre groups. After serving in a parachute regiment during his military service, he joined an SAS reserve regiment. "I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the SAS and I'm still very proud of having been a member," he recalled. "But eventually I had to leave because I was becoming more and more involved in the theatre and the SAS demands most of your weekends and several nights a week."
Finch had started acting professionally with several different repertory companies around the UK before he got a part in Crossroads, the popular daytime soap, during its first run in 1964. Finch then appeared in Z-Cars (1967-68) and in 10 episodes of Counterstrike (1969), a short-lived BBC sci-fi series about an alien (Finch) sent to Earth to save it from extinction.
His film career began in two hammy Hammer horrors, The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein (both 1970). Polanski, who had made his own comic horror movie, The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), thought Finch had the credentials to play Macbeth.
There were those who thought it in bad taste that Polanski made a film of the most blood-soaked of all Shakespeare's plays just two years after his wife, Sharon Tate, had been murdered by the followers of Charles Manson. Finch and Francesca Annis, as the Macbeths, were impressively youthful, tortured and impassioned.
Equally outraged and baffled as a bitter ex-RAF hero down on his luck, Finch subtly avoided the temptation to be sympathetic as "the wrong man" accused of being the "neck-tie strangler" in Frenzy, Hitchcock's first film shot in England for 16 years.
He was quietly authoritative as the cuckolded politician Lord Melbourne in Robert Bolt's Lady Caroline Lamb (1973), in a role that had first been offered to Timothy Dalton, a future James Bond. Around the same time, Finch declined the Bond offer, as well as one from Richard Lester to play Aramis in The Three Musketeers. He preferred real-life derring-do – motor racing and parachuting.
But in 1976, Finch discovered that he had diabetes. A few years later, he remarked: "I am over all the trauma of it now and, apart from motor racing, parachuting and a few other things, I can still do what I want. I have plenty of energy for the parts I play and I just thank God for the discovery of insulin, otherwise I'd be dead."
Although he turned down the part of Doyle (eventually taken by Martin Shaw) in London Weekend's The Professionals (1977), claiming curiously that he "couldn't possibly play a policeman," Finch continued to appear regularly on television and in films. These included Death on the Nile (1978), based on Agatha Christie, in which he played a Marxist who resents the wealth of some of the other suspects. However, he had to drop out when he fell ill on the first day of filming of Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and was replaced by John Hurt.
Regarded by Finch as the highlight of his career was his powerful portrayal of Henry Bolingbroke in Richard II (1978), and Henry IV (parts one and two) (1979) in the BBC's Shakespeare History Cycle. He was later a nobly played and spoken Don Pedro in the BBC's Much Ado About Nothing (1984).
In 1980, Finch married the actor Catriona MacColl, with whom he co-starred in a minor Spanish film, Power Game (1983). They divorced in 1987. Finch was seen in various television series throughout the 90s. His last film role was as the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven (2005); in which he finally got to work for Ridley Scott.
Finch is survived by his daughter, Holly.
• Jon Finch, actor, born 2 March 1942; found dead 28 December 2012