Actor John Hurt, who is playing Tory MP Alan Clark in a BBC Four drama, has said controversial 1960s MP Enoch Powell was "misunderstood".
Hurt stars as the flamboyant MP Alan Clark
Hurt told the Radio Times he did not believe the MP was being racist when he warned of "rivers of blood" over immigration in a 1968 speech.
"I don't think he was being racist about immigrants," Hurt said.
Mr Powell was banished from the shadow cabinet after his speech, condemned by church leaders and MPs.
But Hurt said he thought the MP had been unfairly tarnished because of his views.
"I think he was just, at the time, saying 'we can't afford to have any more'," the actor said.
"Anyway, we've had a heck of a lot more and in many ways we've handled it badly, but the minute you say something like that, people are ready to jump on you."
Hurt, who portrays Mr Clark in the forthcoming The Alan Clark Dairies, said he was a "new liberal" but respected Powell because he had stuck to his views instead of pretending to support publicly acceptable policies.
In his speech Mr Powell called for immigration quotas to be scaled back to "negligible" proportions and also wanted immigrants repatriated.
"I've been hauled over the coals for supporting Enoch. He was another very bright man and I don't think he was being racist about immigrants.
"I am not a Powellist - I just think people's understanding of Powell was too glib and that people with half his intelligence were accusing him," the actor said.
Mr Clark was another Tory MP who fended off accusations of racism, after calling Africa "bongo-bongo land".