The Crown Episode 9 review: Assassins features John Lithgow’s best performance yet

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Churchill is, in essence, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma, obscured further by both cigar smoke and the weight of his own legend – meaning there’s a lot of pressure on a series like The Crown in terms of their depiction of him.

As is characteristic of The Crown, though, it elects for a hagiography. True, Churchill is depicted as an anachronistic throwback of an earlier time, grappling with his increasing irrelevancy and the realisation he needs to take a step back from the role that has come to define him.

In many ways, it’s an excellent episode; it’s got some of The Crown’s most subtle and intelligent writing of the series, and surely John Lithgow’s best performance as Churchill yet. And yet there’s something about it that still feels quite reductive, because The Crown again refuses to engage with anything other than a wholly positive depiction of its characters – there’s no room for subtlety, as ever.

Yeah, this was quite good. But it’s also disappointing in the context of the series at large – a series that was unfailingly positive in its depiction of individuals who were rather more complex than that, and a series that never seemed particularly interested in giving Elizabeth, its supposed main character, an episode on this level.

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Veep: A presidential showcase for Julia Louis-Dreyfus

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There’s a biting satirical edge running throughout Veep, carried perfectly by Louis-Dreyfus; hers is a powerful and unrelenting performance, always perfectly pitched and with an expert understanding of exactly what will make a scene come alive. Of course, Louis-Dreyfus is lucky to be working alongside similarly talented co-stars – any of her scenes with Timothy Simons’ Jonah are a particular delight – but it’s always clear who the show revolves around, and who makes it work quite so well. It’s difficult to imagine Veep without Louis-Dreyfus, or who could have taken her place – it’s unlikely that there’s anyone else who could have made Selina Meyer such a wickedly funny character. 

I love Veep. It’s one of my favourite comedies ever. And, featuring a drastically incompetent president, it feels somewhat relevant nowadays.

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The Crown Episode 8 review: The Absence of Noise shows a more human Elizabeth

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Here we’re presented with a vision of Elizabeth as a character who’s always trying to meet the ideal of the crown, holding herself to an impeccably high standard – but for the first time, we see it slip. And that’s both fascinating in terms of the character, and hugely significant for the drama; it’s one of the rare moments in which we see what lies behind the mask (or under the crown, if you will).

What makes it so effective, though, is the contrast presented between Elizabeth and Margaret, with another tour de force performance from both Vanessa Kirby and Claire Foy. The two sisters are caught in each other’s orbit, each jealous of the other – and there’s a vein of snarky bitterness running throughout, which allows both characters to really sing. Here, after all this time, we’re getting to see Elizabeth as flawed.

Picking up on the idea introduced in Gelignite, The Crown here continues to depict Elizabeth as unwilling to share the spotlight. It’s a fascinating idea – a slight thread of arrogance, creeping in at the edges, as the young monarch becomes just as much an extension of the institution as everyone around her. Indeed, it also raises a topic that the series has danced around for some time now – just how much should we care about these people anyway?

I suspect that in a lot of these reviews I’m coming across as someone with a particularly personal disdain for the monarchy in general. I’m not – or at least, I wasn’t until I watched The Crown!

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What will TV & Film look like under President Trump?

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It happens with every new president – the sort of social change that prompts an evolution of the cultural zeitgeist, and a reappraisal of how we approach our entertainment. Tracking it backwards, you can see these shifts across presidencies develop, often quite starkly – most obvious is perhaps 24 during the Bush years, a programme directly influenced by both 9/11 and that administration’s response to it.

Trump the man has always lived his life flitting around the edges of the silver screen; guest appearances as himself on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Home Alone 2, and most notably his years as host of The Apprentice, are all demonstrative of a man who’s largely been defined by his media presence. But as Trump the president prepares to take to the big stage, it’ll be interesting to see just how the world of media begins to treat him; certainly, it’s clear enough that opinion is far from favourable, with satirists John Oliver, Trevor Noah & Samantha Bee regularly criticising Trump, while Meryl Streep recently gave an impassioned speech denouncing him. The question posed, then, is this: how will this affect the media we consume, and the art that we view?

A longer article, and one I’m quite pleased with. I suspect I might return to it at varying intervals, actually; certainly, it’ll be worth another look in four years time to consider how the arts have responded to 6 months of Trump and 3 and a half years of Mike Pence.

(That joke aged poorly, evidently. I did just give the article a brief skim-read; it’s a little superficial, in all the ways you’d expect, but it’s not bad either. Very clearly shaped by the discourse of late 2016, but it could’ve been worse. Came close to predicting Roseanne, or at least the logic that lead to it. Well, maybe not predicting.)

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The Crown Episode 7 review: The Cold War is brewing but ignored in Scientia Potentia Est

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Yes, it’s clear enough what the episode is trying to say – despite the lack of formal education and a clear lack of confidence, Elizabeth does in fact have the ability to stand her ground and hold her own with these elder statesmen. But is that quite the right message to send? After all, it is essentially validating the education she received – a final note to turn around and say “well, actually”, dismissing Elizabeth’s well-founded grievances about her lack of schooling.

In many ways, it’s actually quite bleak; ever since her youth, Elizabeth has been groomed for one specific role in mind, limited and curtailed and most of all controlled. It’s perhaps not that different from breeding animals, depending on the comparisons you want to make. For a while it’s criticised, but then finally excused. It’s okay because it works. It doesn’t matter what happened to her, because the eventual aim is achieved.

This episode, I’d argue, is the one most diminished by The Crown’s abject refusal to admit to any flaws the Monarchy may have. It’s the only one that even comes close to launching a meaningful critique of the institution – before going on to make some fumbled apologies and continue glorifying them. For all that Peter Morgan can insist he “wants his independence”, it’s hardly apparent here.

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The Crown Episode 6 review: Gelignite finally allows the drama to breathe

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And, indeed, no series has been so convinced of its own self-worth, nor so focused on its place within the bigger picture.

You can tell that Gelignite is an episode with one eye on the future; the depiction of the press in this episode is undoubtedly set to be contrasted with that which eventually handles the story of Diana and Charles, whenever that eventually appears. As much as this episode works on its – and it must be said that it does – own, it quite clearly wants to be part of something larger.

However, Gelignite is also the first episode that has genuinely felt as though The Crown could be deserving of these awards – the one that’s justified the self-worth it wears so openly on its sleeve.

Another contender for my favourite episode; not, as with Act of God, because it wasn’t very good – rather because it was the first one that showed real potential, and some genuine character development. Not really a good thing that’s only being said of the sixth episode in a series of ten, mind you.

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4 Sherlock easter eggs you might not have noticed in The Final Problem

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With what could well be the final episode of Sherlock, we’ve been given one last chance to exercise our observational skills – to put into practice the science of deduction.

As we moved from one thrilling set piece to another, there was plenty to spot – but it’s understandable if you were caught up in the drama.

Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered. Here are four easter eggs you may not have noticed in The Final Problem.

(Be warned – there are some spoilers for The Final Problem throughout this article.)

The final of my three Metro Sherlock articles, which is quite a good one, I reckon.

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Was The Final Problem the perfect last episode for Sherlock?

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In many ways, yes. Most immediately, it’s clear that The Final Problem was dedicated to ensuring that all the best aspects of Sherlock got their moment to shine; in that regard, no stone was left unturned. Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson – even Moriarty got to return, bringing with him the same frenetic energy that characterised the show in its early days. There were plenty of classic Sherlock rug pulls too; look at how it was revealed that the prison governor was under Eurus’ control for an example of the quiet intelligence that has always characterised the show. With The Final Problem we got an episode that was as tense and engaging as The Great Game, as intimate as A Scandal in Belgravia, and as intelligent as The Reichenbach Fall – surely this is an episode that, even in its own right, would go down as a classic in Sherlock’s history?

More than that, though genuinely felt as though this was an episode dedicated to completing the story we’ve seen unfold for years – note the call backs to The Great Game and The Abominable Bride, and the subtle allusions to A Scandal in Belgravia. There’s something almost holistic about the construction of this episode, drawing together the sum total of the programme’s almost decade long history, and concentrating it into one 90-minute story.

An article I wrote immediately after The Final Problem ended. Broadly speaking, I do actually stand by it still; The Final Problem was far, far from perfect, and better critics than I have already done a good job explaining the flaws inherent within it. However, I’ll always maintain that as an episode, it was an excellent conclusion to this seven-year journey.

Plus, I finally used “holistic” in an article, so I’m reasonably pleased regardless.

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The Crown Episode 5 review: Smoke and Mirrors finally introduces a little more subtlety

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Here we see The Crown begin to introduce a little more subtlety, in a move away from its prior style of outlining themes in great detail – and it does so by placing greater faith in the ability of its stars, namely Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and Alex Jennings.

Certainly, it’s an improvement on previous instalments. True, there are still moments of cloying transparency, as characters are still inclined to overexplain just what exactly is going on; Jennings’ Duke of Windsor feels the need to note to no one at all but the audience that, as he’s no longer King, he must go to meet others rather than vice versa, while a footsman hammers home the point that Elizabeth owns the crown now, and so on and so forth. Thankfully such instances are few and far between, however, as The Crown allows meaning to be shaped by the unspoken actions of its stars.

Indeed, much of the spine of this episode centred around a single unspoken action – of Philip kneeling to Elizabeth, and what this represented. There’s an interesting tension there; for all that Philip speaks of a desire to modernise the monarchy, there are certain patriarchal impulses he can’t quite shake off. It helps add a further layer of nuance to the character, and it’s carried wonderfully by Matt Smith.

I don’t actually have a lot of additional commentary to add here. This one was, actually, reasonably good. If the whole show had been like that, I’d have been a lot more positive about it.

But it wasn’t.

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The Crown Episode 4 review: Act of God is a poor man’s West Wing in 1950s England

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Accordingly, then, at times it feels as though it lacks nuance or subtlety – from discussions of Elizabeth’s duty to, in this case, deliberations on Churchill’s age and efficacy, it often appears very surface level. And, arguably speaking, it is – while there’s a lot going on, the workings of the drama are laid open and entirely clear for all to see.

Here, then, it’s very clear what’s going on – the death of Venetia Scott (Kate Philips) was telegraphed early, and entirely unsurprising when the moment came. It’s one of the few attempts on behalf of the episode to actually ground the story in terms of the impact of the smog on the public, rather than political infighting or royal squabbles.

And yet it was largely ineffective – not least because it was little more than a cheap fridging, as The Crown here falls into the old trope of killing a female character to develop a male one. It’s particularly lazy writing, made all the more evident by The Crown’s tendency to wear its themes on its sleeve.

This episode, man. Possibly the most irritating of them all, because it managed to be the one that was both the most engaging and the most exemplary of all the show’s problems. Arguably it’s my favourite – not because it’s good, but because it’d be very easy to write about. I could go on about this at length. It’s probably a good thing that CultBox tends to put a 500-word limit on these reviews, because otherwise I’d have written thousands.

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