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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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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