Performer of the Week: Imelda Staunton

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Performer of the Week: Imelda Staunton
Performer of the Week: Imelda Staunton

THE PERFORMER | Imelda Staunton

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THE SHOW | The Crown

THE EPISODE | “Sleep, Dearie Sleep” (Dec. 14, 2023)

THE PERFORMANCE | Queen Elizabeth may wear the titular crown, but she often took a backseat throughout the six seasons of Netflix’s royal drama, ceding the spotlight to more dynamic characters like her own sister Margaret and Princess Diana. In the series finale, though, Elizabeth took her rightful place on the throne, with Staunton bringing a stunning vulnerability to the monarch as she contemplated her own mortality.

Elizabeth’s staff wanted to make plans for her eventual funeral, and though the queen approached the task with a brisk efficiency, Staunton let us see that the idea of her own death was hitting Elizabeth hard, letting her eyes gaze into the distance and pursing her lips to convey the queen’s pensive melancholy. Elizabeth took charge when Charles asked her permission to marry Camilla, with Staunton embodying a regal authority as Elizabeth stood up to a collection of disapproving church bishops. Her thoughts were still elsewhere, though, and when she called in the royal bagpiper to suggest a song for her funeral, Staunton let Elizabeth’s sadness and fear glide across her face while she listened to him play, her eyes glistening with tears as she maintained a stiff upper lip.

Elizabeth began thinking of stepping down from the throne and handing the kingdom over to her son Charles, and she got a visit from Olivia Colman’s younger Elizabeth, telling her it’s “the right thing to do.” But later, as Elizabeth prepared to make an announcement at Charles’ wedding reception, she was visited by her even younger self, played by Claire Foy, who scolded her for even considering such a thing. It was here that Staunton allowed a strong quake of emotion to enter Elizabeth’s voice, as she asked her younger self what happened to “the woman I put aside when I became Queen.” That woman is “gone now,” though, she was told, and Elizabeth ultimately scrapped the announcement and remained as queen — though she managed to fit in a few cheeky jokes during her speech at the reception, we should note.

Emotions ran high as the series reached its final moments, with Elizabeth walking through the church by herself, and then flanked by her two younger selves. Staunton’s face was brimming with feeling but still steadfast as Elizabeth walked past an imaginary coffin with her crown and scepter atop it. (An especially poignant moment, knowing that the real Queen Elizabeth passed away just last year.) Staunton’s work on The Crown was never a showy dramatic performance, because Elizabeth was not a showy dramatic person. But through tiny gestures and soul-baring moments, she built a majestically realized portrait of a woman who unfailingly did her duty and undoubtedly left her mark on history.

Scroll down to see who scored Honorable Mention shout-outs this week…

HONORABLE MENTION: Lauren E. Banks

HONORABLE MENTION: Lauren E. Banks
HONORABLE MENTION: Lauren E. Banks

Lawmen: Bass Reeves’ Jennie is the Paramount+ series’ unsung hero, thanks to Lauren E. Banks’ warm, grounded performance as the titular U.S. marshal’s wife. And that’s why, in the season finale, it was so satisfying to see Banks abandon that steadiness for just a moment as Jennie gave in to the roiling emotions raised by her former mistress’ unannounced visit. Rachel, who had owned Jennie and Bass when they were enslaved, wasted no time bringing up the idea that they and their family might soon lose their freedom. In an instant, Banks took her character from annoyed (the perfection of those eye-rolls!) to furious, slapping Rachel with a quickness fueled by her deepest fear. Only after Rachel’s hasty exit did Banks allow Jennie to feel that dread fully, breathing audibly and crying a little as the encounter’s aftermath washed over her. Terrible situation, gorgeous work on Banks’ part. — Kimberly Roots

HONORABLE MENTION: Kiersey Clemons

HONORABLE MENTION: Kiersey Clemons
HONORABLE MENTION: Kiersey Clemons

For a while now, we’ve been wondering what May’s deal is on Apple TV+’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters. She clearly is bonding with Cate, and of course has a romantic past with Kentaro, and yet she continually puts up “walls,” and even plotted to bail on the team. “Will the Real May Please Stand Up?” finally clued us into the character’s past, and in doing so gave Kiersey Clemons a nice showcase. It was fun to see, via flashbacks, May Corah as a hotly pursued coder reluctant to be swayed by lotsa cash. And when Corah uncovered what tech titan AET was up to, Clemons gave us a peek into her character’s deep-seated value system. But it was the scene in which Corah, after targeting AET with a data-wiping virus, bid her kid sis Lyra a sudden, sad farewell that Clemons most moved us. — Matt Webb Mitovich

Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in the comments!

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