Emmy episode analysis: ‘Assassins’ paints a complicated portrait of John Lithgow (‘The Crown’) as Winston Churchill

John Lithgow earned his 12th career Emmy nomination for his role as Winston Churchill in Netflix’s “The Crown,” a role that has already earned Lithgow trophies from both Critics’ Choice and the Screen Actors Guild. The veteran actor has earned five Emmys over the course of his career, winning Drama Guest Actor prizes for “Amazing Stories” (1985) and “Dexter” (2010), and Best Comedy Actor for “3rd Rock from the Sun” (1996, 1997, 1999). Lithgow’s performance in the season’s ninth episode, entitled “Assassins,” has been submitted to Emmy voters.

In the episode, Winston Churchill is approaching his 80th birthday, and Parliament has commissioned artist Graham Sutherland (Stephen Dillane) to paint Churchill’s portrait. As an amateur painter himself, Churchill attempts to influence Sutherland in how his portrait is done. Despite their initial acrimony, the two begin to engage in discussions of art and life, bonding over the fact that both of them lost children at a young age.

When the portrait is unveiled to the public, Churchill is enraged by what he sees as Sutherland’s betrayal by portraying him as old and frail. But Churchill realizes that his anger is not toward Sutherland, but is toward his own aging. After years of pressure from other members of his party to resign, Churchill finally decides the time has come to step down. After a final meeting with Queen Elizabeth (fellow SAG winner Claire Foy), Churchill is honored with a farewell dinner, as we see his portrait set on fire.

Will “Assassins” earn Lithgow his sixth career Emmy? Let’s examine the pros and cons of his submission:


The keys to a winning Emmy submission are range, sympathy, and impact … and Lithgow’s episode has all three in spades. We see Churchill raging against both Sutherland and his own frailty balanced with scenes of true vulnerability and sadness, particularly when Churchill discusses the death of his daughter. It’s the type of “big” performance that Emmy voters just love. The episode also provides Lithgow with a number of speeches, yet another facet beloved by Emmy voters. But perhaps most significantly, Lithgow shows us the flaws in Churchill, which allows the audience to better relate to this historical giant on a more human level.

“Assassins” was one of the most acclaimed episodes of television in last year, and also earned a nomination in the Drama Writing category for Peter Morgan. As Churchill is the central focus of the episode, its widespread acclaim can only help Lithgow with Emmy voters at large.

It is still undetermined as to whether or not Lithgow is involved with Season 2 of “The Crown,” which means that Emmy voters might not get another opportunity to reward him for this already acclaimed performance.

SEE 2017 Emmy nominations list: All the nominees


With five Emmy wins already, Lithgow has more Emmys than everyone else in his Drama Supporting Actor category combined. It is possible that some will feel he has been rewarded enough and will choose to spread the wealth to the other nominees.

The series was released on Netflix back in November of last year, and doesn’t necessarily have the popular appeal of shows like “This Is Us” or “Stranger Things.” This, combined with the fact that “The Crown” slightly underperformed in total Emmy nominations, could indicate that the show is not as beloved among voters as many might have expected.

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our Emmy odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on September 17. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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