Alex Jennings is one of those actors whose face you recognize but whose name may escape American audiences. He portrayed Prince Charles in “The Queen” and his great uncle, King Edward VII, a decade later in “The Crown.” This fine character actor held his own opposite Maggie Smith in “The Lady in the Van” and Hugh Grant in “A Very English Scandal.” Jennings is a consummate thespian who excels in supporting roles but rarely receives the credit he so richly deserves.
His shines in Hulu’s medical drama “This is Going to Hurt,” based on the book of the same name by the show’s creator, Adam Kay. Ben Whishaw is Kay, a doctor working in an NHS hospital in the mid-noughties, while Jennings is Nigel Lockhart, the Chief Consultant in the ward. This limited series is a masterful blend of comedy and drama and is one of the year’s most exquisitely crafted stories.
Lockhart acts as a mentor to Kay and is on hand to provide advice and support when needed. His cushier lifestyle and work-life balance is something of a sticking point for Kay. As Lockhart, Jennings blends fatherly authority, wisdom, and gravitas with the cold cynicism that only comes from years of dealing with such heaviness.
The actor adds an unwavering self-interest and a keen sense of ambition to the character as Lockhart tries to save himself by lying and manipulating his way out of the show’s stickiest situation — his involvement in Kay’s case with the General Medical Council, which runs throughout the series. This gives Lockhart’s mentor figure something of an antagonistic-fleck and Jennings judges it so well. It may not be the show’s biggest role but it sure is an important one in terms of the final execution of the overall series, as noted by critics.
Daniel Fienberg (The Hollywood Reporter) explained that Jennings’ Lockhart embodied a vital part of the show, writing: “Adam is gifted and committed and, as the show never denies, dangerous even if the threat he poses to his patients is a product of a broken system, often embodied by his patrician boss, Nigel Lockhart (Alex Jennings).”
Nick Allen (Roger Ebert) observed that one of the show’s joys is getting to know some of the supporting characters, including Jennings’ leading doctor, Mr. Lockhart, who, he writes “…rolls up in his fancy car now and then to save the day, with a furrowed brow and intensity.”
Deborah Ross (The Daily Mail) stated that “This is Going to Hurt” features “a wonderful Alex Jennings.” And Anita Singh (The Telegraph) wrote: “There is effective support from Alex Jennings as the kind of self-satisfied consultant who drives a very expensive car.”
But while Jennings has received positive reviews once again for his TV work, he isn’t getting the attention or plaudits he is owed. Currently, he sits outside of our predicted six nominees for TV Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actor: Young Mazino (“Beef”), Murray Bartlett (“Welcome to Chippendales,”) Ray Liotta (“Black Bird”), Domhnall Gleeson (“The Patient”), Richard Jenkins (“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”), and, in pole position, Paul Walter Hauser (“Black Bird”).
If Jennings did get in, it would — criminally — be his first ever Emmy nomination. He has been a key feature in so many beloved projects, not least including “The Crown,” wherein he played the Duke of Windsor who abdicated the throne to his younger brother, George. That was a vital role in the first two seasons of “The Crown.”
His competitors in this category are all either younger performers with their careers ahead of them (Mazino, Gleeson, Walter Hauser), previous Emmy nominees (Jenkins), or previous Emmy winners (Bartlett, Liotta). Surely there is room here for a veteran performer who has not received the love he deserves from Emmy voters? He’s been overlooked for so long.
Now is the time to change that in this respected show that has already proven its awards pedigree by winning four BAFTA TV Awards (Editing: Fiction, Scripted Casting, Writing: Drama for Kay, and Actor for Whishaw). We think Emmy voters will feel the same — it’s in the mix for Best Limited Series, TV Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress for Harriet Walter, and TV Movie/Limited Series Actor for Whishaw. Jennings could get caught up in the sweep of love if Emmy voters like it as much as BAFTA voters did.
Jennings hasn’t been overlooked everywhere, however. He is a well-respected theatre actor and is the only performer to win Oliviers across all three genres: Best Comedy Performance in “Too Clever By Half” in 1988; Best Actor for “Peer Gynt” in 1996, and Best Actor in a Musical for “My Fair Lady” in 2003. Three decades, three Oliviers — thespians clearly love him. The actors’ branch of the Emmys may want to finally take a moment to appropriately recognize this actors’ actor. For now, the search for a career Emmy bid continues for Jennings. And sadly so.
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