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Performer of The Month - Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of November - Gillian Anderson

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This article was written by Ellys Cartin and Marine Perot. The article was edited by Donna Cromeans (DJRiter). The open and close of the article were written by Ellys Cartin. Prepared for publishing by Aimee Hicks.

Margaret Thatcher once said that success was “a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing,” along with tackling the aforementioned thing with a sense of purpose and hard work. By those metrics, one must declare Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of the Iron Lady to be a success. Anderson’s Thatcher brings a spirited levity to a somber season of Netflix’s lavish, expensive drama The Crown. One is never quite sure whether to laugh or cry as the determined, awkward Thatcher bumbles her way from one mortifying royal encounter to the next in The Balmoral Test (4x2). One is, however, unable to look away from Anderson’s enthralling performance. Every line delivery, every stride, is a precise exercise, executed flawlessly. Are we watching Anderson as Thatcher as a version of Thatcher that the character wishes herself to be? We can’t be sure, but it’s thrilling to watch Anderson’s commitment to the part. For her work in The Balmoral Test, the SpoilerTV staff voted Gillian Anderson as SpoilerTV’s Staff Choice November Performer of the Month.

Continue reading below to find out our thoughts regarding her performance. After reading, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

When bringing a historical character to life, shows and performers have a choice between adhering to reality, creatively interpreting a figure, or blending fact and fiction to create an original character retaining some qualities of the actual person. Which of the above categories does Gillian Anderson's Thatcher fall into, and how does she leave her unique stamp on the role?

Ellys: There’s some division among viewers over how true to life Anderson’s portrayal of Thatcher is. As someone who has never watched the real Thatcher or any other versions of her, such as the Oscar-winning Meryl Streep performance, I can only evaluate that Anderson’s take holds nothing back. She uses every inch of her body to bring this depiction to life, every muscle, and every vocal cord. You don’t want to miss a minute, because her frame is absolutely coiled with tension, leaving you on the edge of your seat, anticipating a strike that might never come but the thrill is in the possibility.

Marine: Anderson did a lot of research and worked with a voice-coach for a while before tackling the role of Margaret Thatcher, and it shows in her interpretation of the character. It is easy to see that there was a lot of work and effort put into this performance. Anderson is also aware that despite Thatcher being a historical figure, she remains a character once put through the prism of The Crown, so she blends fact and fiction in her interpretation. In the end, that’s what makes her version of Thatcher so impactful: unlike Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Anderson’s Thatcher is uniquely memorable because she fully commits to the way her character was written for the show. 

The Crown is generally regarded as a drama, however, The Balmoral Test, particularly regarding Thatcher's storyline, plays out as something of a dark comedy. How does Anderson's performance walk the line between genres?

Ellys: In a way, this episode follows the structure of the classic “bringing your significant other home to meet your family” story. Thatcher is a fish-out-of-water, and Anderson leans into that interpretation, demonstrating a lack of awareness that is hilariously oblivious. Anderson’s ability to balance Thatcher’s sense of self-importance with her clueless infractions of everything from fashion to protocol is what makes her performance as successful as it is. At the same time, her serious approach reminds the audience that Thatcher does indeed carry immense power on her shoulders, casting her missteps in a somber shade, never letting us forget the fourth season of The Crown is above all else a tragic tale of two mismatched marriages, one between a man and a woman...the other between Britain and its Prime Minister.

Marine: What is so brilliant about The Balmoral Test is that it shows us Thatcher on two fronts. First, there is the personal front, and how Thatcher is with her husband. The complicity they have sweetens the character of the one everyone knows as the Iron Lady. In her personal life, she appears to be very much the everyday woman, who is baffled by the Crown’s protocols when they arrive at Balmoral, and who cannot imagine not sharing her bed with her husband. Those moments are comedic because the viewers can identify with Thatcher as someone who isn’t part of the Royals’ world. Then there is the professional front, the Prime Minister who tries to deal with the Queen. There is more drama in those moments as Thatcher feels out of place, out of her comfort zone. Anderson does a fabulous job of switching from one version of Thatcher to the next without ever seeming jarringly different. She nuances her character with grace and precision.

Other than this episode, what is some of Anderson's other standout work from this season?

Ellys: While the show occasionally acknowledges the real-life damage done by Thatcher’s “reign,” it more often allows Anderson to find the humanity in her character. The season finale is no exception, as we witness her on the eve of finally losing power. In a moving scene, she rushes through her staff and up the stairs. Anderson extends her arm far in front of her body as if Thatcher can’t quite see her path and must feel her way along. She barely makes it to bed, before breaking down, her entire frame shaking with emotion. Even here behind closed doors, alone, she’s not truly able to be vulnerable, to show that weakness, so she covers her mouth to muffle her unsteady breaths, her already quiet sobs.

Marine: To me, two other storylines regarding Thatcher stand out in this season. In the episode titled Favourites, we once again dive more into Thatcher’s personal life and particularly her relationships with her children. Anderson shines in this episode in the way she depicts Thatcher as a mother and unveils how the complicated relationship Thatcher had with her own mother impacted how Thatcher treated her daughter herself. Then, in War, she gives us a Thatcher defeated, who has lost the trust of her party, and who is no longer Prime Minister. Throughout the season Anderson shows us how much Thatcher loved her work and it all comes to an end in this episode. Her true vulnerability is shown in the scene where the Queen gives Thatcher the Order of Merit to acknowledge her legacy for Great Britain. In that scene,she shows us a Margaret Thatcher who drops the iron and appears genuinely touched by the Queen’s gesture, and it truly makes Anderson shine.

Beyond The Crown, Anderson is no stranger to TV. What are her greatest performances and her most overlooked?

Ellys: Anderson’s role of Lady Dedlock in the Bleak House miniseries remains one of her greatest roles, but I would love to see more attention and credit given to her dazzling current work as Dr. Jean Milburn on Sex Education.

Marine: Obviously, for many people, Anderson is and will always be Dana Scully. Her part in The X-Files is simply iconic. But for a younger generation perhaps she is most known as sex-therapist Jean Milburn in Sex Education, and the fact that might be one of her most overlooked performances in the sense that some might underestimate Anderson’s ability to be great in a comedy. I believe she could mostly be associated with the parts she played in dramas, from The X-Files to The Fall and even Hannibal, and one might forget that she can, in fact, be hilarious when given the right material. That is the case in Sex Education

What scene from The Balmoral Test features your favorite work from Anderson and why?

Ellys: Nothing can top the Ibble Dibble scene, although almost every Thatcher scene tries! Every character in the scene is happily carrying on with the drinking game, and when the baton, so to speak, is passed to Thatcher, she solemnly thanks the giver. Anderson proceeds to have Thatcher carefully, precisely, laboriously recite the lines of the game. The lengthy pauses between each phrase only heighten the comedic effect, which saps all life out of the game. Thatcher’s straight-faced follow-up question to the silent room, inquiring if she completed the game correctly, is the cherry on top.

Marine: In this episode, Thatcher ends up playing Ibble Dibble with the Royals. This woman, who spends most of her time working and never stops thinking about her work, is sitting in a lavish living room with a bunch of people who mainly live a life of leisure. She must play a silly drinking game with them that clearly appears to her to be a huge waste of time. All of that can be read on Anderson’s face. She tries to play the game, but she is uncomfortable, and the fact that everyone else in the room seems to be judging her is certainly no help. The scene is tense, and it is all thanks to the way Anderson plays her character. 

What are your final thoughts on her winning this recognition?

Ellys: Anderson is one of the most well-known artists to join The Crown during its run, and her work as Margaret Thatcher was highly anticipated. Every minute she spent in the role was diverting; only someone with Anderson’s experience could have brought such levity and pageantry to the part.

Marine: When someone puts as much work into a role as Anderson did, and you can tell within minutes of them on screen, they deserve some type of recognition. Anderson’s Thatcher is always convincing, never a parody, and constantly baffling. Everyone might have been waiting to see Diana arrive in this fourth season of The Crown, because the Princess was so deeply loved, but in the end, it’s Anderson with her interpretation of a not-so-well loved historical character that wins our attention.

There is always a challenge for a performer portraying a historical figure. Only those close enough to those figures know the true person they were, the rest is subject to interpretation. That task becomes even more challenging when the historical figure is a larger-than-life figure like Margaret Thatcher. It requires great skill and talent to be able to walk that fine line between capturing the true essence of such a character and bringing creative interpretation to the production in which they are performing. Gillian Anderson walks that line perfectly as Margaret Thatcher in Netflix’s fourth season of The Crown showing her brilliance in, The Balmoral Test. For her exceptional performance, she was selected as SpoilerTV’s Staff Choice November Performer of the Month. 

Please use the comments to discuss all your favorite parts of Gillian Anderson’s performance in The Balmoral Test.

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