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« Posterized: Jim Jarmusch | Main | Links: Madame X, King Richard, and Book Club 2? »
Friday
Jun142019

Emmy FYC: Christina Hendricks in "The Romanoffs"

Team Experience is sharing FYCs as the Television Academy votes on Emmy nominations over the next two weeks. Here's Mark Brinkerhoff.

The general consensus, if we even can have one in these divisive times, seems to be that Matthew Weiner’s The Romanoffs is an ignoble failure. As his immediate follow-up to Mad Men, the seminal, peak-TV series that gave him pretty much carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to creatively, The Romanoffs arrived last fall on a wave of buzz and eager anticipation. With a star-studded, international cast and intriguing, globe-trotting storyline (made possible by Amazon’s $70 million investment), what would Weiner & Co. ultimately deliver? The answer: Zzzs. (I sort of checked out mid-way through the second to last episode, as a matter of fact.) 

Nevertheless, within this eight-part limited series (which surely was meant to continue?) are elements that succeed better than they ought to quite frankly. Indeed, the parts are greater than their sum, and one in particular stood out to me immediately/in retrospect: Christina Hendricks... 

In the third episode of the series, Hendricks plays Olivia Rogers, an actress of some renown who travels to Eastern Europe for a film shoot, a historical epic about the ill-fated House of Romanov. Under the direction of a unknowable auteur (Isabelle Huppert), who, incidentally, claims to be a descendent of—you guessed it—the Romanovs, the American movie star envisions the project as a departure and an opportunity to stretch herself creatively and dramatically.

At first Hendricks’ Rogers arrives on the scene confidently, if a little apprehensively; at a hotel, then to the movie set where a series of strange conversations and odd events start to occur. Treated cooly at best and disdainfully at worst (by cast and crew alike), her frustration and anxiety ratchet up and up with each slight and indignity she encounters, to the point where she calls her agent (Paul Reiser) to beg him to get her off this godforsaken project—at any cost. The rest is best left unsaid for those who’ve yet to see it. (Suffice it to say, there’s a quite literally shocking ending.)

But let’s get back to the subject at hand: Hendricks. Is there an actress on television who can convey power and powerlessness, authority and vulnerability, from beat to beat? She can go from royally pissed and in charge to confused and downright scared to death without seeming to break a sweat. 

Moreover, can you think of an actor who looks and acts as in the moment, of the moment, as she? Regardless of time period, she just seems to fit perfectly into the time—and space—she’s asked to inhabit. Having a potently emotionally-legible face surely helps, as does the command of her voice and body that give her characters added dimension and weight. When she burns, we burn. When she unravels, we do as well. 

The title of this episode, The House of Special Purpose, is derived from where Czar Nicholas and his family stayed during their final days. It was nicknamed the house of “special purpose,” which might as well be referring to casting an actress like Hendricks in any project. A crucial role, a special purpose, you have, well rest assured that Hendricks, her inexplicable lack of Emmy wins notwithstanding, is bound to deliver. 

The Romanoffs is streaming now on Amazon Prime.

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Reader Comments (9)

She's *still* one of the most underappreciated actors working. Just saw her in the sienna miller feature AMERICAN WOMAN and she's great in that, too.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I loved this performance, too - it made me wonder what she might have been able to do under an auteur like Polanski.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

@Tyler, OMG, yes. Can you imagine her in something like Repulsion? She would be fantastic.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Great performance, but the whole thing is a dud. She should focus her award hopes on Tin Star and Good Girls

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

She was great. My FYC would go to Isabelle Huppert in the same episode. She continues to wow me with her brilliance.

June 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

@Roger

I'm one with you on Isabelle Huppert in the same episode. Her Jacqueline is so vivid and quite unforgettable even if she is not likable. Christina Hendricks, make no mistake, is very effective and very touching, but I'd give the vote to Isabelle.

I agree that The Romanoffs was highly uneven to say it kindly, but some stories are unforgettable and some individual performances in so-so episodes stood out.

If I were to rank the actresses in this series, they are (in order) Kathryn Hahn, Isabelle Huppert, Christina Hendricks, Diane Lane, Amanda Peet

Actors: Corey Stoll, Hugh Skinner, Jay R. Ferguson, Jack Huston, Jon Tenney

Episodes: End of the Line, House of Special Purpose, The One That Holds Everything

June 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

She strangely resembles Barbara Hershey in the above picture.

June 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Hendricks was used to great effect in Mad Men and has a great screen presence (and is unbelievably gorgeous to boot)

But I’m not fully sold on her talent yet as a leading lady. In Mad Men she was always best in short colorful bits. Episodes focused on her were not best.

June 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

@Mareko - That sounds wonderful. :)

June 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

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