Ever since Viola Davis stole Doubt from Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, there have been several looming instances where character actors ingest whole scripts. When moments like this hit, when it’s hard to distinguish acting from writing, the effects can dazzle (even if Clive James dismisses).
Tim Pigott-Smith has had one of those British careers lost on most Americans, who know him best from The Jewel in The Crown, the lauded Masterpiece Theatre serial from 1984. (Smith also wrote an obscure yet memorable book, Out of Inda, about that project’s shoot.) And he gets perhaps half a dozen scenes as Lord Elms in just three episodes of The Hour, BBC America’s six-hour Suez Canal journalism exposé. But in his final scene with young thunderbolt Ben Winshaw, his grief turns from plot device to emotional groundswell, upstaging all the silly trysting and petty politics and the attendant period detail lavished on this prestige project. And far from seeming heavy-handed, he made it feel oracular, as though his character could have saved everybody a lot of ramshackle shagging if his character had been given the chance.
See also: Kathy Bates in Titanic and Primary Colors; Chris Cooper in The Town.