It was a British invasion at the 71st Emmy awards, with Game of Thrones taking home the prize for best drama and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag sweeping most of the comedy awards in a night that saw numerous nods to stars from across the pond.
The biggest question heading into the night was whether Emmy voters would reward perennial juggernaut Game of Thrones for its divisive final season. The show was nominated for 32 awards – the most for any single season of television ever – and had already won 10 Creative Arts Emmys last week. Game of Thrones took home the night’s final prize for outstanding drama series and a best supporting actor nod for American star Peter Dinklage – bringing its total to 12 awards and breaking its own 2015 record for the most awards given to a series – but was otherwise shut out of the telecast.
Instead, Fleabag emerged as the night’s big winner, upstaging Veep, HBO’s other Emmys mainstay in its final season, and last year’s darling The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Fleabag, which originated as Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show at the Edinburgh festival fringe, took home the awards for outstanding writing, best comedy series and best directing. Waller-Bridge also claimed lead actress in a comedy series – a surprise win over Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who would have become the most decorated Emmys performer of all time had she won a ninth award for her role as Selina Meyer on Veep.
Waller-Bridge, who began her third acceptance speech by saying “This is just getting ridiculous”, was the crest of what amounted to a British wave at the Emmys, with wins for several stars: Ben Whishaw (A Very English Scandal) won for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series, while Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) apologized to her Liverpudlian parents for not inviting them because she “didn’t think it was my time” in her speech for lead actress in a drama series. Chernobyl, HBO and Sky Television’s brutal, critically acclaimed limited series on the 1986 nuclear disaster, won for best outstanding writing, best directing and limited series. John Oliver won his fourth consecutive Emmy for best variety series for Last Week Tonight, and Jesse Armstrong took home best drama writing for HBO’s upstart Succession. Black Mirror’s choose-your-own-adventure flick Bandersnatch also won for best television movie.
In a hostless awards show packed with more awards than anything else, perhaps the most stirring moment of the night was Michelle Williams’ speech for outstanding lead actress in a limited series (Fosse/Verdon), in which she heralded gender pay equity. “My bosses never presumed to know better than I did about what I needed in order to do my job and honor Gwen Verdon,” said Williams, now an outspoken activist for gender pay equity following the revelation – to herself and the public – that she was paid significantly less than costar Mark Wahlberg in the movie All the Money in the World. “The next time a woman, and especially a woman of color – because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her,” Williams said to some tears from the audience.
“Believe her, because one day she might stand in front of you and say thank you for allowing [her] to succeed because of her workplace environment and not in spite of it.”
Representation and tolerance were also the themes of speeches by Billy Porter (Pose), who took home the prize for lead actor in a drama series – “The category is love, y’all, love!” he shouted – and Patricia Arquette (The Act), who won outstanding supporting actress in a limited series. Arquette dedicated the award to her sister Alexis, a trans woman who died in 2016, and urged an end to discrimination of trans people. “Give them jobs. Let’s get rid of this bias that we have everywhere,” she said.
Outside of the British winners, other highlights of the evening included two nods to The Marvelous Mrs Maisel – Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein for supporting actor and actress in a comedy series, respectively – and an underdog win for Ozark’s Julia Garner as outstanding supporting actress, besting Daenerys Targaryen herself, Emilia Clarke.
Game of Thrones still got its recognition, however, as a portion of its massive cast and crew took the stage for the night’s biggest honor. Given all the fire and ice, dragons and long shoots, “it is amazing that all of you are still alive”, said co-showrunner DB Weiss. “I can’t believe we finished it.”