The following is a review of Patrick Melrose — A British-American Mini-Series.
Benedict Cumberbatch has made himself into a star. He is the kind of actor who has gotten himself a devoted fanbase that stretches to the ends of the earth, which, I think, is even a surprise to him. BBC’s Sherlock was, obviously, his breakthrough series, and it will probably stay as the piece of content for which he receives the most love from fans, even though he now has played a mythical dragon in The Hobbit-films and a fan-favorite hero in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. But his performance as the title character in Patrick Melrose might be his most complete and layered performance yet.
The five-episode limited series is based on the semi-autobiographical series of novels by Edward St Aubyn, and each episode of the show covers the story of one of the five novels. The series thus takes Cumberbatch’s character from the bottom of the bottle and onto different stages in his life. The series begins in the 1980s with an episode that shows him as an angry British drug-addict who has to travel to New York City to retrieve his father’s ashes. Subsequent episodes then pick up his struggle in the 1990s and the early 2000s, with one episode also functioning as a deep-dive into his troubled childhood and the state of his relationship with his parents when he was a young boy.
Playing Patrick Melrose is quite a challenge, but likely also one that actors of some ambition look out to find for themselves. Cumberbatch here gets to play a character that at various points in his life are to varying degrees entitled, coarse, and addicted. Sometimes he is even suicidal. Of course, there is a good explanation for Melrose’s behavior. It isn’t just a case of a man mired in ennui whose weariness has led to depression and suicidal tendencies. To explain directly what happened to him to make him be this way would, perhaps, be going too far. What I can and, indeed, must say is that the limited series as a whole deals with the act of liberating oneself from the shackles of destructive parental actions that may lead one down an unattractive path towards self-abuse.
Cumberbatch adds a lot of believable physicality to the character that he plays. Seeing the actor push himself up and lean onto the wall so as to not fall down due to being under the influences of quaaludes and whatnot is very entertaining. Then to see him tell a waiter that he is just suffering from jetlag is absolutely hilarious for a show that is more sad than fun when looked at as a whole. The series premiere features many actor highlight moments in itself — like seeing Melrose argue with his own narration — but he doesn’t just stop there. In other episodes he expresses other emotions very well, with his breakdown in the final episode being particularly impressive. In Patrick Melrose, Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely sensational.
Some other performances don’t quite work as well, with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance perhaps suffering from a case of not having enough to work with due to the fact that her character is immobile for many of her scenes and passive in others. Whereas Hugo Weaving and Pip Torrens get to play more memorable characters. But this is, ultimately, Cumberbatch’s show, and it is his tour de force performance that makes it must-watch television.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen