Benedict Cumberbatch may be much loved as England’s most affable posh star, but he’s gone out on a limb up to portray the darker side of the aristocracy in Patrick Melrose
This was a risky venture in two ways – first, because Patrick Marber is a deeply flawed drug addict playboy antihero – “Hamlet on heroin”, as he’s been called – clearly very different from Cumberbatch’s usual roles. And secondly, because it’s based on the five-novel series by Edward St Aubyn, which are absolutely adored and practically revered by their fans.
St Aubyn began writing this series novels in the early 90s, a brutally witty expose of aristocratic life based on is own family experiences, which included being sexually abused by his war hero father, and becoming a fully-fledged heroin addict by the time he was studying at Cambridge. If writing the books was therapeutic, it wasn’t in a soppy self-help way; they’re savage, caustic and very, very funny.
Not the cheeriest or easiest of subject matter then, and certainly not the easiest to adapt for TV, but Sky Atlantic’s adaptation (by David Nicolls, of One Day fame) has managed to beat the odds and has been rapturously received by critics.
Each of the five novels in the series of books has been boiled down into one episode of the TV series, beginning with Patrick learning of his father’s death while out of his face on drugs in New York, and constantly flashing back to the dark secrets of his childhood.
While there might have been a concern that these singularly focused episodes might have lost some of the brutal detail and depth of the novels, I’m happy to say that has not been the case at all.
The results have to be the British TV series of the year, with Cumberbatch playing spectacularly against type – except that he’s still very posh, of course.
Cumberbatch executive produced this labour of love, and while it could have been a career risk, it has paid off in style; both audience and critics love it, and I predict Cumberbatch will be scooping the BAFTAs at awards season.