Benedict Cumberbatch leads sensational cast in ‘Patrick Melrose’ (review)

May 6, 2018 GMT

Benedict Cumberbatch leads sensational cast in ‘Patrick Melrose’ (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Showtime expands its slate of original scripted programming to Saturday nights with “Patrick Melrose,” and a bold step it is. The brilliantly dark five-part limited series starring Benedict Cumberbatch is a compelling journey laced with pain and overflowing with absolutely riveting performances.

Stylishly directed by Edward Berger, “Patrick Melrose” introduces us to the title character as man in the throes of addiction. We’re immediately fascinated because Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Patrick splendidly captures all of the anguish, hurt, conflict and damage behind the addiction.

Indeed, the tightly wrapped Patrick has more baggage than a Samsonite warehouse. He is the product of bad parenting (make that monstrous parenting). He is the product of a British class legacy that preaches stoicism and the repression of emotions. He is the product of depression and a battered sense of self-worth.


And when we first meet Patrick, he’s trying to douse this pain with heroin injections, pills and tumblers of whiskey. Clearly, this is a walking open wound barely able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And he stumbles . . . a lot, crippled by parental cruelty and social snobbery. He also can be mean, cutting and acerbic (sometimes hilariously so). And yet Cumberbatch never loses touch with the suffering child so close to the surface of this anguished adult, so he never loses our interest in and sympathy for Patrick.

With “Patrick Melrose,” which premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12, Cumberbatch grandly adds to an impressive and growing stack of slyly textured performances, ranging from “Hawking,” “Sherlock” and “Dr. Strange” to “The Imitation Game,” “Parade’s End” and “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses.”

“Patrick Melrose” opens in 1982 with the incredibly loud ringing of a telephone in London. A weary Patrick picks up the phone and hears the voice of a friend in New York: “Patrick, I’m afraid I have rather bad news. . . . Your father died the night before last in his hotel room. It must come as an awful shock to you.”

After a great pause, as he reaches for a halfway appropriate response, Patrick finally replies, “Something like that, yes.” All the while, he is preparing an injection of heroin.

Later, another friend asks how his father died.

“I forgot to ask,” Patrick says. “I was too dizzy with glee. I’m sorry, I mean dazed with grief.”

Yes, as bleak as this superlative Showtime series can get, it’s also often surprisingly hilarious. In fact, viewers shouldn’t be surprised when “Patrick Melrose” catches them by surprise. It’s a long and twisted road from that phone call, and we’re just getting started. Manhattan in the early ’80s clearly is on the itinerary, as are the South of France in the ’60s and England in the early 2000s.


The artfully crafted scripts by David Nicholls are based on the acclaimed series of five richly comic and harrowingly tragic semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St. Aubyn. Each episode covers one of the novels, ultimately forming a quest toward something like survival.

As mesmerizing as Cumberbatch is episode to episode, this is far from a one-man show. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Hugo Weaving are sensational as Patrick’s parents, and the deep “Patrick Melrose” cast also includes Anna Madeley, Blythe Danner, Allison Williams, Pip Torrens, Jessica Raine, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Holliday Grainger, Indira Varma and Celia Imrie.

Impressive? To quote Patrick, but with considerably more sincerity and less ambiguity, “Something like that, yes.”


Patrick Melrose

What: A five-part limited series starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12.

Where: Showtime