Patrick Melrose is a personal passion project for Benedict Cumberbatch: a devoted fan of Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novels, it’s a role that’s long ranked alongside Hamlet on his bucket list.
And it’s not hard to see why: a chaotic drug addict and alcoholic, Melrose is a shambling wreck of a man who stumbles (often literally, Cumberbatch displaying a Chaplin-esque talent for pratfalls) from one self-inflicted disaster to the next. His head, meanwhile, rings to constant buzz of internal chatter, all realised by Cumberbatch in a variety of funny voices. Compared to a dreary stiff shirt like Dr Strange, it’s an absolute gift of a role.
And for the rest of us? Hmmmm. As a protagonist, ‘privileged narcissist who blows all his money on booze and heroin’ is a hard sell, and there are times when Cumberbatch needs every ounce of his (considerable) charm to keep us onside.
The opening instalment, following him over the course of a frenzied 48-hour bender in New York as he collected his late father’s ashes, had the feel of a very posh Trainspotting – one where the junkie flies first class and keeps his syringes in his breast pocket handkerchief. But with vivid scenes of him going cold turkey in a taxi, scalding himself in boiling water and almost getting knifed in a sketchy downtown drug den, you can’t accuse it of glamourising addiction, no matter how many martinis and beef consommé shots are downed.
David Nicholls’ script lays on the childhood trauma in thick brush strokes: someone actually quotes Philip Larkin’s famous line about your mum and dad, and the episode ended with Patrick trying to flush his dad’s ashes down the loo. As a metaphor, it wasn’t subtle.
That said, we know St Aubyn was himself the victim of horrific abuse, and as more is revealed about Patrick’s own suffering, I suspect a more sympathetic character will begin to come into focus. Until then, this is all about Cumberbatch: a one-man tsunami of sweat-soaked self-destruction, his Patrick Melrose is a tragi-comic tour de force with ‘Primetime Emmy’ written all over it.
Innocent’s premise – a man (Lee Ingleby) is freed on a technicality after serving seven years for his wife’s murder – is as simple as it is gripping, with the title’s unspoken question mark looming heavily over every scene. But like co-creator Chris Lang’s other hit, Unforgotten, the real drama emerges as characters pick away at old scabs, gradually revealing a tangled web of secrets, lies and betrayals. Stripped across four nights this week, it’s proper appointment telly.
It’s not exactly Swiftian satire – or even Spitting Image – but this cartoon portrait of Britain’s first family remains gloriously daft fun. Highlights of this week’s Royal Wedding special included Princess Beatrice having a pash affair with a (surprisingly dishy) Jeremy Corbyn, scheming Camilla using voodoo to drive a wedge between Kate and Meghan, a naughty joke about Waitrose Weekend and a group dance to Apache Indian’s Boom Shack-a-lack. One was amused.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 17, 2018
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