For Benedict Cumberbatch fans, Patrick Melrose offers a full bore showcase of the splendid acting talents of their favourite star.
For others it will be an uncompromising, manic episode of a broken man clinging to reality, or perhaps its very opposite.
Patrick Melrose is a 5 part miniseries based on semi-autobiographical novels about Britain’s upper class by Edward St Aubyn. Each chapter of the drama by sceenwriter David Nicholls is based on a separate book.
It opens in 1982 when a heroin-induced Patrick (Cumberbatch) is phoned to learn his father (Hugo Weaving) has died. Barely able to emote, is his lack of reaction due to hallucinogens or estrangement? But as he soon tells girlfriend Julia (Jessica Raines) “I was too dizzy with glee, I’m sorry dazed with grief.” Patrick is that kind of cynic.
But head to New York City he must to retrieve his father’s ashes, which comes with such apprehension that Patrick uses it as an excuse to score hits from lowlifes under bridges or from seedy contacts who contrast with is world of aristocracy. Addictions one and all are embraced in this unforgiving essay.
One drinks engagement in which he struggles to remain upright is one of the better darkly comic scenes. Another involves him attempting to view his father’s dead body.
Such delusions allow for theatrics from director Edward Berger with a high degree of striking visuals and composition. Added to it are Cumberbatch voice-overs and flashbacks to his childhood, where his dominant father and spineless mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) inform us of a very troubled upbringing.
With a performer of Cumberbatch’s electricity you can overlook the weight of the story with the character in every scene. Patrick is crumbling, rollicking, effusive throughout, never far from a needle or his next means of acquiring it.
Underneath it all is Hugo Weaving’s horrendous David Melrose, and the writer’s message that being born into wealth can sometimes create even greater obstacles to overcome, or claw your way out of. The soundtrack and musical diversions include Video Killed the Radio Star and Cool for Cats.
Patrick Melrose is an eccentric, fractured, bleak and sometimes amusing work with a leading man more than up to the job of realising it.
Patrick Melrose airs 9:30pm Monday on BBC First.