Benedict Cumberbatch Shines In Addiction Drama "Patrick Melrose"

By Paul Fuhr 05/16/18

The six-part limited series follows the titular character through a troubled childhood and to the peak of his addiction.

Benedict Cumberbatch in "Patrick Melrose"
Photo via YouTube

Given the large number of TV shows and movies he’s appeared in, it’s perhaps an understatement to say that Benedict Cumberbatch’s face is memorable.

With the new Showtime series Patrick Melrose, though, the 41-year-old actor turns in a bravura performance as the titular character, an aristocratic playboy living with addiction.

Based on Edward St. Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novels, the six-episode limited series takes viewers through several different eras of Melrose’s life, ranging from 1960s France to 1980s New York to Britain in the 2000s.

“Cumberbatch delivers strung-out addiction, remorseful addict in recovery, sociopathic upper-class asshole, lothario, and tortured victim from scene to scene and it’s easily the best role that he’s ever had,” The Daily Beast raved, adding that Patrick Melrose is “a role he was born to play and the series is the better for it.”

Cumberbatch’s Melrose spends much of the miniseries under the influence of various substances, including alcohol, heroin, amphetamines, valium and quaaludes.

While on the latter, Melrose suddenly can’t control his body and he ends up dramatically sliding his way out of a house. “Only a pliable actor like Cumberbatch could stretch himself apart like Mr. Fantastic in the role and still put himself back together again,” The Daily Beast commented.

Melrose’s addictions, viewers discover, are all rooted in the trauma of sexual abuse. What’s worse is that much of Patrick Melrose is (depressingly) true.

According to Bustle, the novels’ author St. Aubyn battled drug addiction between the ages of 16 to 28.

“I thought about suicide constantly during those years," St. Aubyn admitted. “It was like a heartbeat, from adolescence through to my late twenties: 'I want to live,' 'I want to die,' 'I want to live,' 'I want to die.'” (He attempted to commit suicide through a heroin overdose, he told NPR’s Fresh Air.)

St. Aubyn, however, decided to channel his experiences into fiction. "I'd been trying to write clever, fabricated, ideas-based novels, and they didn't have any emotional energy," St. Aubyn told The Guardian. "The suicide attempt made me realize I had a stark choice between telling the truth and killing myself."

And while Showtime’s Patrick Melrose preserves St. Aubyn’s darkly humorous voice, it’s Cumberbatch who deftly brings the novelist’s main character to life (and near-death).

The series itself manages to be both a meditation on the perils of upper-class society as well as an unflinching look at addiction, The Guardian suggested in their review, noting that Cumberbatch never once gets lost in an overly showy performance.

“He had always wanted the part, he told the Radio Times, which might have been problematic, made it a vehicle for his talents and range: look at me acting, now shower me with awards,” The Guardian observed.

“He hits just the right note: hilarious, but also tragic, irritating, exasperating. It is addiction personified, sympathetic without being celebratory or glamorized. So, do look at him—it is impossible not to—and shower him with awards. He is, and it is, brilliant.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.