Every once and a while I come across a piece of visual media that stuns all of my senses, and it just so happens that it usually involves Benedict Cumberbatch. From the man that gave us Sherlock, The Imitation Game, and Doctor Strange comes a new character that feels at once fresh and exciting, but also wonderfully familiar for us fans of BC’s work. On May 3rd I was given the wonderful opportunity of attending a screening of the first episode of the 5 part limited series at the BAFTA House in London, followed by a Q&A with some of the show’s creators.
Patrick Melrose (from Sky UK & Showtime) is an adaptation of a novel series by the same name from author Edward St. Aubyn, and follows the life of the title character — a wise-cracking, uber rich, alcoholic, drug addicted Englishman forced to reconcile with his past after the death of his abusive father.
Even upon seeing the first promotional images released from this new series, I knew that this show was going to be a work of art. It’s cinematic and grand in scale. The visual style is beautifully crafted around the complexity of the character, and it was incredible to find that the show was even more impressive than I thought it would be. Patrick Melrose is a feast for the eyes — Director Edward Berger uses a gorgeous saturated color palette in the first episode that amplifies the lavish, rich world Melrose inhabits. In the first episode, Melrose takes us to lively New York City in the 80s, and what I found brilliant was that while the art style and costume was reminiscent of the era, it wasn’t comically manipulated. The show feels entirely contemporary and fresh, but still pays proper homage to its setting.
The vibrant colors and beautiful scenery are expertly contrasted with the dark aura surrounding our lead. In what is sure to be an Emmy winning performance from Cumberbatch, he exposes the audience to the inner workings of a shattered, tormented mind. It’s no wonder that this was a bucket list role for Benedict Cumberbatch — it really is sort of an acting catch-all. Melrose is a character who is quite obviously tortured by his past and self destructive in his present, but he’s charming, quick-witted, hilarious and incredibly fun to watch. The range of acting displayed by BC in the first episode alone is worthy of the highest praise.
What I found most impressive about the show was the expertly balanced tone shifts that made us an audience feel the extreme (usually drug induced) emotional highs and lows Patrick Melrose experiences. Due to both the direction and the lead performance, the show jumps from lighthearted and humorous to dark and emotional within the matter of a few frames, but in its jarring shifts it feels completely cohesive, and this is only achieved through deliberate planning and a masterful production team. You can really experience Patrick’s overactive mind on high after he snorts a line of cocaine, and then fall back down with slow and somber scenes when Patrick thinks of his father. It’s jarring, but not distracting. The visual style imitates Patrick’s emotions and allows the audience to become one with a character most people will be very far removed from.
Patrick Melrose is a masterclass in spectacle storytelling. Between the captivating characters & narrative and stunning visuals and direction, this show leaves you feeling completely satisfied (if not a little out of breath and emotionally wrung out). It’s like a shot of pure artistic energy that invigorates from the inside out.
Patrick Melrose premieres Saturday, May 12 (USA – Showtime)/Sunday, May 13 (UK – Sky UK).