Showtime’s five part series, Patrick Melrose, based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn, is a clinic in excesses, dangerous escapism and the road to redemption.

Fitting five richly constructed novels into five hours presented a challenge that wasn’t quite solved on the Showtime limited series. It turns out that deconstructing the broken linings of the life of an English nobleman is not that easy.

Patrick grows up in an opulent country pile in the South of France, an idyllic setting belying the darkness that lurks within its walls. The dark figure is Patrick’s father David, played to devilish, creeping perfection by Hugo Weaving. At eight, David begins to rape his young son causing trauma that lasts for decades. What deepens that trauma is the fact that Patrick’s pill-popping, boozed up mother Eleanor (played convincingly by Jennifer Jason Leigh) does not protect him.

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Patrick spends his 20s and 30s attempting to escape the crippling pain of memory, shooting cocaine and heroine up his arms, with quaaludes mixed in. Edward Berger directs Cumberbatch in these scenes with a vividness that carries you on the flighty ride. The series begins with the death of David Melrose, sending Patrick from London to New York to reclaim his father’s body. The experience sends Patrick on an epic bender, with a memorable scene seeing Patrick, dazed and almost paralyzed from the amount of quaaludes he has ingested, crawling along the hotel floors when a family friend meets him to extend her condolences.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick is brilliant here, disappearing into the tortured skin of a man struggling to find a reason to keep on living, self-sabotaging along the way. Cumberbatch effortlessly takes us inside the mind of a man on the edge of madness, barely hanging on to any measure of sanity as he attempts to pull himself out of a private hell that is hard to comprehend. Cumberbatch also succeeds in embodying the self-indulgence, snobbery and excesses of the upper crust of society where labels and classism are worn as a sort of badge of honor. An elaborate dinner party hosted by Princess Margaret (Harriet Walter) is exhibit A. Peerless among his generation, awards season nominations are sure to come for the British actor who has hit his stride.

At the close of the fifth installment of the series, Patrick finally begins to get a hold of himself, taking recovery seriously and giving himself a chance at a better life. While the five-parter doesn’t succeed on all fronts, Cumberbatch grounds the series, getting us emotionally involved and bringing empathy to a character that isn’t all that likable at first glance.


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