It’s the 1980s. There’s a well spoken, besuited man heavily into drugs. He has issues. Who doesn’t? Seems like a lot of people in suits were into drugs in the 80s. The majority of them probably had issues.
Not the most compelling start to Patrick Melrose, based on the literary series written by Edward St. Aubyn about the life of the titular Melrose. When star and Executive Producer Benedict Cumberbatch was asked at a Q&A what fictional character would he still like to play he replied “Patrick Melrose” to the bemusement of many. Who is this mysterious and compelling sounding figure? Well thanks to Sky Atlantic and HBO we bore witness.
Playing out over five episodes, each instalment presents us with a different time period in the life of the Titular Melrose. Episode one we meet a scatty, aimless young man with a Hunter S. Thompson-esque predilection to substances. In the opening scene he is informed his father has died. The news leaving our “hero” cold, nevertheless he travels to New York City to claim his remains. Cumberbatch is in fine form, portraying a troubled man with both comedic timing and crushing pathos but it ultimately felt style over substance, as cold and detached as Hugo Weavings corpse.
Ah yes, Hugo Weaving he becomes ever so important as David Melrose, the Titular Patrick Melrose’s father. Episode 2 transports us to the South of France where we see how life was for the young Patrick. Son to a domineering, potentially abusive Dad and a drunken, indifferent, albeit loving mother Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Meandering at times but with occasional moments of creeping menace, the second episode acts as the crux to the whole story. Jennifer Jason Leigh mumbles a lot and Hugo Weaving looks malevolent and fabulous (his factory setting I believe), the drama intensified by the dark corridors of the family home that even a beautiful summer outside can’t bring light to.
The real charm of Patrick Melrose is seeing where our “hero” is at during each episode and time period so I won’t describe anymore. All I will say is that every moment of catharsis seems to bring with it new mountains to conquer.
Cumberbatch is uniformly brilliant through each time period. Comfortably portraying 25 years of a persons life, you witness his development into a man whilst retaining the qualities we meet in the first episode. In a strong career this should go down as one of his finest performances. Jessica Raine and Pip Torrens stand out from the ensemble cast. Raine as Melrose’s confidant, occasional lover Julia the embodiment of regret and disappointment. Torrens has a ball as Melrose’s old school English gent, curmudgeonly racist godfather.
Director Edward Berger brings great visual style to a story that without the right touch could have been one of many other perfectly fine human dramas. There’s a frenetic energy to the editing and dialogue but he knows when to pull back and allow the scenes to play out. This juxtaposition helps to underpin the moments of true anguish. This is truly a world where there are no angels, but mercy are there demons. It’s a great credit to screenwriter David Nicholls script that he finds the humanity within every character, even the ones who seem to be drawn as purely wicked.
The criticisms are truly slight. Certain characters appear, are built up then left again with little bye or leave. Some slower, atmosphere building scenes do verge into meandering. By the end of the series Melrose’s self destruction, whilst showing the true nature of addiction does feel somewhat repetitive as a viewer.
Expertly directed, with a snappy, gut-punching script and fine ensemble cast, Patrick Melrose is a surprisingly haunting story entertainingly told.
Dir: Edward Berger
Scr: David Nicholls, Edward St. Aubyn
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving, Jessica Raine, Sebastian Maltz
Prd: Stephen Smallwood
DOP: James Friend
Music: Volker Bertelmann
Ep Runtime: 60 mins