Patrick Melrose review – beautiful, dark, and horribly hilarious
The most immediately striking thing about Patrick Melrose, the new Showtime series based on Edward St Aubyn’s autobiographical novels, is how visually stunning it is. Which makes the contrast with what goes on in those lush settings – a country house in Provence, a suite in a luxury New York hotel in the eighties, an explosion of Laura Ashley in a Sloane’s bedroom – all the more harrowing.
Patrick Melrose tells the story of its eponymous hero, an upper-class English junkie hell-bent on self-destruction. It also tells how Patrick came to be that way. If you worry about spoilers, stop reading now (although the series makes it fairly obvious from the start): he was repeatedly raped by his father – a magnificent Hugo Weaving, who exudes gleeful sadism even when he is just playing the piano – as a little boy.
Benedict Cumberbatch has pulled off the feat of embodying a character defined by this essential wound, which has split him in half. He captures the feral intensity of his self-loathing, channelled through drug rampages of Homeric proportions, as well as through his self-defeating acerbic wit (this is clearly a case of someone who is far too intelligent for his own good). It is also, in its sheer manic energy, an awfully funny performance – in the sense that it is hilarious and in that it makes you feel queasy about the awful things you are laughing at. Even though Cumberbatch would seem to be the obvious choice for the role as the go-to posh English actor these days, his performance goes beyond mere social accuracy. It verges on the miraculous.
If there is any justice in the world, Cumberbatch will win every possible award, and so should the writer, David Nicholls. Patrick Melrose is beautiful, hysterical, and deep. And it will break your heart.