WARNING: Slight spoilers below
There was really no one better than Benedict Cumberbatch to portray Patrick Melrose.
Showtime’s harrowing adaptation of Edward St. Aubyn’s novels depict the horrors of a half-known life of English privilege and waning aristocracy within a dysfunctional family.
Based on the trailer, there appears to be a happier ending to what begins as a shock to the system.
Not since the 1987 film, White Mischief, has a filmed event so perfectly captured dissolute and hedonistic ennui lavishly hovering over a hellish home life, this time inside a glorious chateau in the South of France.
This fig tree and lavender dotted stone manse is where the utterly abusive groundwork is laid for Patrick as a lad.
Director Edward Berger and David Nicholls’ screenplay have brought a collection of stories to life with incredible dialogue and performances from a perfect cast ensemble headed by Cumberbatch.
If you are a parent and unfamiliar with the St. Aubyn prose on which the Showtime adaptation is based, the first two episodes sent to television critics — which this review is based upon — will gut you.
Opening the limited series, we immediately know that something awful has happened to Patrick, now a fully fledged heroin addict who throws down booze and pills with reckless abandon.
He is obviously intelligent, well educated and of means…and is both reminiscent and gleeful at the news that his father is dead.
His last task? Fetch dad’s remains from New York City, a place Melrose can tolerate for only so long after he decimates a mid-century hotel room, which is perfectly and adroitly, given where Patrick’s head is at, bathed in hues of blue.
Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose is determined and yet weak. He is loquacious and donning a rapier wit. But he is also a simpering small child reliving the cruelties at the hand of his father David (Hugo Weaving), and the indifference of his alcoholic and drug-addicted mother Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who controlled the purse of the family.
Weaving is electric as the villain in this piece. His David Melrose character sparks anxiety and fear with everyone in the household. He eats the scenes he is in and sends shivers with his craftily evil set-up of his own son, Patrick, who he teaches life lessons to in the style of a predatory sadist.
The sins of the father are visited upon the son. The abject tyranny and crimes of David Melrose fuel all of this teleplay as they do the life decisions that Patrick has made and continues to suffer from.
In flashback scenes, those who were guests of the family were also subjected to David’s arrogance and thinly veiled contentious nature. His opinion was law, with little to no room for anyone to say otherwise.
Patrick’s mother Eleanor is shown to have no spine despite her financial leverage, melting into drunken stupors and indulgent childlike behaviors, oblivious to anything real that is happening around her.
As a child, Patrick didn’t stand a chance. Of note, the young Patrick is played with exceptional prescience and presence by Sebastian Maltz, who will tear your heart out as he tries to survive David Melrose and all the misery in that picture-perfect French chateau.
Another performance to savor is Indira Varma as Annie Moore, an American who is engaged to an Eaton chum of David Melrose and immediately sees the trouble in this French aristocratic paradise.
The series promises to be one of the best TV efforts of the year with Cumberbatch, as per usual, showing us all why he is one of the finest living actors around.
Patrick Melrose is a limited five-episode series which premieres Saturday, May 12 at 9pm ET/PT on Showtime.