Director: Edward Berger
This five-episode mini-series takes Edward St. Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novels and devotes a single episode to each; the result, in truly mesmeric fashion, is one of the great catch-all TV shows in recent years. A present-day instant-classic.
It’ simply a perfect, heart-breaking, hilarious, grizzly-grim depiction of addiction and the trauma that informs it. But in an around that it’s arresting for the little details, the incredible performances – yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is the scene-stealer every-time, but Hugo Weaving is an embodiment of anger and evil and Jennifer Jason-Leigh does the most ‘work’ here as vapid-turns-senile, a checked-out, spaced-out negligent mother. Bad people abound.
There’s really no likeable characters here, not in the main frames. But the work presented – the acting, David Nicholls’ scripting, Edward Berger’s sure, steady, innovative direction (bouncing between flashbacks and the 80s-set present day setting without ever losing the thread) and the great soundtrack – means this is a sublime viewing experience.
The opening episode is where Cumberbatch goes virtuoso as the standalone character dragging the viewer through worlds that sit somewhere, incongruously, between Patrick Bateman’s American Psycho and Charles Ryder’s Brideshead Revisited.
He finds out, in the opening sequence, that his father has died. He’s as close to elated as his punch-drunk, needle-prick world will allow. He jets off to collect the remains and to piece together the remains of himself, with an aim of getting clean.
From there we’re taken to the horrific scenes that inflict the trauma that creates his addiction.
From there we meet his horrendous father and his maybe-somehow-even-worse mother.
That this continues to be a scathing send-up of the British Class System’s sad ugliness and a thoughtful glimpse at the very real, very sad stories that create the addicts that we so often condemn or ignore (or worse) is the true revelation here.
I was glued to every frame within every episode. I was left blown away by the main performances, and yes, Benedict deserves all the praise and much more beyond. And I applaud the decision, too, to create something standalone – in this world of binge-able box-sets and instant-stream content we are waiting, just waiting, for the announcement of next seasons, as if clocking in and staying put with something is a mark of our commitment (when it actually becomes just another job, rather than the escapism it’s surely meant to be).
Patrick Melrose is a new gold standard.
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