Patrick Melrose

Photograph: Sky
Rating 8.5
Streamers Now, Sky
Seasons 1
Episodes 5 x 60 mins

Benedict Cumberbatch is back and brilliant as ever in this portrait of drug-fuelled privilege in 1970s New York.

Good ol’ Cumberbatch is quite the chameleon, isn’t he? We’ve seen him as eccentric genius Sherlock, a dragon in The Hobbit, Dominic Cummings in *that* Brexit film, and now a tortured addict in Patrick Melrose. For that’s what this series is about, despite the name sounding more like a police procedural.

The show opens with Patrick answering his curly corded phone to find out his father has died. As in every other drama, the character receiving this news curls over and falls to the ground. Except here, that’s not a result of grief, rather the heroin he’s just injected into his blood stream. The story is adapted from a semi-autobiographical series of novels by Edward St Aubyn, which follow Patrick’s opioid addictions and his relationship with his abusive father and the privileged world he grew up in.

And the series stays true to the source material. On his way to New York to collect his father’s ashes, Patrick swears off drugs, but battles the pain of withdrawal (and the constant flashbacks of his traumatic childhood) by taking anything he can get his hands on – cocaine, Quaaludes, amphetamines.

This easily could have become a heartless and annoying portrayal of rich folks throwing their wealth at drugs and debauchery, but thanks to the brilliant screenwriting by David Nicholls who cuts down five books into five episodes, it avoids this. Instead it becomes an intelligent and thoughtful portrayal of the perils of wealth, driven by smart dialogue delivered by the ineffably talented Cumberbatch. 

The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston agrees with us on that last part, he says the actor “hits just the right note: hilarious, but also tragic, irritating, exasperating. It is addiction personified, sympathetic without being celebratory or glamorised…he is, and it is, brilliant.” Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya concurs, saying “instead of dwelling on the height of addiction, the astonishingly vulnerable, raw Patrick Melrose is largely committed to exploring the duller but more important work of recovery,” continuing “It’s a stylish period piece, but it’s not a particularly nostalgic one.” But who needs nostalgia when such talent is on display? Not the Independent’s Christopher Hooton, who calls this “a thoughtful and honest exploration of recovery,” and a “masterful voyage into drug-addled mania.”

First shown May 2018. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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