Meet Patrick Melrose. He’s a smart and sophisticated well-dressed guy who’s about as quintessentially English as one could be. Oh and he’s also a heroin addict. Yes, the eponymous character of Sky Atlantic’s new drama is an unusual protagonist, but a spectacular performance from Benedict Cumberbatch makes him as real as you and me.
We meet Patrick during one of his drug-induced dazes when he’s informed by telephone call that his father (Hugo Weaving) has died. The subtext suggests that Patrick is not as upset about this as one would’ve thought he would’ve been. And there’s a reason for his lack of emotion. As Patrick goes to New York to pick up his father’s ashes, his troubled relationship with Daddy Dearest comes to light.
Yes, Patrick Melrose is a story of childhood trauma, and it’s lasting effects. But what’s interesting is how the show manages highlight these issues in a very witty and clever way. The series employs voiceover to highlight Patrick’s internal struggles, which works well because Patrick is one hundred percent the kind of person who would speak to himself internally. Moreover, he’s had to keep his thoughts to himself all these years. The voiceover technique is something that I can find quite irritating if not used correctly (I’m looking at you The City & The City), but it’s truly wonderful here.
As for genre, it’s pretty hard to say what Patrick Melrose is because in all honesty, I don’t think even writer David Nicholls knows what it is. At its heart is a story about a troubled individual, but one that’s not confined by typical genre conventions. If the story requires humour, then it shall have it. If it requires several graphic scenes of its protagonist taking heroin while delivering an interior monologue, then so shall it be. It’s an odd show, but that makes it all the more engaging because it’s unlike anything else on television.
Patrick Melrose is intense, to say the least. With more humour than one perhaps thought possible for a storyline of this nature, the show manages to expertly jump between comedy and drama in seconds. One minute you’re empathising with Patrick and his problems, the next you’re laughing profusely.
As for Cumberbatch, there simply aren’t words to describe his performance in this. He’s electric. Whether our protagonist is crawling along the floor or sitting in the back of a taxi going through withdrawal, we’re experiencing everything with him. The ease at which Cumberbatch switches from one emotion to another is truly spectacular. There’s no doubt in my mind that his name will be mentioned in award conversations because he is truly sensational in this.
The first two episodes are so starkly different, but yet each harrowing in their own way. The first deals with Patrick head on, and this in itself might make you crave a break from him. You get said break with the second episode, which fills in the blanks as we learn why Patrick is the way that he is. Watching them back to back is almost like watching two different shows, but yet at the same time they’re both so related to one another.
In an era where everything on television is so very much the same, Patrick Melrose manages to be different — and in the best possible way. I already find myself craving the next batch of episodes so I can find out what he gets up to next. Do yourself a favour and get acquainted with Patrick Melrose. Trust me, this one is special.
Patrick Melrose is simulacast at 2.00am on Sunday 13th May or shown in regular slot at 9pm on Sunday on 13th May on Sky Atlantic.
Contributed by Stephen Patterson