Last October, filming was just under way and none of us knew exactly what to expect from this 5 part mini series. Although, we knew Benedict Cumberbatch was involved. He had declared his love for Edward St. Aubyn’s “Patrick Melrose” novels before, so we had an inkling we would be in for something extra special and expectations rose with the news of filming coming in.
Now, a couple of months later and with all five instalments of Patrick Melrose having been aired, it is time to say, wow, did they ever meet, if not exceed those expectations!Embed from Getty Images
Back then, I wondered about the choices the creative team (scriptwriter David Nicholls, director Edward Berger, producer and lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch) would make in order to bring the spirit of the books alive.
It turned out, the first two books are swapped for the adaptation: ‘Bad News’ with Patrick’s drug-addled trip to NYC in order to pick up his father’s ashes thus becomes the first instalment of the series. Setting the outcome before the cause, this gives Cumberbatch the stage he needs to fully establish Patrick in the viewers’ hearts and minds. Needless to say that his acting is out of this world throughout all five instalments of Patrick Melrose.
It’s obvious, this is a matter of the heart for Benedict, his dream role, and he gives it his all, no matter how big or small the scene seems to be. We see him exposed and vulnerable as never before and yet: just a couple of minutes into the first episode and you might want to punch him already, yell some sense into him. You sit there, shaking your head at the screen going “NO!”, but at the same time you can’t but deeply root for him, hoping he will find a way out of the maze that he’s gotten himself into.
It is only in the now second episode, ‘Nevermind’ that we find out about what caused Patrick to drift off into addiction and why he’s often vigorously attempting self-destruction. The following episodes ‘Some Hope’, ‘Mother’s Milk’ and ‘At last’ let us see Patrick as an adult, making his way from addiction to finally being freed from the shadows of the past. We (reluctantly) leave him at what is probably a turning point in his life, a positive outlook for his future.
The casting in Patrick Melrose is nothing but stellar – with Hugo Weaving, who, in his role of Patrick’s father David, is brazenly good at terrorizing everyone he meets; Jennifer Jason Leigh as Patrick’s mother Eleanor comes across as helpless and weak, having escaped into an alcoholic haze, trying to delude herself into believing writing out cheques to Save the Children makes up for everything else. Pip Torrens as Nicholas Pratt, is the epitome of British upper class fossilization, no matter what.
There’s Indira Varma as Anne Eisen, having a guilty conscience towards grown-up Patrick, thinking she could have done more than she did when he was a boy. Prasannah Puwanarajah portrays Johnny Hall, Patrick’s reliable friend through thick and thin. Jessica Reine as Patrick’s on and off affair, ending up to be somewhat of a catalyst for him on his way to become a better person.
Also Anna Madeley as Patrick’s wife Mary, who cannot bear to witness him destroying his life, and yet – watching her, you can tell she’s doing what she does out of love for him. She, together with their two boys, is the silver lining at the horizon – at last!
Too many characters to name each and every one, but a shout out definitely has to go to Sebastian Maltz for his portrayal of Patrick as a boy. He does this with such intensity, it’s heart-wrenching to watch.
All of the brilliant acting is supported and enhanced by the beautiful cinematography. All the frames and shots together with the colour palettes used manage to create a distinct feeling for each of the five episodes. As the seasons change and time moves forward, so do the colours used. Bad News for instance has the NYC 80ies vibe, Nevermind – set in 1967 Provence – brims with summery colours, very much contrasting the harrowing experience we see Patrick go through.
Colours play an important role per se: the women often wear reds and pinks, David Melrose is more associated with greens, and while Patrick is shown to wear both colours as a child, his adult version is very much associated with blue. The scenes in which he is trying to destroy himself as a young adult or later, when he is in the psychiatric clinic, share a colour scheme of somewhat oceanic green, nightmarelike sequences create a feeling of losing oneself, of drowning, of just giving in.
At Last, on the contrary, shows Patrick, Mary and their sons wear blue, sometimes the dark blue almost seems three dimensional, as if it glows. Now the blue is calming, cooling the senses, having a healing quality.
Just like the colours interlinking the single episodes with each other, there are other recurring elements like e.g. similar shots of open windows with billowing curtains, closed windows, open doors that close. Long, lingering shots of hallways create an eerie sense of doom. Young Patrick and adult Patrick’s son Robert are wearing similar clothes while doing the same thing. A child is sitting on a staircase, alone, being asked by someone else than his mother what’s wrong, only to be then rejected by adults – a scene that Patrick has experienced almost identically as a child and now gets involved in trying to be better, but having to witness the same type of failure he already knows so well. Patrick says “Nobody should do this to someone else” several times throughout the episodes, each time at a different stage in his life – and yet, it’s the essence of what he went through and still cannot grasp to the very day. How could that happen?
Among all the harrowing experiences and daily struggles we see Patrick go through, another element must not be forgotten: the humour! You’ve just wiped away a tear, and before you know it, you’re crying again – with laughter this time. Some of the scenes are just hilarious, often swaying from one extreme to the other, but like the undercurrent of doom, the humour is also always there, prepared to burst out any second.
All of that is supported by the brilliant bespoke score created by Hauschka as well as a variety of songs that many viewers will remember and associate with the time of the respective episode being set in.Embed from Getty Images
Patrick Melrose was awaited with expectations high. The creative team of David Nicholls, Edward Berger and Benedict Cumberbatch, both as lead actor and producer, as well as all involved, no doubt delivered a masterpiece with regard to all aspects: script, directing, cinematography, set design and costumes as well as musical score. Let the awards roll in, they are more than well deserved!