Following the death of his father in the 1980s, Englishman Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) attempts to overcome his addictions and demons rooted in abuse by his father and a negligent mother. Patrick Melrose is based on the semi-autobiographical Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn.
Each episode of the five-part miniseries is based on the next book from the Melrose novels. We experience a weekend in New York as Patrick collects his father’s ashes, an evening at a fancy English party, and many other small moments as Patrick works to overcome the many childhood traumas that shaped his life. This slow approach centring around short periods of time in Melrose’s life create a well-established, full-bodied life for the title character without being delicate or overly sympathetic to his plight.
Along the way, we also develop small insights into other people within Patrick’s life. Usually, these moments float past as Patrick observes them from the background or hears snippets of conversation, but gradually throughout the episodes we gain more of an understanding as Patrick becomes less internally-focused.
This was a fascinating journey to watch on screen, with Cumberbatch expertly navigating the turmoil and short bursts of excitement or devastation. Hugo Weaving personifies hatred in this role as a sexually abusive father, easily creating a sense of unease and fear with every scene. As Patrick’s mother, Jennifer Jason Leigh exemplifies the internally fraught mother without the capacity for selflessness. She inspires a feeling of compassion and unease as her unforgivable behaviour affects her son. The writing by David Nicolls feels deeply human and allowed the intent of the original books to shine.
Patrick Melrose has been nominated for five Primetime Emmys: outstanding limited series, lead actor (Cumberbatch), directing (Edward Berger), writing (David Nicolls), casting (Nina Gold and Martin Ware). You can watch the Patrick Melrose miniseries on Crave in the Showtime Collection.