TV - Patrick Melrose


With the DVD due out on 16th July, Steve Taylor-Bryant caught up with the mini-series Patrick Melrose...

Patrick Melrose is a man from a very privileged yet traumatic childhood in the 1980s. Patrick's father was a very abusive man, and Patrick's mother put up with his behaviour. Eventually, Patrick's childhood led him down a path into addiction and severe substance abuse in New York. Following the death of his father, Patrick attempts to overcome his addictions and demons rooted in abuse by his father and negligent mother.

I’d never read the books by Edward St. Aubyn but had heard from a friend that considering my own history of substance abuse I may find some dark humour in them. They went on my ever-growing list of things to read and as with most titles, they fell by the wayside. Along comes Benedict Cumberbatch with a Showtime miniseries, shown on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom, and I finally got to experience what my friend thought I might. It was hilarious to me, I saw my memories in some scene playing out in front of my eyes and, whilst I come from a happy home, the darkness that accompanies addiction was all too real, and perversely enjoyable for me watching someone else go through it.

There’s not so much a plot, it’s built across five episodes as a collection of memories and encounters rather than a coherent narrative structure, but it was incredible to watch. The acting calibre on screen was impressive to say the least, with the incredible Hugo Weaving as abusive father David just slightly taking the acclaim from Benedict Cumberbatch who was also the most impressive I have seen him. Weaving is fantastic at playing the evil villain in things but as David Melrose there seemed to be a genuine hatred in his eyes in the scenes where he was dealing with the young Patrick (Sebastian Maltz), and one scene in the second episode with David holding Patrick jokingly by the ears as the young boy holds his dad’s wrists but then practically hanging him as the boy lets go is a scene that terrified me. This was a fun childhood “magic trick” I played with my own father and to see a boy trust so much in his father and to then have that trust broken in such a painful way was brutal for me to watch.


The drug paraphernalia and scenes of excess had no bad effect on me, something friends have worried about as they thought these scenes may be some kind of trigger for me, in the sense of my own sobriety but Benedict Cumberbatch changed for me in these scenes. Gone was the guy who, despite my admiration, was Sherlock in everything, and on my screen instead was an actor who transformed the darkness of the subject matter into top quality storytelling. He showed the absurdity and humour in an addict’s decision making, he showed the sadness and guilt that is the flipside to the high, and he showed the desperation and yet flawed mentality that all drug addicts must face at some point in their recovery. My sobriety is not affected by what I see on screen, triggers in my recovery tend to be meaningless little happens of circumstance that nobody except me would bat an eyelid at, but with this I was transported back to my own embarrassment, and confronted yet again the demons that led me to my own flawed behaviour.

Patrick Melrose was just a stunning piece of television. Some scenes, like the hotel room trashing in episode 1 when Patrick can’t get the window open, had a cinematic quality that you’d love to see in all television projects. Rarely are any shows so completely well cast and incredibly well written but, even when a show gets close to perfection, rarely does it look as beautiful as Patrick Melrose did. A fantastic television experience that I took real joy from viewing.

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Images - Sky Atlantic