Tag Archives: Patrick Melrose

Backstage pass

Killing Eve and Patrick Melrose claimed the major drama prizes at the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2019. DQ was backstage to hear from the winners.

Once the ceremony had concluded and the final prizes of the night had been handed out, the winners of the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2019 – or Baftas, as they are better known – returned to the stage at London’s Royal Festival Hall for a final group photograph.

As they huddled together, each clutching their own gleaming statuette, all eyes were on the two actors standing at the front of the crowd. For Benedict Cumberbatch, his triumph in the Leading Actor category for his role in Patrick Melrose marked his first win in eight Bafta nominations across film and television.

Standing next to him was Jodie Comer, winning at the second opportunity for her standout role as assassin Villanelle in Killing Eve, having seen off competition from co-star Sandra Oh, who was nominated in the same category. Oh won a Golden Globe earlier this year for her performance as Eve Polastri, the intelligence agent simultaneously on the hunt for and infatuated with Villanelle.

Killing Eve proved to be the big winner of the evening, taking home two more awards on top of Comer’s gong: best supporting actress for Fiona Shaw, who plays MI6 bigwig Carolyn Martens, and best drama series, arguably the night’s most prestigious accolade.

Jodie Comer shows off the Bafta she won for her role as Villanelle in Killing Eve

Similarly, Patrick Melrose’s recognition extended beyond its star, with the fiver-parter kicking off the annual ceremony, which recognised programmes that aired in 2018, by claiming best miniseries.

The Sky Atlantic and Showtime drama is based on the semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn that chart upper-class Melrose’s attempts to overcome his addictions and demons, which are rooted in a childhood overshadowed by an abusive father and negligent mother.

“You win when you get to work on a project like this. You win when you get to work with the people you get to work with and the TV family we created. This is just an embarrassment of riches but it’s elating, it’s fantastic,” said Cumberbatch after claiming his award (pictured top).

Describing his time playing Melrose as “a proper experience and one that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” he added: “It’s something that touched on a lot of incredibly powerful themes. It asks a lot of you as an actor. That’s a great thing. But my chiefest joy, as well as the family I made on the project, is the friendship I’ve made with the man who lived it [St Aubyn].

“He’s an incredible man who, under the pressure cooker of trauma, managed to create this jewel of art in these amazing series of novels that are painfully, brilliantly, funnily, wittily, rawly close to his life and look at what damage, self-abuse, abuse and salvation – in the end, because that is what it ends on – can be. He’s a survivor. That’s my greatest reward.”

Benedict Cumberbatch in Patrick Melrose, which won in the miniseries category

The actor went on to describe director Edward Berger (The Terror, Deutschland 83) as “a genius,” noting that everyone on the production team – Cumberbatch was an exec producer – was keen to do justice to St Auybyn’s acclaimed novels. “We thought, ‘We cannot fuck this up. This has to be good.’ You want to do your best.”

After winning the Best Director: Drama award for his work on A Very English Scandal at the Bafta Television Craft Awards a fortnight ago, Stephen Frears was back on stage to collect the award for supporting actor on behalf of Ben Whishaw. In the series, Hugh Grant plays disgraced MP Jeremy Thorpe, who in 1979 was tried but acquitted of conspiring to murder his ex-lover, Norman Scott (Whishaw).

“I’m sorry I’m not Ben,” the director quipped, revealing the actor’s commitments on Broadway prevented him from attending. “He’s a very, very good actor and it was a pleasure and an honour to direct him.”

In a year when Netflix series Black Mirror broke new ground with its interactive episode Bandersnatch, it was the dramatisation of a real-life story that took the Single Drama award. Killed By My Debt, produced by BBC Studios for BBC3, told how 20-year-old motorcycle courier Jerome Rogers took his own life in 2017 when he was unable to pay traffic fines worth £130 (US$167), which spiralled to more than £1,000 with interest. His family have since been campaigning for greater regulation against the bailiff industry in the UK.

Writer Tahsin Guner admitted he found it very difficult to pen the script. “When I first heard what had happened with the news articles, it made me really angry and really upset,” he said. “I knew that was how I wanted the audience to feel. From the feedback I’ve had, it’s a devastating experience to watch, and it was upsetting watching it and making it and writing it.”

Killed By My Debt, based on a true story, won the Single Drama award

Rather than being a complete dramatisation, Killed By My Debt is very much focused on the facts surrounding Jerome’s death. Lines of dialogue were based on his work contract or taken verbatim from a bailiff’s body cam. “You don’t really have to fictionalise anything. Everything you see that happens in the drama happened. Really, nothing is fictionalised,” Guner said. “We had access to phone calls, we had access to all of his payslips. So we really constructed the story from all of those things, from all those factual documentary elements.”

Fiona Shaw, who is best known for her role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films, was already a familiar face before Killing Eve launched last year. But she revealed her life has dramatically changed since the BBC America spy saga, which airs on BBC1 in the UK, rolled out to critical and popular acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Often people come up to me and talk about Harry Potter or [1990 comedy] Three Men & a Little Lady or something from the theatre,” she said. “But people came to stop bicycles for Killing Eve. Floods of bicycles going to work would just stop. That’s unusual. That’s never happened before.”

Shaw first read the Killing Eve script while in bed one morning with a cup of tea. As she turned each page, “I wasn’t sure if it was something that might be amazing under the radar, and like five people in London would enjoy it, or whether it was really funny. But I was laughing and I couldn’t wait to turn the page. Then I said, ‘I’m not doing this unless I have lunch with [creator and season one head writer] Phoebe Waller-Bridge,’ and I had the most delightful lunch with her. I’d never met her, but of course I knew [writer and star Waller-Bridge’s BBC3 stage play-turned BBC3 comedy] Fleabag. At the end, I was hers for life and still am.”

Shaw went on to make a cameo in season two of Fleabag, playing a therapist, although she initially rejected the opportunity. “I said, ‘I don’t think I’ve got time, I’m doing so much Killing Eve.’ But [filming on] Fleabag ran on a bit later than they thought and Phoebe asked me to play this psychotherapist,” the actor recalls. “So we just did it one morning and she was spinning plates in that she was rewriting it, I was relearning it; she was just changing things and acting in it. It was an astonishing morning for this tiny sequence.”

Fiona Shaw as MI6 honcho Carolyn Martens in Killing Eve

As the event headed towards its conclusion, Cumberbatch was back on stage to accept the leading actor award for Patrick Melrose, before stating backstage that he had never been prouder of a piece of work for which he had been nominated. “To win for this really means the most. It’s a dream come true. I’m very happy,” he said, admitting that he thought Hugh Grant would win for his A Very English Scandal performance.

To play a drug addict, Cumberbatch sought advice from people who were familiar with the substances that appear in the show about how to accurately portray their physical and mental impact. “So whether it was depression in the aftermath or getting high on shooting cocaine or being doped on quaaludes or just being a little bit drunk, I sought out the expert help of people who educate people within institutions, within the entertainment industry, within all forms and walks of life about the perils of drug abuse and the powers of addiction, what addiction really is and that anyone can be an addict. They were very helpful and gave me a lot of thumbs ups and also corrected me. That’s how I got there.”

Melrose’s journey across the miniseries runs from drug addict to sobriety and midlife crisis to a confrontation with his mother about the abuse he suffered during his childhood. Cumberbatch said there was constant support on set from director Berger and director of photography James Friend. David Nicholls, he noted, wasn’t precious about his award-winning scripts either.

“It was an amazing experience to work with them,” Cumberbatch continued. “They were great friends and easy and fun, and it had to be fun because of how dark it got and how demanding. Best of all was Edward St Aubyn coming on set and seeing me in some spiral of madness after injecting cocaine. He was incredibly generous and sincere about what I needed to consider to get there and about sharing the truth of his life. I couldn’t think of better people to work with.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge on set for Killing Eve’s first season

The final award of the night went to a tearful Comer, coming after Killing Eve had also bee named best drama series.

“It’s the best,” the actor said of the series’ impact. “You can’t anticipate how something’s going to go down with an audience, and to see it grow and grow each week and for us to be able to bask in it and celebrate it has been really special. I’ve never had this before, definitely, so it’s been really wonderful.”

Waller-Bridge revealed the anxiousness of writers at the outset of a project when she spoke of asking people to join her on the series when it was still in its infancy. “When you start with something, it always feels like such a big deal to ask people to come on board something that isn’t in existence yet. There’s so much trust and risk and to get this amazing team together; it just feels like the biggest journey. I’m so proud of everyone. I feel so, so lucky.”

The Fleabag star stepped away from writing duties on Killing Eve’s second season, with Emerald Fennell, who stars as Camilla Parker Bowles in Netflix period drama The Crown, taking over as lead writer. And Waller-Bridge believes the change has been “a wonderful thing.”

“Emerald is such a bad ass,” she laughed. “It was painful and hard because I’m moving away from a family and a project, but I’m still there and around [as an exec producer], and seeing Emerald take it and run with it was cool. It’s cool to hand things on and have other people’s input. It can only make things grow.

“I have [watched it]. It’s absolutely fantastic. It’s so brilliant because Emerald’s voice is so unique. There was no sense in getting her to do what we’d done before. There was a real sense, from the whole company, of ‘come and bring your talent to it.’ It really does have her voice, which is very evident in it and does give it this amazing energy, and then [the cast] bring the same kind of glory as they did before.”

With a third season of Killing Eve already confirmed, Waller-Bridge also teased a potential cameo, having not yet appeared on screen in the series. “I would loved to be murdered by Jodie,” she added.

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Creative sparks

A Very English Scandal, Patrick Melrose and Killing Eve were among the shows that won at the British Academy Television Craft Awards 2019. DQ went backstage to speak to some of the winners in the drama categories.

As the celebration of skill and creativity in television began, British Academy chair Dame Pippa Harris told the seated guests: “Your work made such an impact on viewers in 2018 and proved that, at its very best, television has the power to change the way people think, feel or behave.”

Those words set the tone for Bafta’s Television Craft Awards 2019, which, within the intimate surroundings of central London’s The Brewery, proved to be an evening full of camaraderie and solidarity as winners, nominees and others from the industry paid tribute to some of the extraordinary work produced last year.

Following an introductory film featuring actor and host Stephen Mangan in a parody of Killing Eve (see below), complete with pink tulle dress, the awards were duly presented. In the drama categories, Pia Di Ciaula won best editing for BBC political drama A Very English Scandal; Adam McInnes, John Smith and Kevin Horsewood claimed the honours for special, visual and graphic effects for their work on Troy: Fall of a City; and Suzanne Cave picked up another award for A Very English Scandal for costume design.

Big cheers from across the room greeted Cave’s win, proving the non-partisan credentials of an event filled with people who had previously worked with one another – or are likely to in the future. Cave, whose credits also include The Hour, London Spy and the Strike series, praised her “fairy godmother” Ruth Kenley-Letts (The Hour, Strike, Mrs Wilson) for getting her into the industry.

Backstage, where rows of glistening Bafta statuettes stood in line on a side table, waiting to be handed out during the evening, David Nicholls was visibly struck at the significance of being named best drama writer for penning Sky Atlantic’s Patrick Melrose.

Suzanne Cave

The five-part series, based on the books by Edward St Aubyn and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character, skewered upper-class circles as it followed Melrose’s journey from traumatic childhood to adult substance abuse and recovery.

Speaking to DQ moments after stepping away from the stage, award in hand, Nicholls recalled: “I read the first book in 1992 before I’d even thought about becoming a writer. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I might one day adapt them. I loved them and it was always my dream project. It was always the one I wanted to do and I lived with them for five or six years, reading them over and over again, trying to work out a way to dramatise them.

“It’s been my dream job, an absolute highlight. It was incredibly hard work – frustrating at times, constantly rewriting this thing and trying to get it right. But I’m very proud of the work.”

Embracing the books, rather than seeing them as an obstacle or hindrance to overcome, proved to be the key to unlocking the adaptation. “You had to be truthful, make the changes that were necessary but try to convey what is wonderful and powerful about the books on screen. That was the intention,” Nicholls said.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to collaborate with such a brilliant production team, designers and extraordinary and incredibly committed actors. I’m a novelist as well, so I spend a lot of time by myself, and sometimes when you go for a meeting, it’s tough. You have to thrash things out, you have to argue over them to find the best way to do something. But if you’re with great people who are committed to the show, it’s an incredible experience.”

David Nicholls

In other categories, Vanity Fair’s Vickie Lang won for make-up and hair design; Woo Hyung Kim picked up the prize for photography and lighting: John Le Carré adaptation The Little Drummer Girl took the fiction prize; Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper repeated last year’s success for comedy writing; and Killing Eve won the sound category for fiction.

Patrick Melrose produced another winner in the shape of Tom Burton, who triumphed in the production design section. “When I got asked about it originally, we had the scripts and I thought they were the best scripts I’d ever read,” Burton said, noting that he signed on to the production before director Edward Berger. “We had five episodes and five very different looks. The first one was really gritty, with Patrick smacked out of his head in his hotel room, and then the second was back to his childhood,  set at this lyrical, very beautiful French chateau. Then it carries on.

“The overarching ideas were to start dark and heavy and as he gradually comes out of his fog; to go from darkness into more clarity and simpler sets. Me and Ed and James Fleet, the DOP, just worked at it constantly, trying to create really strong, different looks for each episode and choosing colours and camera lenses so we had a really strong plan. Instead of having a look that runs through the whole show, we wanted to make five quite different-looking episodes.”

During the production, the cast and crew spent nine weeks shooting in the south of France, while Glasgow doubled for 1980s New York. “It worked incredibly well. We could never afford to shoot in New York, but the fact Glasgow has very straight streets means you can look down them and you get the idea of New York avenues. Then at Wimbledon Studios, there was [Patrick’s] hotel room and the really scuzzy drug den he goes to, so those were two sets we built for the first episode. We turned Senate House into the hotel lobby and then we built the corridor, lift and the hotel suite. No hotel is going to let somebody trash a room, which is what he does. So it made sense to build it as a set.”

Vickie Lang

While television dramas have become more ambitious in scope and scale, Burton said the demands of his job haven’t changed too much, but noted that VFX supervisors are becoming increasingly key collaborators. “I do get employed earlier than I used to,” he said. “The dynamics of television are changing – if you’ve got a big show, finding a production designer to start it off is almost what producers begin with, in conjunction with finding directors. Production designers have longer run-ups to the show. What’s happening now, as shows get bigger, is you get more time.”

Killing Eve scooped its second award of the night for original music, with David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia (pictured left and right respectively at the top of this page) collecting the gong. With the pair full of smiles, it was no surprise to hear Holmes say that on every project, “we just have a laugh.”

“We’re all going die one day and we try to work on projects we like,” he said. “We do it with a great sense of honour, integrity and love of what we do. It’s actually that simple. I have no aspirations other than to do my best. The best award you can get is just being busy, and that’s what we try to do.”

The show’s producers, Sid Gentle Films, gave the composers “a blank canvas” and they got to work after reading the scripts and speaking to season one showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the team.

“When you go into these shows, you should never try to create something that’s been done before,” Holmes continued. “You have to focus on what the show is, and what we tried to do from the beginning was create the soundtrack of Killing Eve. It was meant to be. The stars aligned.”

Stephen Frears

Ciancia added: “Most of the humour and drama was already there [in the script], so our work is either enhancement or thematic music, or sounds that are coming from the characters’ heads. And because it was set in different countries and different settings, that allowed us to use a range of instruments . It’s more about the spirit, and that’s unique to this show.”

Meanwhile, A Very English Scandal proved to be the big winner of the night with three awards overall – the third being Stephen Frears’ win in the fiction director category.

“It was very, very good fun. It was an easy job. It was very well written, with very good actors,” Frears said when asked what he most fondly remembered about the project.

A Very English Scandal scribe Russell T Davies lost out to Nicholls in the drama writer category, but Frears was full of praise for his collaborator: “He’s a wonderful writer, very funny, and he’s very cheeky and naughty and moving. It was great, terrific.”

The award becomes Frears’ fifth Bafta in a collection that celebrates his five decades as a director. His advice for any newcomers? “Courage – and hope you’re as lucky as I am and get good material.”

The biggest applause of the night was reserved for script supervisor Emma Thomas, who received the event’s Special Award in recognition of the impact of her 30-year career on the industry and her contribution to more than 50 films and television series. With credits on titles such as Guerrilla, Luther, Critical, Benidorm and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Thomas is also a board member of Women in Film and Television and actively mentors young women in industry.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with a number of talented professionals, to work on a huge variety of programmes and films throughout my career, and I’ve been at the forefront of this ever-changing industry,” Thomas said. “It’s a privilege to have been awarded the prestigious British Academy Television Craft Special Award in a year where so many women have been recognised by Bafta both in front of and behind the screen.”

The award and the room’s recognition of Thomas summed up the supportive atmosphere of the event, where the biggest dramas of 2018 all received plaudits. Next up, the teams behind A Very English Scandal, Killing Eve and Patrick Melrose will be hoping for success at sister event the Bafta Television Awards on May 12.

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Making Melrose

Screenwriter David Nicholls, director Edward Berger and executive producer Michael Jackson tell DQ about adapting Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels into a five-part limited series for Sky Atlantic and Showtime.

There is no shortage of acclaimed writers willing to endorse Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels. The five-book collection – Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk and At Last – boasts cover quotes from literary figures including Zadie Smith, Alan Hollinghurst, Alice Sebold and Maggie O’Farrell.

Also among them is David Nicholls, the author of novels including One Day and Starter for 10 – and the screenwriter who adapted both for the cinema. “I’ve loved Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels. Read them all, now,” he says.

Nicholls is likely demanding people watch them, too, now that he has adapted St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical books into a five-part limited series for Sky Atlantic in the UK and US premium cable network Showtime.

The sweeping saga follows Melrose from the South of France in the 1960s to 1980s New York and Britain in the early 2000s, while each episode focuses on one of St Aubyn’s five novels, skewering the upper class as it tracks the protagonist’s journey from deeply traumatic childhood to his drug addiction and ultimate recovery.

In an often dazzling and dynamic performance that might surprise those who only know him from Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Melrose, while the sprawling ensemble cast also includes Hugo Weaving, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anna Madeley, Blythe Danner, Allison Williams, Pip Torrens, Jessica Raine, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Holliday Grainger, Indira Varma and Celia Imrie.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose

The journey to bring Patrick Melrose to the screen began five years ago when executive producers Michael Jackson and Rachael Horovitz snagged the rights to St Aubyn’s novels. Jackson, a former Channel 4 and BBC executive, describes the books as a “very compelling, human saga” with a “sense of sweep of narrative that appealed from a television perspective.”

There was a fair amount of untangling for Nicholls to do during the writing process, however, as he tackled St Aubyn’s literary prose, the protagonist’s internal thoughts, flashbacks and other structural devices contained within the novels.

“He’s a very skilful adapter and a novelist himself and loved the books, so it wasn’t a hard decision,” Jackson says on bringing Nicholls to the project.

For his part, Nicholls admits he jumbled the source material, most notably by starting the series with the second book, Bad News, in which Melrose embarks on a crazed and drug-riddled visit to New York to collect his father’s ashes. Stories and characters were also transplanted and conflated into different episodes to ensure continuity through the series.

“There was a certain amount of manipulation of the material to give the impression that this was conceived as a saga,” Nicholls says. “The novels weren’t written with the expectation of there being five over 20 years. That came to Edward as he was writing them. So, as you work on them retrospectively, you wonder if we can introduce Mary, his wife, in the third episode so she doesn’t appear out of nowhere in the fourth, and maybe this other character who isn’t in the first episode ought to be.

The Sky Atlantic and Showtime series also stars Hugo Weaving

“There’s a certain amount of retrospective reorganisation and I couldn’t really set about that until I had all five books in my head. Literally for years, I would walk around London listening to the audio books over and over again until I had a map of the whole five volumes and five episodes in my head. That seemed like the only way to do it.”

The original idea had been to create two 90-minute films based on the first two books, and it was quite late into development when the decision was made to adapt all five as individual hour-long episodes. Patrick Melrose is produced by Two Cities Television, SunnyMarch and Little Island Productions and distributed by Sky Vision.

“It was a challenge and quite a puzzle so, in that sense, it was a monster,” Nicholls notes. “It was a much more demanding adaptation than anything I’ve ever done. But after a while, a shape started to appear and a sense that actually it was important to treat the five books as a whole, rather than treat them as five very separate episodes, and to forge links between them rather than separate them out.”

One particular challenge was externalising Melrose’s inner thoughts, of which there are many throughout St Aubyn’s texts. A date from hell between Melrose and Marianne (Williams), in the episode Bad News, doesn’t have a single line of dialogue for Marianne in the book, so Nicholls had the “slightly nerve-racking business” of writing it in the voice of the original author.

Each of the five films, as well as being drawn from a different book, also represent Patrick’s state of mind at that particular point in the story, with different settings, visual styles and even camera techniques used to define each individual episode.

The show comprises five episodes, covering the five Patrick Melrose books

“Episode three is an ensemble, epic, huge piece and number four is a much more intense, claustrophobic family drama, and five is a rather melancholic memory piece,” Nicholls explains. “Each one has a completely different quality and, at the same time, you want to feel this is the same character. There’s also a satisfaction in watching not just Patrick but all the other characters change as the years go by.”

Taking charge behind the camera is Edward Berger (Deutschland 83, The Terror), who told exec producers Jackson, Horovitz and Cumberbatch that he had imagined making five different films before he was officially brought on board.

“When I read the scripts, they all felt very different,” he says. “The first one was very subjective and anchored in Patrick’s head, running around New York with him. On set in Glasgow, I was really with Benedict, always behind him with the camera and very much trying to emulate the subjectivity of being this crazy heroin addict in the 80s in New York. Episode two, when I read it, felt, instead of subjective, objective – as if Patrick had stepped back and looked at this psychologically strange arrangement of his family, looking at it from the outside rather than inside, so we just stepped back with the camera. It’s much more static than the first one, much more composed. It’s much more distant, just looking at it as a psychological experiment, almost like a [Michael] Haneke movie.

“The third one is like Patrick has moved on. He’s trying to get sober, he’s trying to get clean. We felt it should still be very subjective but more together, more fluid, so we changed from this very handheld style to a very fluid steadicam, five-minute-take style where we just roam around this party and stay much longer on one shot.

“I thought maybe at the end of the series, it feels like a step towards normalcy in Patrick Melrose’s life, so let’s just try to make it more normal and not so frantic. Every film jumps to a very specific moment in Patrick’s life, so it also needs a very specific language according to that moment.”

Get Out’s Allison Williams is part of the ensemble cast

Berger joined the production in March 2017 and went straight into meetings with Nicholls to discuss the script before beginning casting alongside Nina Gold. But what excited the director most about the project was the very fact he had no idea how he would do it.

“The potential of failure is always there – you think, ‘I might really fuck this up. This might be really terrible if done badly,’” he says. “I find that interesting, I find that challenging. You have to rise to the occasion and work hard. As soon as you feel you know how to do it and know how it works, I think it’s time to change jobs and do something different, because then it gets quite boring.

“Fantastic characters and great scripts have to be there, of course, and Patrick Melrose is something I wanted to do because the potential to not live up to the books was just immense. My love of the books is so big that I really wanted to see if I could do something that brought back the feeling I had when I first read it.”

Cumberbatch, who also executive produces, shares the creative team’s love of St Aubyn’s books, and Jackson was immediately impressed by the actor’s understanding of the central character. “You could tell right from the very first conversation he would be perfect in the role,” he says. “I don’t think there could have been an actor as good as Benedict in the role. He was perfectly cast.”

The exec highlights Cumberbatch’s subtle ability to move between tragedy and sadness, which he describes as “amazing to behold.”

Patrick Melrose is directed by Edward Berger (Deutschland 83, The Terror)

“We were in awe of it during filming,” he continues. “Just his ability, particularly in the first episode, Bad News, when he’s undergoing the fractured personalities of the heroin addict and speaking in all the different voices. His ability to hold the jigsaw puzzle of the character together is remarkable.”

Berger describes Cumberbatch as “a very intuitive actor” who imagined five or six different versions of a scene and how he might play it. That meant on set, the pair would work through different ways of playing Melrose, before settling on how they wanted to take the character forward. “He likes to experiment a lot, play a lot, and my task is almost to help find that voice and give him the platform to try out what he wants to do and then talk to him about it,” the director says. “It’s not like Benedict comes on set, does three takes and says, ‘Great, let’s move on.’ No, he can do 12 different versions, and trying to find the right one is not easy for me or for him. So finding it together is the most important thing you can do.”

Nicholls echoes Jackson’s comments of their leading man: “It’s really committed performance. That was the thing that struck me, because he really went for it and did all the research. He was respectful of the scripts but drew on the books and was also very attentive to every single detail. He’s not in the second episode very much, but in the rest of the show he’s barely off screen. It was absolutely exhausting but he was entirely committed to it throughout. The whole range of his performance is really stunning.”

Cumberbatch lifts the sharp humour and satire in Nicholls’ scripts off the page while also portraying an emotionally fragile man who is trying to shed the spite and anger he has carried from childhood.

“What’s fascinating to me is the scripts are very faithful [to St Aubyn’s story] but when you put humans on screen and actors put a face or expression to a line of dialogue, they can’t help but make it more emotional,” Nicholls concludes. “That’s what’s been striking for me. The drama on screen is quite moving; it is harrowing in places; but it’s also tackling and emotional. So I’m pleased with it. We’ve brought out that quality without sentimentalising it.”

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