Patrick Melrose writer penned drama with Cumberbatch in mind
BRINGING together five loosely connected novels into a cohesive mini-series was no easy task for David Nicholls.
But the screenwriter and best-selling author, known for Cold Feet and One Day, has managed to do just that in Patrick Melrose, a five-part drama which recently earned four Primetime Emmy nominations.
The mini-series centres around the titular character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, from his traumatic childhood in the south of France to his drug-addled 20s and his eventual recovery.
"The books are extremely sardonic and witty and sharp, but they can be quite chilly,"' he tells The Guide.
"I wanted this to feel like it was a story of recovery and redemption; of someone putting the past to bed and finding a way of dealing with their childhood trauma in a way that acknowledged it but didn't let it destroy theirs and others' life. I think it's a hopeful show for all its cynicism and sardonic tone. Ultimately I hope it's quite moving."
Each episode brings to life one of the semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn, which were republished as a volume in 2012. Jumping around in time, they have very different tones and paces.
"The first episode has a more frenetic, after-hours, Martin Scorsese meets Trainspotting kind of feel," Nicolls says.
"Because it's a subjective portrayal of a drug binge, it was always going to have a stylised quality. That experience is incredibly subjective. After the first episode there's never any voice-over and no one, including Patrick, ever takes another drug on screen."
Nicholls wrote the script with Cumberbatch, whom he first worked with on his 2006 film Starter for 10, firmly in mind.
"I'd watched him grow and develop as an actor and he seemed like not just the obvious choice but the only choice," he says.
"We needed an actor who had that mercurial quality without being straightforwardly romantic. Patrick is not always likeable and Benedict has in his acting that kind of ambiguous quality. He's extremely charming and verbally dexterous but he also has an edge, a passion and a sense of violence. I've always thought it needed a Hamlet-like actor - an actor who could and would be cast as Hamlet, which of course he's done. Patrick Melrose felt a continuation of Sherlock and Hamlet."
Prasana Puwanarajah stars opposite Cumberbatch as Melrose's best friend Johnny Hall and is equally full of praise for the Oscar nominee.
"He's an incredibly thoughtful, thorough, engaging and brilliant actor," he says.
"It's a very honest relationship Patrick and Johnny have, which is one of the things I love most about it. They are in quite an agitated world, but there's a lot of warmth and care...they genuinely rely on and need each other."
Patrick Melrose airs Mondays at 9.30pm on BBC First.