Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 31, 2019)
Based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn, Patrick Melrose offers a 2018 mini-series. All five episodes appear on these two Blu-ray discs, and the plot synopses come from the series’ official website.
Bad News: “In the grip of his addictions, Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) must fly to New York to collect his father’s (Hugo Weaving) ashes. Over the course of a lost Manhattan weekend, Patrick’s remorseless search for satisfaction, haunted by old acquaintances and insistent inner voices, sends him into a nightmarish spiral, including a disastrous date with the girl of his dreams.”
If “News” provides the template, Melrose will act as a showcase for Cumberbatch. Of course, this shouldn’t shock, as he’s the biggest name involved and he plays the title character, but it’s still a little surprising just how heavily Patrick dominates the first episode.
Cumberbatch gobbles scenery, but he does so with so much aplomb that I don’t mind. “News” really serves to set up the characters, and it does so reasonably well, though we don’t get a ton of depth. Still, it’s an involving show that opens the series on a fairly positive note.
Never Mind: “At the Melrose family’s glorious house in the South of France, young Patrick has the run of the magical grounds. Bravely imaginative and self-sufficient out of necessity, 9-year-old Patrick (Sebastian Maltz) encounters the volatile lives of adults with fear.”
So much for my thought that Melrose would exist as a consistent spotlight for Cumberbatch, as he barely appears in this flashback episode. The framework mostly works, though.
On the negative side, the “domineering father/distant mother” motif seems trite, and some of the show’s dialogue leans toward Basil Exposition territory. Strong performances carry the day, though, and make this a mostly pleasing program.
Some Hope: “Patrick reluctantly agrees to go to his first big social event since recovering. Together with his good friend Johnny Hall (Prasanna Puwanarajah), he attends a glittering party in the English countryside hosted by former hippie Bridget (Holliday Grainger) – now married, titled and miserable – and attended by Princess Margaret (Harriet Walter) as well as a number of Patrick's old flames.”
Back with adult Patrick, we get another glimpse of upper-crust society types behaving badly. Like the prior episode, some of this feels melodramatic, but the show progresses in a way that integrates its events with the previous flashbacks to help advance matters well.
Mother’s Milk: “Patrick is spending the summer at his old family home in France with his wife Mary (Anna Madeley) and their two young sons. When a now-sober Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) announces her plan to leave the house to a New Age foundation instead of Patrick, he quickly falls off the wagon.”
That seems like a big jump from the prior show, but left unsaid in the synopsis is the fact that “Hope” took place in 1990 and “Milk” goes to 2003, so the shift makes more sense in that context. Although the series skips through eras with abandon, it does so in a natural manner that doesn’t feel abrupt or problematic.
Still, a little smoother connection might’ve benefited “Milk”, as it can feel a bit abrupt in its shift. Nonetheless, it offers some intriguing story and character elements that send us toward the series finale well.
At Last: “Patrick confronts the past on the day of his mother's memorial service. Now truly clean and sober, he attempts to solve the puzzle of his mother’s complicity in his father’s abuse.”
For the last episode, we get a minor jump in time, as “Last” takes place a mere two years after “Milk”. It links pretty directly to “Milk” as well, with a clear connection between the two.
“Last” brings the series full circle as well. Melrose opened with the death of Patrick’s father and concludes with the demise of his mother.
Much of Melrose leans toward melodrama, but the series pulls off these elements in a dry, semi-cynical enough matter that it never devolves into sudsy material. A deep look at abuse and the damage done, “Last” ends the series on a high note.