My regular readers may be surprised to hear that I still have friends who say to me ‘Benedict who?’ Granted, these are friends who haven’t seen me much in a while. Anyway, since there are apparently still discerning people out there who are not yet aware of the marvels of Mr Benedict Cumberbatch (and others for whom this may be one of my more interesting topics), my plan is to use this post to catch you up to the acting talents, self-deprecating intelligence and all round loveliness that almost makes me wish I had studied Drama at Manchester instead of Royal Holloway.
Curiously he doesn’t seem to have performed that much Shakespeare – IMDB lists him playing roles of Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet, Demetrius in Midsummer Night’s Dream, The King of Navarre in Love’s Labours Lost and Orlando in As You Like It all with the New Shakespeare Company in the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park but these were back in 2001/2. I did hear a rumour that he is keen to play Hamlet and would be delighted to see that happen. He might not be the obvious choice for his namesake in Much Ado About Nothing which inspired my title:
God help the noble Claudio! If he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere a’ be cured.
(Much Ado About Nothing – Act 1 Scene 1)
A thousand pounds would get you two top seats at the upcoming ‘National Theatre 50 Years on Stage‘ celebration which boasts a star-studded line up including Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Adrian Lester and Penelope Wilton as well as Benedict himself. Thankfully for those of us who would baulk at paying that much for even an amazing night at the theatre it will also be broadcast on BBC2 on Saturday 2nd November. I’m guessing Benedict will be performing a scene from his Olivier Award winning turn as Frankenstein’s Creature which I blogged about last summer, although some of the NT publicity features his earlier performance in ‘After The Dance’.There’s another chance to catch the NTLive Frankenstein at cinemas across the country on 31st October and I would thoroughly recommend it. Cumberbatch’s research for the role included meeting with stroke victims learning to walk, and his physical portrayal of the Creature that opens the play is truly phenomenal.
Other award-winning performances include his superb portrayal of the young Stephen Hawking in the BBC drama Hawking in 2004. He has perhaps cornered the market in playing troubled geniuses – his Vincent in ‘Van Gogh: Painted With Words’ and current role as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate will be followed next year by the role of Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’. Honestly, I am yet to see him give a disappointing performance and even in the much criticised Fifth Estate, his Assange is compelling viewing. I’m not sure if the film has been well enough received to allow him an Oscar nomination but he deserves one.
In contrast to the Australian Assange, he’s played some very proper wartime English characters as Major Stewart in War Horse and Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End. The complex and artistic Parade’s End makes Downton Abbey look like a soap opera, although Cumberbatch’s conservative Tietjens is perhaps upstaged by Rebecca Hall as his wife, Sylvia in an even more impressive performance. Having snared the Benedict she gets tired of him and tosses him aside although her other lovers never quite match up to him. I don’t really want to search the tabloid sites for gossip on why Benedict split from his long-term partner Olivia Poulet last year but somehow she let him go too, leaving him as quite a catch for somebody.
Interviews on chat shows, newspapers and DVD commentaries have convinced me that he’s an all-round lovely chap with thoughtful opinions and a social conscience. I’ve been impressed by him joining protest marches and agreed as he summed up his disappointment that Nick Clegg failed to live up to any of the promise of the pre-election speeches. He clearly engaged with the moral debate of portraying Julian Assange and although he went against the wishes of the man himself in playing the role, he added a depth and nuance to the character which was surprisingly sympathetic. He almost certainly softened the script although he also added credibility to an account which Assange strongly refutes.
Perhaps Cumberbatch’s most loved role to date is playing Sherlock in the BBC Series which brings Holmes to the 21st century alongside Martin Freeman’s Dr Watson. Amidst twisty stories, slick visuals and creative updates from the books, their developing friendship is a wonderful thing to watch. If you haven’t seen it yet (where have you been?) there are six 90 minute episodes to watch before the new series comes out this winter. If you have already seen it you might enjoy my blog post about the similarities between A Scandal in Belgravia and Casino Royale – but there are MASSIVE SPOILERS for both that episode and the James Bond film. The deduction scenes are delivered at a breath-taking pace with the one in ‘Scandal’ apparently an auctioneer-topping 281 words per minute. Catch him if you can (and if you decide you don’t want him, please encourage him in my direction!)