By Daniel D'Addario
May 10, 2018

The Patrick Melrose novels, by the British writer Edward St. Aubyn, depict the life of a dissolute man as he goes from squandering his promise to having squandered it. Patrick is born into high social status but trained from youth that to strive is unbecoming; instead, he plunges into addiction, finding redemption slowly.

Benedict Cumberbatch, the primly composed actor, makes for a perfect Patrick. In Showtime’s remarkable, decades-traversing new miniseries Patrick Melrose, Cumberbatch’s boarding-school anticharisma neatly coincides with a character who holds the world at arm’s length. And the actor’s calculatedness, known to fans of Sherlock, looks radically different as he counts the minutes, and even the seconds, until his next hit, or whiles away the hours after giving drugs up. His is a soulful, careening tale told with both novelistic sweep and deeply personal emotion.

This appears in the May 21, 2018 issue of TIME.

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