Patrick Melrose, episode 5, review – this supreme drama was a headlong triumph in every department

Benedict Cumberbatch made playing Patrick Melrose look easy - Showtime
Benedict Cumberbatch made playing Patrick Melrose look easy - Showtime

The odyssey of Patrick Melrose (Sky Atlantic) concluded as it began, with the cremation of an unloving parent. Thus the masterplan of David Nicholls, who adapted Edward St Aubyn’s novel sequence, swam fully into focus.

Some devotees may have been thrown by Nicholls’s decision, like a feinting chess grandmaster, to castle books one and two and start with the latter. But with this artfully arranged pair of bookends, it made all sorts of sense all along.

The journey of the hero (if that’s the word for the snorting, raging Patrick Melrose) took him from the grip of powerless addiction to a redeeming peace enabled by forgiveness.

Perhaps the final episode’s hugely moving outro was a little too neat and tidy. The last flashback found the young Patrick (the extraordinary Sebastian Maltz) summoning the courage to say no to his father.

This defiant act of patricidal castration was paired with the older Patrick’s climactic decision to put away childish things – the yearning to blame parents for his pain - and embrace the joy of parenthood.

Elsewhere the script embraced the chaos engendered by funerals. Pity poor Nicholas Pratt (the resplendent Pip Torrens), blithely spouting bilious arias lifted verbatim from the book, only to be trapped in a concerned pincer movement from hell: Annette the soothing Irish Buddhist (Eileen Walsh) and Fleur, the unboundaried depressive off her meds (Elizabeth Berrington). His only recourse was to have a coronary and, almost comically, die.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, playing Eleanor Melrose across four decades, found the truth of a debilitated stroke victim in spite of her inhibiting cake-mask. I wonder, had the exposure of Harvey Weinstein happened by the time they shot the devastating scene in which, to the screech of cicadas, Patrick told his mother that his father had raped him? The words “me too” acquired a shocking new resonance. How much simpler it was for the quiet, grounded volcano Mary (Anna Madeley) to denounce her despicable mother Kettle (Celia Imrie).

The best TV shows of 2018
The best TV shows of 2018

This supreme drama has been a headlong triumph in every department: acting, directing (Edward Berger), adapting, casting, costume and set design, location scouting. Above all, and to the very end, Cumberbatch astonished as a live lightning rod for St Aubyn’s alter ego. Patrick Melrose told the story of a privileged man for whom life is intolerably difficult. Cumberbatch made playing him look easy. Did anyone think for even a second about that other great headcase who made him world famous? Me neither. That’s how good he was.

Patrick Melrose is shown on Sky Atlantic, Sundays at 9pm. Or watch with a two week free trial of the NOW TV Entertainment Pass