The five-part drama is adapted from the books by Edward St Aubyn. It introduces us to Cumberbatch’s Melrose, a troubled heroin addict with seemingly endless money and a whole heap of childhood trauma.
Here are the characters you need to meet – and where you’ve seen the actors before:
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Patrick Melrose
Who is Patrick Melrose? Childhood trauma has translated into full-blown drug addiction for Patrick Melrose. When we first meet him, he’s an aristocratic and funny young man with seemingly limitless funds, a generous supply of heroin, and a couple of girlfriends on the go. But beneath his privilege and his hedonistic behaviour lies a deep pain stemming from his relationship with his cruel and monstrous father.
What else has Benedict Cumberbatch been in? Everything. Benedict Cumberbatch starred as detective Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock and Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; he plays Doctor Strange in the Marvel movies. His other credits include The Child in Time, Black Mass, 12 Years a Slave and Parade’s End. On stage he has starred in Hamlet and Frankenstein.
Prasanna Puwanarajah plays Johnny Hall
Who is Johnny Hall? Patrick Melrose’s best friend. He, too, is an addict: the two of them connect because they find refuge and solace in drugs and feel they’re both trying to escape their worlds. Their relationship is based on wit and humour, but also on honesty and affection. When Patrick hits rock bottom it is Johnny who is there to pick him up.
What else has Prasanna Puwanarajah been in? The actor recently played James in Doctor Foster. He has also appeared in You, Me and the Apocalypse, Critical, Silk and Cold Feet.
Harriet Walter plays Princess Margaret
Who is Princess Margaret? A far cry from Vanessa Kirby in The Crown, this older Princess Margaret is caustic and cruel. In episode three she attends the birthday party of Bridget Watson Scott’s noble husband, Sonny.
What else has Harriet Walter been in? Guest star Harriet Walter actually starred in The Crown, playing Winston Churchill’s wife Clementine Churchill. Her other screen credits include Sense and Sensibility, Law & Order: UK, and Downton Abbey.
Pip Torrens plays Nicholas Pratt
Who is Nicholas Pratt? David Melrose’s old Etonian friend Nicholas is the one who breaks the news to Patrick about his father’s death. He’s a ghastly reminder of Patrick’s awful dad, a man he he admired for his sheer disdain and snobbery. Filled with aristocratic pomp and eloquence, he is a relic of Patrick’s old world and reappears constantly in his life.
What else has Pip Torrens been in? He’s best known for his recent scene-stealing role as Tommy Lascelles in The Crown. Other appearances have included Cassel in Versailles, Cary Warleggan in Poldark and Herr Starr in Preacher.
Jessica Raine plays Julia
Who is Julia? On-again off-again lover Julia is one of Patrick’s closest friends. She appeals to his hedonistic and cynical side and enjoys her wild youth. Julia can be cool, sardonic and extremely cutting.
What else has Jessica Raine been in? Call the Midwife fans will remember Jessica Raine as original midwife Jenny Lee. Since then she has starred in Wolf Hall, Fortitude, Jericho and The Last Post.
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Eleanor Melrose
Who is Eleanor Melrose? As heiress to a cleaning fluid business, Eleanor comes from one of the richest families in America and has endless wealth. But years of abuse from her husband left her numb, taking refuge in alcohol and drinking herself into a stupor. David Melrose’s viciousness prevented her from acting as a mother to Patrick or offering him any protection. Now, she’s free – but her escape from the family home left Patrick alone with his father when he needed her most.
What else has Jennifer Jason Leigh been in? As Daisy Domergue in Quentin Tarantino movie The Hateful Eight, Jennifer Jason Leigh achieved critical acclaim and nominations at the Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes. Since then she has starred as Elsa Gardner in Atypical and Chantal Hutchens in Twin Peaks. Her other projects have included Miami Blues, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Single White Female and Weeds.
Hugo Weaving as David Melrose
Who is David Melrose? Despite being born into the English aristocracy and raised with snobbish notions about “old money” and inherited wealth, David Melrose was penniless until he met his wife Eleanor. Everything he owned came from her nouveau riche family. A former cavalry officer and doctor and a promising composer, he ended up doing little of note with his life. Instead he chose to drink his days away at his stately residence in France, taking pleasure in cruelty and inspiring fear and humiliation in others – particularly his wife and child.
What else has Hugo Weaving been in? Hugo Weaving is perhaps best known for his roles as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He also played V in V for Vendetta, and Red Skull in Captain America.
Anna Madeley plays Mary Melrose
Who is Mary Melrose? Patrick’s wife, who he meets at an eventful dinner party in episode three, while Patrick is managing a period of sobriety.
They go on to marry, producing two sons: Robert and Thomas. But while Mary knows of her husband’s childhood trauma and history and does her best to be supportive, the lingering memories and the pressures of parenting and family take their toll.
What else has Anna Madeley been in? This is not the first time Anna Madeley has teamed up with Benedict Cumberbatch: she played Rachel Murray in his series The Child in Time. Recently she starred as Clarissa Eden in The Crown, and on the big screen she appeared in The Mercy. Her TV roles have included Miss Ravillious in Mr Selfridge, Gina Hayes in Secret State, and Lucy in Doctor Foster.
Holliday Grainger plays Bridget Watson Scott
Who is Bridget Watson Scott? Bridget is a social climber and a thrill seeker. When we first meet her she is one of Nicholas’s many younger girlfriends: he appreciates her youth and beauty, and she appreciates his wealth. By episode three she has married into the nobility and is hosting a huge party, attended by Princess Margaret.
What else has Holliday Grainger been in? TV fans are most likely to recognise Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott from Strike. She’s also appeared in Cinderella, The Riot Club and My Cousin Rachel, and played Lucrezia in The Borgias.