Some Hope, the title of Edward St Aubyn’s third book, could be said with a weary sigh of resignation. But as this dazzling adaptation shows, there really is a glimmer of light in the blighted and benighted life of our hero Patrick Melrose, played to perfection once again by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Episode three is set in 1990. We find him clean from drugs and booze having spent a certain amount of time on a psychiatric ward since the last episode. But still he’s seeming at a loss to what to do.
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He’s studying lugubriously for the law but of course the shadow of his father, David, and his years of abuse hangs heavy. And then Patrick has to go to a party. But not any old party, mind. It’s a posh do in the country held by Lord and Lady Gravesend. And Princess Margaret will be there.
But the shadow of David, always David, cannot go away, however dead he is. And there’s no more vivid reminder to Patrick of him than the lizard he keeps seeing, the same beast he was transfixed by when he was being violated and imagining himself in the body of the reptile. Anywhere but with himself.
As well as being a fascinating glimpse of upper crust society, this episode represents the turning point. A time he can go to a party, not drink, and finally tell someone, his best friend Johnny about what his father did all those years back in the big house in France.
It’s a moving encounter, made slightly absurd by the constant interruption of a waiter who keeps reminding them that they are missing the fireworks. Patrick snaps, and later apologises.
He is compassionate and sympathetic, despite his ordeals, as she shows to Belinda, the Gravesend’s daughter who comes upon the dinner keen to talk to Princess Margaret and his given short shrift by the Royal.
Goodness Margaret is ghastly. With David Melrose dead, the living monster of this episode is the loathsome Princess played with icy cruelty by Harriet Walter. And it’s not just Belinda who gets the cruel treatment. Margaret displays the same deliberate relish humiliating the French ambassador, forcing him to wipe her dress with the gravy he has spilled with the one glacial command: “Wipe!”
We meet David’s old Eton friend Nicholas again (a cruel snob), only his girlfriend from the early part of the story is actually Lady Gravesend. Yes, the the coke-addled hippie we first met in episode one has married up – but she’s not happy. Not least because of the discovery that her husband is having an affair with a woman who is pregnant, and giving him the longed-for son and heir.
But there is Some Hope. At least Patrick is kind to Belinda – and at least her Mummy has the good sense to leave her ghastly, adulterous husband.
Patrick too is emerging form the mire. It may be a “fucking nightmare being lucid” as he says at one point but clarity is what he needs, and his first public disclosure of the abuse to Johnny feels like a sudden, longed-for breathing out. He also uses words which are something of a mantra for him: “Nobody should do that to anybody else.”
Next week we return to the mother, still living in France and keen to give her house away to a New Age charlatan.
It will present new challenges but yes, things can be turned around. Here’s hoping for more hope.