Saturday, May 4, 2013

My love affair with the works of Benedict Cumberbatch

OK. I'll admit it right off the bat. I nicked this post title off the famous Times article written by Caitlin Moran, entitled My Love Affair With Sherlock. With Star Trek Into Darkness due to be released in about a week's time in the U.K. and two weeks' time in the States and worldwide, 36-year old British actor Benedict Cumberbatch is set to take the world by storm and become a household name not just in his home country, which he already is with Sherlock, but on a worldwide scale. After Into Darkness, fans of Cumberbatch will forevermore be divided into two groups, those who fell in love with his acting on the BBC series Sherlock and ones who will definitely be converted post-Star Trek, if the raves about his acting in the movie even by critics panning the movie are anything to go by.

I belong in the former, and only just barely. This despite having first seen him in a movie 5 years ago. Being an Anglophile ever since I could remember who was especially fascinated with Tudor history, I had read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory and, while not being all that impressed by it because of all the historical inaccuracies littered throughout the book, dragged my best friend to go see the 2008 movie adaptation with me. The movie starred Eric Bana of all people as Henry VIII, Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn and Scarlett Johansson as the other Boleyn girl, Mary Boleyn.

The casting left a lot to be desired in my opinion. American actors headlining a British historical film? Definitely not a good sign. The supporting cast seemed mostly to be filled by British actors though, which provided some consolation. Cumberbatch himself had only a small role in this movie, appearing for the first few minutes of the film as William Carey, the first husband of Mary Boleyn who willingly cuckolded himself in return for political power. His role in the movie was really too small for me to make much of an impression beyond: Lucky sod! He gets to have a sex scene with Scarlett Johansson!

It was 4 years later before I saw him in another movie.

Fast forward 4 years to 2012, and I am watching the John LeCarre novel-adapted movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with my uncle. This was as far different from The Other Boleyn Girl as it could get. This was a who's who of British thespians. Gary Oldman. Colin Firth. Tom Hardy. CiarĂ¡n Hinds. Toby Jones. Tom Hardy. And Bendict Cumberbatch. I have to confess, as a moviegoer who is used to fast-paced high-octave action spy movies (all very unrealistic of course), Tinker Tailor was a slow movie to warm up to. A very very slow movie to get into but one in which you do hit paydirt by movie's end. The only character I actually ended up caring about was Peter Guiliam (Cumberbatch's character). In the movie, poor Guillam is made to spy on his own organization, and through Cumberbatch's acting, you can palpably feel his conflict and sense of anguish at having to do such a thing. There is a nail-biting scene where Guillam is tasked with stealing a document and as a viewer, you really fear for him. Not to mention a heartbreaking scene where Guillam had to break up with his boyfriend because things were starting to get really dangerous for him. After watching the movie, I Wikied Benedict Cumberbatch, looked through his filmography but somehow or other never got around to following up on checking out his other works. So I guess you can say I really noticed his superb acting even before seeing Sherlock.

That same year, I saw him in War Horse, where he played a pompous Major James Stewart. Did not recognize him at all, and frankly I was paying more attention to Tom Hiddleston's character who had been more sympathetically portrayed. Have to say Cumberbatch does pompous pretty well though.

Like many others, it took me to watching Sherlock before I recognized Cumberbatch. What can I say? He was such a chameleonic actor that I did not recognize him as the same actor across three different movies, and I am usually very good at spotting even lesser-known actors in different roles. He just looked so different in almost every role he plays. Kind of like the male version of Meryl Streep.

End of 2012. Having just gone through 4 seasons and 75 episodes of Battlestar Galactica on DVD, I was hunting for another good new television series to sink my teeth into. So I browsed through IMDB and came across this BBC series called Sherlock. Oh! A modern day adaptation of Sherlock...Hmm. Not really a fan of Sherlock Holmes even though I had watched the movie version starring Robert Downey Jr and quite enjoyed it, although it was more because of Robert Downey Jr's acting than any love for the character of Sherlock Holmes. Despite the high ratings on IMDB, it took my best friend's recommendation (yeah, that same friend who I dragged to watch The Other Boleyn Girl with me and who I subsequently turned into a Tudor history fan) before I took the plunge.

Come early 2013, and I am watching the first episode of Sherlock, A Study in Pink. Before watching it, I was still feeling very skeptical about an iconic Victorian character being turned into a modern-day character in modern-day London. My perception totally shifted on its head after watching it. I totally was blown away. Blown away by the witty script. Blown away by the acting of Cumberbatch in the role of modern-day Sherlock, a high-functioning sociopath who wears nicotine patches instead of smoking pipes. Loved the on-screen chemistry between Sherlock and Martin Freeman's John Watson (When I went to see The Hobbit, I just couldn't see Martin Freeman's grumpy Bilbo Baggins without thinking of his grumpy Watson. He was just about as exasperated with Sherlock as he was with 13 hairy dwarfs plus a grey wizard!).

Enjoyed the second episode, The Blind Banker, even though the script left a lot to be desired. It seems that rather than having Sherlock rely on his Holmesian powers of deduction to solve a crime, this episode had the characters run around some iconic British places and stumble their way into clues. Hated the oriental theme running through the episode as well. It was a testament to the power of Cumberbatch's acting and chemistry he shared with Freeman's Watson that still made me enjoy it despite not being fond of the plot.

Four episodes and two cliffhanger endings later, I had become a full-fledged fan of Cumberbatch's acting. And there is no going back now. I actually found out the actor I was so impressed with in Tinker Tailor was actually the same person playing Sherlock after once again checking Cumberbatch's filmography, this time with the full intention of seeking out every role he's ever played in.

This post is not complete yet since I have yet to touch on works of Cumberbatch I watched post-Sherlock viewing. I guess I'll review them one by one in new posts when I'm feeling inclined to do so. Not that anyone is going to read any of this, mind. It's just good to sort of have it down on writing so I can somehow rationalize why I admire his acting so much is all.

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