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‘Patrick Melrose’: Editing and Music Bolstered the Emotional Turmoil of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Drug-Addled Rebel

Each of the five episodes, built around Cumberbatch's tour de force performance, was a different journey for the editor and composer.

Patrick Melrose Benedict Cumberbatch Episode 5 Showtime

“Patrick Melrose”

Justin Downing/SHOWTIME


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When director Edward Berger informed editor Tim Murrell and composer Volker Bertelmann (Hauschka) that he wanted each of the five episodes of Showtime’s “Patrick Melrose” to contain a different tone and style, they couldn’t have been more thrilled. Anchored by Benedict Cumberbatch’s tour de force performance as the drug-addled, upper class rebel from Edward St. Aubyn’s popular novels, it seemed the best way to convey the constantly shifting time periods and mental states.

“The challenge was finding the identity of each show,” said Murrell (who also edited AMC’s “The Terror”). “For the opening episode, there’s a frenetic, drug-fueled chaos and emotional turmoil of Patrick retrieving the ashes of his father [Hugo Weaving] in New York. Then, the second episode is the dark, slow burn [childhood flashback]. It’s the source of all the pain [stemming from his father’s sexual abuse]. The third episode is lighter and more gentle as you go through the party. But he’s existing in the present without being able to do anything.

“In the fourth episode,” Murrell continued, “there are echoes of the second [with a return to the family home in the South of France], and the irony of it being the place where the abuse happened and also the place where he felt the most safe. And then in the fifth episode, there are so many time lines, including the present-day funeral of his mother [Jennifer Jason Leigh], with Patrick trying to reconcile the mother he knew with the person everyone says was so wonderful.”

Patrick Melrose Benedict Cumberbatch Episode 1

Benedict Cumberbatch, “Patrick Melrose”

Ollie Upton / Showtime

Musically, Bertelmann (“The Current War” and the Oscar-nominated “Lion”) at first wanted to highlight a different instrument for each episode, but that proved too schematic, so he settled on a harpsichord for the adult Melrose and strings for his childhood. “It had to be out there because of all the drug use, and, for me, the harpsichord has a little bit of madness and glam rock,” said Bertelmann.

By far, the first episode was the most difficult editorially for Murrell, taking a jarring dive inside Melrose’s head during his binges and flashbacks. “Benedict’s tour de force performance was incredible and he keeps you with him,” said Murrell. “And he was really brave in his choices [he also served as executive producer].

“He’d give you several different versions of a scene and you could take it into different areas of the edit if you wanted to. And Benedict was keen not to make Patrick likable. He’s a bit of an asshole in the first episode. We had to care about him but be bold with our choices.”

Patrick Melrose Benedict Cumberbatch Jessica Raine Episode 3

“Patrick Melrose”

Justin Downing / Showtime

When Melrose walks down a corridor to his father’s coffin, he flashes back to his younger self in a weird zone, repeating the names of the planets. This sets up a dark and sinister relationship with his father. “But then when he walks into the wrong room, you undermine the clear emotional path,” Murrell said.

To help navigate through such emotional confusion, composer Bertelmann used his trademark prepared piano, with objects placed on or between the strings for strange sounds. “It worked well with the harpsichord for a modernist sound,” he said. “At the same time, I worked with the string instruments for more melancholy moments [during the flashbacks].”

In the final episode, it took some tweaking to conclude the various strands of Melrose’s story arc, and not dull the impact of his emotional recovery. “The challenges were trying to make the journey of the rehab play in and around the main structure of the funeral day,” said the editor.

Musically, for Bertelmann, the final episode provided an opportunity to summarize the different musical styles with new twists: a cello played an octave lower, a piano tuned another way. “I tried to find variations in the sound to connect earlier episodes and at the same time making a progress in the series,” he said.

But even though Melrose achieves greater self-awareness in putting the toxic past behind him, “it’ll never be all right,” according to Murrell. “But he’s okay with it, he’s at peace with himself.”

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