Hamlet on heroin: Edward St Aubyn on the 20-year struggle to get Patrick Melrose on screen

St Aubyn’s quintet of autobiographical novels are loved by critics and readers – including Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays damaged drug addict Patrick. So why did it take so long?

Three of the key roles in the career of Benedict Cumberbatch have been a hyper-intelligent drug addict (in Sherlock), an arrogant toff (in Parade’s End) and a young man deranged by thoughts of his dead father (in Hamlet). His latest TV part feels like an extraordinary combination of this trio. Cumberbatch plays Patrick Melrose in an adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s quintet of autobiographical novels about a young man whose sexually abusive father and emotionally damaging mother lead to a heroin, cocaine and alcohol dependency that is treated first by rehab and then a writing career. The opening episode is a supreme piece of acting: a 60-minute near-monologue of craving, raving, shaking and sarcasm – occasionally interrupted by ...