TV Series Previewed: Like Trainspotting Written by Evelyn Waugh

The Sunday Times has an interview of Benedict Cumberbatch and a preview of his new Patrick Melrose TV series. Cumberbatch both produced the series and plays the leading role. The books  were adapted for TV by David Nicholls who previously adapted his own novels One Day and Starter for Ten as well as the 2015 film version of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. According to Stephen Armstrong for the Times:

The Patrick Melrose series of novels — Edward St Aubyn’s epic, cuttingly witty family saga of abuse, addiction and redemption that reads like Evelyn Waugh writing Trainspotting — has been a cult favourite since the 1992 publication of Never Mind. The five volumes are thinly disguised autobiography: St Aubyn, a minor aristocrat and former junkie, was repeatedly raped by his father when he was a child. Readers are often recommended the novels, avoid them for a while, dip in and rapidly become obsessive fans. … For those unfamiliar with the novels, news that Sky had commissioned a series based on five dark books about abusive and decadent minor aristocracy might have seemed slightly surprising. Is Brideshead Revisited really improved by backstreet drug deals and savage torture? For those who know and love Melrose, however, there was a sharp dread akin to news that a relative was in mortal danger. Melrose fans are protective of Patrick. They don’t want anyone else to hurt him or do him wrong. And Cumberbatch should know — he’s as devoted as the best of them.

The series begins in the USA on the Showtime cable network (Saturday, 12 May 9pm) and in the UK on Sky Atlantic (Sunday, 13 May at 9pm) and will be available for streaming in both markets thereafter. There will be five one-hour episodes, one for each of the novels. The primary change for the adaptation will be to switch the order for books 1 (Never Mind) and 2 (Bad News) so that Patrick’s dealing with the death of his father will come before a flashback to his traumatic childhood.

Earlier TV adaptations are considered on the occasion of World Book Day (observed yesterday) by the New Zealand website This chooses the top 5 adaptations of novels for TV. Ranked number 1 was the 1981 Granada production of Brideshead Revisited:

Along with The Jewel in the Crown and Fortunes of War, this 1981 take on Evelyn Waugh’s novel was Sunday night appointment viewing in New Zealand in the 1980s.  The 11-part series turned Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews into household names and even caused public protests in this country when TVNZ decided to remove the sex scenes from one particular episode.

Others included Hannibal, the original House of Cards and the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.

Finally, yesterday’s Cincinnati Enquirer has an op ed piece by Kenneth Craycraft on the importance of remembering the persecution in the 20th century Holocaust, citing Evelyn Waugh from Brideshead Revisited on the subject of memory:

…failing to remember events like the Holocaust is not a tragedy only because of what it might cause (or fail to prevent) in the future. Rather, a failure of memory of the Holocaust and similar events is a tragedy because of what is says about us in the present. In his great novel, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh says through the narrator and main character, “My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life – for we possess nothing certainly except the past – were always with me.” If it is true that we possess nothing certainly except the past (and I believe that it is), then if we do not possess that past, we possess nothing. And if we possess nothing, we stop being moral beings, capable of authentic reflection, and choice. Our inability, or refusal, to remember compromises our capacity to make moral choices. Put another way, remembering is a moral act, and memory is a moral function.

UPDATE (14 May 2018): Emily Temple, writing in the Literary Hub, offers another comparison of Waugh and St Aubyn. She thinks St Aubyn’s Melrose novels are “a deft mash-up of the English social novel and what I suppose is best described as the recovery memoir, something like Evelyn Waugh by way of William S. Burroughs, but with a rather lighter touch than either.


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