Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Pop-Culture Connoisseur: Love "Downton Abbey?" Check out ‘Parade’s End’

-Brianna Huber

I’ve reached the point where I feel like everyone’s seen Downton Abbey except me, which is slightly ironic given the love I have for all things British. There was a recent point when I honestly heard the show referenced on a daily basis.

Given the current popularity it’s attained on this side of the pond, I must recommend the miniseries Parade’s End.

Based on a four-part novel of the same name by Ford Madox Ford, Parade’s End is the story of Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Yorkshire man with strong moral convictions who becomes caught in a love triangle between his beautiful but manipulative wife Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) and an adoring young suffragette named Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens). The story takes place against the backdrop of World War I.

The series starts the night before Christopher and Sylvia’s wedding and we immediately see Sylvia sleep with another man. Christopher learns of Sylvia’s infidelity, but being the honorable man that he is, refuses to divorce her or condemn her for her actions in order to protect her reputation. In the world of Parade’s End, reputation is everything and the wrong rumors can ruin a person.

Sylvia is an interesting character in that she torments her husband, but does so because deep down, she really does love him and wishes he would give her some sort of reaction that shows he genuinely loves her. She wishes he would get openly angry with her for cheating on him and the fact that he doesn’t drives her mad.

Valentine crosses Christopher’s path on a golf course when she interrupts a cabinet minister’s game with a protest for women’s suffrage. It’s clear that Christopher is immediately taken with her, but he refuses to show or act on those feelings.

Parade’s End is part love story, part war story. When The Great War begins, Christopher is called away to serve on several occasions and is ultimately sent to the front lines. The story isn’t so much about the war as it is about what goes on around the war and how it affects the people back home.

All of the characters in this series are complex and multi-dimensional. Sylvia is manipulative and callous, but she also loves her husband despite their completely different worldviews. Valentine is sweet and modest, but she is also Christopher’s mistress in a sense. For a while, I couldn’t decide who I wanted Christopher to end up with. I read the first part of Ford’s book and hated Sylvia then, so I was surprised by how sympathetic I sometimes felt toward her in the TV adaptation. I even grew to like Potty Perowne (Tom Mison), one of the men Sylvia had an affair with. He fought alongside Christopher in the war and was honorable in his own way. Christopher’s best friend and confidante, Vincent MacMaster (Stephen Graham) is overall good-natured, but is willing to take credit for calculations Christopher did at work. He also starts an affair with Edith Duchemin (Anne-Marie Duff) who is otherwise married to a deranged clergyman. Initially vulnerable and timid, Edith takes on a more malicious streak as time passes.

At first, I didn’t think of myself as someone who would be one for English period dramas, but I easily grew attached to these characters and caught up in their stories. After enjoying this series so much, I’ve decided I just may have to make the time to check out Downton Abbey after all.

Parade’s End originally aired as a five-part miniseries on BBC Two in the UK and HBO in the US. The series will re-air with one episode per night on HBO2 West starting on Monday, March 4 at 8 p.m.

My grade: A

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Image from the BBC Media Centre.

Pop-Culture Connoisseur: Five Reasons You Should Know and Appreciate Benedict Cumberbatch

-Brianna Huber

My love affair with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch began when I saw him in the BBC’s Sherlock about two years ago. Even though he had roles in fairly well-known films like Atonement and The Other Boleyn Girl before then, Sherlock is what really launched him into the stratosphere. He’s a pretty big star in the UK now, but still fairly unknown in the US. That should change soon though. This year he is going to play significant parts in at least five different films, including Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’s next installment in his reboot series, where Cumberbatch will be playing a villain named John Harrison; the next Hobbit film, where he will inhabit the role of Smaug the dragon through voice and motion capture as well as that of the Necromancer; and The Fifth Estate, a biopic in which he will star as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. As we head into what’s sure to be a great year in film, let me take a moment to tell you why I think Mr. Cumberbatch is so awesome and worthy of recognition.

#1 He’s a genuinely brilliant actor.

This is what originally drew me to him in Sherlock.  Whether he’s playing a genius detective on TV, an underdog airline pilot in a radio sitcom, or Frankenstein’s monster onstage, Cumberbatch brings a nuance and attention to detail to each of his performances that’s truly captivating to watch. He doesn’t just play parts; he inhabits them to the point where I see him disappear as an actor and only see the character he is portraying. He also has amazing versatility in the roles he takes on.

#2 He’s beautiful.

He isn’t exactly the conventional sort of attractive. I thought he was odd looking the first time I saw him—I suppose he’s an acquired taste. He’s tall and elegant, has amazing cheekbones, and his eyes seem to be a different color every time I see them. I’ve never seen anyone like him, and I appreciate people with that unique sort of beauty. Also, the fact that he doesn’t understand why people find him attractive makes him incredibly endearing.

#3 His personality is just as beautiful as his face.

He’s incredibly intelligent, articulate, humble, hardworking, and dedicated to his craft.  He regularly works with a charity called The Prince’s Trust, but stays relatively low-key about it, which makes it obvious he isn’t just in it for the publicity.  When asked what his greatest achievement is so far, he said that he wished he could say his children.  “I’m building a home at the moment and it would be nice to fill it with love and life and children,” Cumberbatch said in a 2012 interview with The Big Issue.  “That has long been an ambition of mine. I think I have been waiting to do it since I was twelve, really.”

#4 He survived a carjacking in South Africa by talking his way out of it and the experience gave him a new-found lust for life.

“I became very impatient and insist[ed] on living anything but a normal life, because that experience made me realize two things,” Cumberbatch said in an interview for Public Radio International’s Bullseye. “One, you die alone.  No matter who you are and who you’re leaving behind, you have to face death alone.  And also, the fact that I was too young to die; it made me angry to live.”

#5 He’s really good at keeping secrets.

Don’t bother trying to get him to give away plot points or details ahead of time for any project he’s working on. His responses to those attempts usually involve some combination of wit, sarcasm, and playful teasing that will ultimately tell you nothing and probably leave you more curious than you were before.

Now that you’ve been through “Benedict Cumberbatch 101,” you can consider yourself ahead of the curve when all those movies of his come out. With his talent, there may even be an Oscar in his near future.

Star Trek Into Darkness hits theaters on May 17, The Fifth Estate is expected for November 15, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is due on December 13.

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Pop-Culture Connoisseur: BBC’s Sherlock vs. CBS’s Elementary

-Brianna Huber

When word that CBS was planning to create their own modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes reached the creators of BBC’s Sherlock, they did not take the news well. Sue Vertue, an executive producer of Sherlock, told the press that CBS was interested in doing a remake of the BBC series; but after their interest came to naught, CBS went their own route, and Elementary was born.

When news of Elementary first appeared, I worried that it would be an Americanized rip-off of the BBC series. To add to the drama, CBS cast Jonny Lee Miller as their Sherlock Holmes. Miller was already friends with Benedict Cumberbatch, the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, after the two actors starred together in a National Theatre production of Frankenstein.

While I worried about developments with Elementary, I was also undeniably curious. When the show’s pilot aired on September 27th last year, I tuned in. It’s been almost a whole season now and I’ve actually grown to like the show. It’s completely different from BBC’s Sherlock and for me, the two are able to peacefully co-exist.

Sherlock begins when Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (Martin Freeman) are introduced by a mutual friend because they’re both in search of a flatmate. They move in together at 221B Baker Street in London and adventure inevitably ensues. A lot of characters from the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are around – including Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves), Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), and of course, the nefarious Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) – but there are also new ones, like lab tech Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) and Anderson (Jonathan Aris), whose sole reason for existing seems to be to annoy Sherlock.

Sherlock and John are now on a first-name basis. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is often bitter and aloof, with moments of genuine affection here and there. If Sherlock lets his warmer side show, it’s usually only around John. When he makes deductions, he talks so fast it’s hard to keep up, but that works well in giving the viewer a sense of what it might be like inside his head. Freeman’s John is a retired army doctor who’s recently returned from Afghanistan. Where Sherlock’s the brain, John is the brawn and the heart. When Sherlock goes overboard with his deductions or insults someone, John is the one to smooth it over and bring him back into line. As in the ACD stories, John acts as a “reflector of light” for Sherlock to bounce ideas off of.

Elementary is different from Sherlock in almost every way. Instead of London, it takes place in New York; and instead of having a white, male Watson, the show has Lucy Liu as Joan Watson.

The set-up is that Sherlock is just out of drug rehab and Watson has been hired by Sherlock’s father to be his “sober companion” and prevent him from relapsing. Watson is a former surgeon who left medicine after one of her patients died on the operating table. Both Sherlock and Watson have their own emotional baggage and aren’t as quick to take to one another as their BBC equivalents, but when they do, their dynamic is wonderful.

Compared to Cumberbatch’s interpretation, Miller’s Sherlock has a much softer side. He’s nicer. He still comes with plenty of eccentricities and a dark side that comes out on occasion, but his sarcasm has a more lighthearted vibe to it. He’s more open to input from others, as well as the possibility that he can sometimes be wrong.

Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is tall, svelte, and wears suits and dress shirts while Miller’s take on the character is a bit scruffier, covered in tattoos, and wears jeans and ironic t-shirts.

In Elementary, Watson’s role in Sherlock’s life is a lot more hands-on. In Sherlock, Sherlock and John are best friends and would each die for the other if necessary, but Sherlock does most of the deducing and John’s sort of along for the ride. With Joan Watson, we get to watch her grow. With each new case, she learns more about how Sherlock operates, or draws from her medical background and makes her own intellectual contributions to solving the mystery at hand.

While Sherlock has a large number of ACD characters, Elementary has very few. For a while, I worried that the show didn’t feel “Holmesian” enough and too much like another police procedural, but after seeing the most recent episode, I have a newfound hope. Right now, with our first hint toward Moriarty, there are a lot of possible routes for the show to take.

When Elementary first aired, it created a great schism within the Sherlock Holmes fandom–BBC fans on one side, CBS fans on the other. Since then, things have settled down. It’s clear now that Elementary is nothing like Sherlock. It’s possible to be a fan of both shows at the same time.

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes and haven’t yet seen either of these two shows, I recommend checking them out; and if you like them both, don’t worry about picking a side.

Images used in illustration from BBC Press Office and http://fempop.com