The Rise and Rise and Rise of Benedict Cumberbatch
by Charlotte Meredith
As 2013 opens, Benedict Cumberbatch must be reminiscing about the last three years with a considerable amount of personal satisfaction. From 2010 onwards, his career has seen a meteoric rise from his small-time television drama roles to the plum offerings as the villain in the newest movie franchises: Smaug (and the Necromancer) in The Hobbit and Khan in Star Trek. Yet both his fans (including myself) and his detractors must be pondering on the same question: how did he come so far so quickly?
I believe the answer lies in one word: Sherlock. Benedict had had leading parts in television miniseries before 2010; he was the dramatic lead in both ‘To the Ends of the Earth’ (2005) and ‘The Last Enemy’ (2008). But, in spite of the critical acclaim he received for such roles his career might well have drifted into television obscurity and occasional theatrical success if it were not for his hugely popular depiction of the eponymous hero of Sherlock.
To all intents and purposes, Cumberbatch became Sherlock for a twenty-first century audience. One critic called his interpretation of the character ‘riveting’ with ‘excited madness,’ and it is undoubtedly true that his dizzying monologues and unstoppable physical energy draws out and supports Doyle’s description of Holmes as highly articulate while delivering his deductions and yet unafraid to crawl around on someone’s drawing-room floor while searching for evidence. Granted, Benedict’s performance has been compared unfavourably to that of Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes (in the Granada Television series, shown from 1984-1994). Brett’s version draws out Holmes’ humorous side in a way in which Benedict’s version is curiously lacking, and while his Sherlock is predominantly brain over heart, Brett drew out Holmes’ repressed emotional undercurrents in a subtle, yet noticeable manner. But these are minor gripes, and overall Benedict’s unforgettable dramatisation of a notoriously difficult character to enact remains enthralling.
It is not only talent which has propelled Benedict into the stratosphere of stardom. Speaking from a female perspective, Benedict’s unconventional good looks have certainly helped him along his career path. His appeal to women is evident; the success of Sherlock provided him with a predominantly feminine fanbase, allegedly referring to themselves as the ‘Cumberbitches.’ Some may decry the idea of acting success resulting mainly from sex appeal but that would be a naive statement. There are many actors, men and women, who throughout cinematic history have come far on a mixture of talent and good looks, neither outranking the two; screen sirens Mae West and Lauren Bacall spring to mind, the latter still performing today, whilst Paul Newman and Robert Redford had long, successful careers as the ‘golden boys’ of their generations, possessed of both talent and attractiveness. Ironically, in his role as Smaug only Benedict’s voice will be in evidence, although his mellifluous baritone is richly appealing in its own right!
Therefore, in light of all his successes, Benedict’s star is definitely on the ascendant. It is likely that his upcoming roles as villains will only serve to cement his newly acquired status as a genuinely gifted actor and potential superstar. With the definite return of Sherlock to television screens in the near future, I can safely say that Benedict Cumberbatch is a man who will not be easily forgotten.
Star Trek Into Darkness is out on May17th. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out on December 11th. Sherlock returns to BBC One later this year. Boy does Benedict get around.