Home » Arts, Film & TV

The Rise and Rise and Rise of Benedict Cumberbatch

31 January 2013
Not to be confused with Hubert Cumberdale - Cumberbatch Star Trek’s Into Darkness. Photograph: Paramount Pictures

Not to be confused with Hubert Cumberdale – Cumberbatch Star Trek’s Into Darkness. Photograph: Paramount Pictures

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.

Cumberbatch becomes to new definition of Sherlock Holmes. Photograph: BBC

Cumberbatch becomes to new definition of Sherlock Holmes. Photograph: BBC

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.

  • ghdgirl

    His versatility is a key factor. He’s a gifted comic actor but equally as good at drama. Plus he’s a good physical actor at ease with stunt work and action scenes.  He’s recently been given roles that can show off all of those quality and the charisma that he has by the bucket load.

  • Babygirl

    Benedict is getting these great roles because he is a great actor and people want to work with him and they want to work with him because he knows what he is doing and is competely devoted to his work and he’s fun.
    He has been doing this for over 10 years now and his dedication and talent has finally paid off and he deserves to have this happen.   His stage work alone would secure his career to be life-long.

  • Courtney Morrow

    Strange that you say you are a fan of Sherlock but do not see the humor the character clearly exhibits nor his subtle emotional undercurrents?  They are as plain and clear as his rich baritone voice.  Go back and rewatch – carefully and attentively.  You may be surprised to have missed it in the first place.  And, if you have not yet seen Starter for 10, do so – funniest performance I’ve seen on screen in ages – ever.  

  • Babygirl

    Thank you for mentioning the humor and emotion in his role as Sherlock.   The scene in The Blind Banker when he is told he was hated in school – for a split second you saw the reaction in the eyes when he looks down.  In that moment you saw he was hurt.  He is an incredible subtle actor.  Sherlock is not a cold, unfeeling person – he just wishes to ignore some of that.  Look at Mrs. Hudson..she can be pushed aside but early on – the hug at the door..the kiss when he’s leaving with John.  Later in the last of season 2 – Molly – when he does say, after she leaves of course…you do matter.  I think for anyone who has only watched the shows one time need to go back and watch them again.
    This year he starts out in a role in Star Trek and end of the year a role in “August-Osage County” where the characters are complete opposites.
    As said – hes been doing this for over 10 years and there have been people who became fans of his before Sherlock – his work in “Hawking” is amazing and “To The Ends Of The Earth” and the docudrama on Van Gogh..and there are more..as in..everything he has done from early on to now.  Of course it Was “Sherlock” that made him known to millions more, but he earned it.

  • cottoncandy100

    I really disagree with your comments re Cumberbatch’s lack of humour in the role. Infact I’m bemused by your stance. Youve got the performance so wrong I really cant value your article in the slightest.

  • cottoncandy100

     Not sure why my comment has been removed but as I stated earlier I completely disagree with your comment that Cumberbatch’s Sherlock lacks humour. I think you are way off the mark.

  • Caro

    Good article but I think success has been brewing a long time – Hawking, Third Star, Small Island,Tinker Tailor – his roles in After the Dance and Frankenstein. He is often so different looking in each role that I think people finally twigged who he was and his amazing back catalogue. 

  • Harleylujah

    Well – I totally agree with _each_ previous commenter! 
    So my humble two cents will be that I’m genuinely happy there is SUCH TALENT in this generation of actors, last big talents all being mostly, and at best, in their late 40s (or passed away – yeah, I’m a black-and-white-movie kind of gal ;) ). No offense here – age isn’t an issue for me, but I was wondering if they were still making Great ActorsTM :)  
    Apparently, they were. Thanks, universe! 

  • Lara

     in spite of the critical acclaim he received for such roles his career
    might well have drifted into television obscurity and occasional
    theatrical success.

    Wow, that’s rude. He did greats things for Tv before Sherlock (2 bafta nominations) and had huge success in theatre (olivier award nomination). He didn’t have a real movie carreer but he was working a lot. He has been chose for Sherlock because he alreday worked with Gatiss. He doesn’t come from nowhere…

  • kitty

    Not only will Benedict voice Smaug, but we will get to see him as well – he will be portraying the dragon in motion capture the same way Andy Serkis did with Gollum.
    And I too am surprised at your comment that Sherlock’s character lacks humor or subtlety. His performances are filled with both. It’s that complete brilliance of his acting in Sherlock that attracted the likes of Steven Spielberg and jj Abrams.

  • Courtney Morrow

    Oh, and there’s also the rather vivid display of emotion when he cries before stepping off the roof.  Some have surmised it was part of Sherlock’s act to convince the sniper he figured was liking watching him that his emotions were genuine but I’ve heard Cumberbatch in an interview say he felt that Sherlock’s humanity is seen in that particular scene.  

    And, yes, that powerful but few second expression in the Blind Baker absolutely is brilliant in how he so effortlessly telegraphs being wounded in that moment in such an understated, subtle manner.

    Sherlock may have sped up the process of the sort of recognition he is now getting but I have no doubt at all it was just waiting to happen – roles like William Pitt, Hawking years ago revealed his shapeshifting talents – it was all just a matter of time and he’s been working solidly – theater, tv, radio (Cabin Pressure is a treasure), narrations, film, etc – he works hard and now  not just those of us who have our eye on him for a decade, are getting the lucky chance to learn about his talent.    

  • Jenniferst

    As
    all previous comments have addressed, as well as all critics (both sides of the
    pond) agreed upon, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is arguably the most emotionally
    complex one among all incarnations of Holmes. There are comic moments for his
    Holmes in all six episodes and the un-aired pilot, and the subtly and nuance in
    his performances are the reason why he received so many awards and nominations for
    Sherlock both in the UK and the US. Also, his big break-through in the UK in
    2010 and 2011 was not only due to Sherlock, he was the lead in the National
    Theatre’s award-wining production After The Dance before the first series of
    Sherlock was aired in summer 2010; he already got the major supporting roles
    Peter Guillam alongside Gary Oldman’s Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and
    DreakWorks’ War Horse; Danny Boyle cast him as the duel-lead Frankenstein and
    his monster before watching Sherlock. He’s a serious and award-worthy actor
    before Sherlock came out; Sherlock just cemented his leading man status and
    propelled him into the international spotlight, but without his stellar performances
    in Tinker Tailor, War Horse and Frankenstein, he wouldn’t be on the award
    circle’s map, as lots of film buffs and critics don’t watch many TV shows.
    Moffat saw him in Atonement and thought he looks like Sherlock Holmes and
    mentioned him to Gatiss, who happened to work with him in Starer for Ten, and
    he’s the only one who received the script for auditioning as Sherlock. If he’s
    not a leading man and well-respect actor then, they wouldn’t even consider him.
    Sherlock and Cumberbatch are mutual-benefiting each other; he earned his
    stardom by all his previous work, not simply by Sherlock.

  • Maggie

    Agree with the other commenters about his portrayal of Sherlock.  The show is so beautifully written and contains a great deal of subtlety and he just does a masterful job.  His success is well deserved and I look forward to enjoying his future work.

  • SeasonsChange

    Sherlock’s sense of humor  in the BBC TV show is, like everything else about him, quirky.  But it is plainly present.  Remember the first episode, in which Dr. Watson was using a cane for his psychosomatic leg injury?  Sherlock managed to get Dr. Watson to run after him, and run, and run, with Watson oblivious to the fact that he had left his cane behind before embarking on the chase.  Sherlock’s amused and satisfied grin when the forgotten cane was returned to the surprised Dr. Watson was funny and warm.  

    And, in that same scene, when Dr. Watson commented that the chase had been the stupidest thing he had ever done, Sherlock replied, “And you invaded Afghanistan!”  Now THAT’S funny!

  • ClemenceDR

    Good lord  that is a tired rehash of celebrity-mag platitudes.

    • FallSpring

      Why, thank you!  We live to amuse you.

      • FallSpring

        And, since you are surely more sophisticated and erudite than the rest of us, did you perhaps stumble onto this site and article by accident after losing your way to the National Geographic website? or to a thermonuclear astrophysics website?  Relax!  These posters are clearly a well-educated, intelligent lot having a spot of fun.  It’s neither kind nor wise to patronize (or, depending upon the country in which you live, “patronise”) them.