In Depth

Benedict Cumberbatch’s best TV shows and films

The Sherlock star has rarely been off our screens over the past decade

Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the busiest actors working today, with eight upcoming projects, including The Grinch due out next week.

He has become something of a revelation on the big and small screen over the past decade. Playing everything from troubled mathmatical masterminds to charismatic levitating superheroes, Cumberbatch is now a Hollywood mainstay, after coming to international prominence playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock.

Here is a look back at some of his very best films and TV shows:

The Imitation Game

The list begins with perhaps Cumberbatch’s finest hour, taking on the role of famed computer scientist and logician Alan Turing, whose groundbreaking work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War led to the eventual cracking of German enigma codes at record speed.

The Imitation Game received rave reviews and saw Cumberbatch pick up his first - and so far only - Academy Award nomination in 2015. Cumberbatch is “utterly convincing” as Turing, said The Guardian. “Probably no other casting was possible.”

Sherlock

Cumberbatch’s name has become almost synonymous with that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, having regenerated worldwide interest in the series by starring in the BBC’s frantic, dark and often downright silly TV adaptation, Sherlock, for seven years.

In 2017, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the gifted detective topped a worldwide poll compiling the most popular BBC television characters of all time. “Who would have thought a high-functioning sociopath could be so popular... all over the world?” responded the actor.

Patrick Melrose

In 2013, Cumberbatch was asked in a Reddit Q&A which literary character he would like to play more than any other and his response was Patrick Melrose. Five years later, he is both the star and executive producer of a TV adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn.

Patrick Melrose “skewers the upper class as it tracks the protagonist’s harrowing odyssey from a deeply traumatic childhood through adult substance abuse and, ultimately, toward recovery”, says Deadline.

IndieWire calls it his “best performance ever” and says that Melrose “feels like a role he was born to play”.

12 Years a Slave

One of the most critically acclaimed films in Cumberbatch’s portfolio is 12 Years a Slave, the brutal and harrowing story of slavery in the deep south of the US during the mid-1800s. It swept the 2013/14 awards season, taking home the Oscar for Best Picture among many others.

In it, Cumberbatch plays a Baptist preacher and slave owner named William Ford. “The cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes here are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer,” said Time Out.

Wreckers

A low-budget film from DR Hood, little-known Wreckers stars Cumberbatch as David, a schoolteacher who takes a job in his home village in Kent with his wife Dawn, played by Claire Foy, before his disturbed younger brother Nick, an Afghanistan veteran, shows up. 

“Cumberbatch excelled here at digging beneath the surface of a seemingly balanced guy to find a worryingly unstable personality locked away,” The Daily Telegraph says.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This 2011 version of John Le Carre’s 1974 classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stars Gary Oldman as a retired spy brought back into active duty to investigate claims made by a defected MI6 operative (Tom Hardy) with the aid of a trustworthy colleague Peter Guillam (Cumberbatch).

Racking up three Oscar nominations and a remarkable 12 Bafta nominations, the film was met with universal acclaim.

In the film “Cumberbatch was handed an ideal chance to be suave but a little unknowable”, The Daily Telegraph says.

Parade’s End

“A sumptuous period drama, with a starry cast in nice frocks and tweed, set amid tumultuous social upheaval on the eve of the first world war,” says The Guardian of the 2012 BBC adaptation of the novels of the same name by Ford Madox Ford.

In it, Cumberbatch plays Christopher Tietjens, a wealthy government statistician who gets caught in a tangled relationship with an unfaithful wife and a young suffragette.

“Cumberbatch is superb as Tietjens,” The Guardian says, calling him “buttoned-up, clever, honourable, peculiarly English but also oddly endearing”, while The Independent says: “Parade's End, I believe, is one of the finest things the BBC has ever made.”

Recommended

Films of the year
Herself movie still
In Depth

Films of the year

What next for GB News after Andrew Neil quits?
Andrew Neil and Nigel Farage
In Depth

What next for GB News after Andrew Neil quits?

Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace - what the critics are saying
A still from Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace
In Review

Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace - what the critics are saying

TV crime dramas to watch in 2021
Martin Compston in Vigil
In Review

TV crime dramas to watch in 2021

Popular articles

Doctor says we should not sleep naked because of flatulent spraying
The feet of a person sleeping in a bed
Tall Tales

Doctor says we should not sleep naked because of flatulent spraying

World’s most extreme weather events in 2021
Wildfire in Greece
In pictures

World’s most extreme weather events in 2021

The man tasked with putting a price on 9/11’s lost lives
Kenneth Feinberg at a Congressional hearing
Profile

The man tasked with putting a price on 9/11’s lost lives

The Week Footer Banner