Real spoiler this time: Cumberbatch is fantastic in the film and is getting showered with lots of well deserved kudos and review mentions and general accolades and the next time you see his name in a trailer, you’re going to know who he is. It’s that kind of performance. (For those of us who’ve been fans of his work for some time, this is a pretty awesome week!)
So, welcome to Cumberbatch mania, all you folks who have stumbled online after seeing Star Trek and are wondering who that rather posh looking bloke with the great hair and amazing cheekbones happens to be. We’re here for you. We know the deal. We’re happy to help. You want to know where to go next? Here are a few suggestions.
It may surprise you to find that Benedict Cumberbatch has been turning in star quality performances for quite some time before Star Trek – heck, even before Sherlock, which is probably the role he’s most famous for, at least for the next week or so. So, what else should you watch? Try a few of these:
What is it: Hawking tells the story of renowned cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking and his early years as a PhD student at Cambridge. It follows his search for the “beginning of time” and his courageous struggle with the onset of life-threatening illness.
Is it Good: It’s fantastic. Cumberbatch plays a young Hawking who has just celebrated his 21st birthday and been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. The story follows the creation of Hawking’s doctoral thesis, in which he mathematically disproves the prevalent theory of time – and the entire thing is worth watching just for the powerful scene in which Hawking experiences his “Eureka!” moment and ends up explaining his idea by drawing with chalk, because it is just such a fabulous moment.
Cumberbatch was nominated for a BAFTA for his work in this role.
How to Watch: This particular one-off BBC drama is a bit on the older side (from 2004), so it’s looking like your only options are iTunes or Amazon Instant. It appears the DVD has been out of print for some time. (Can’t someone work on a petition for that??)
The Last Enemy
What Is It: Set in a futuristic London that’s beset by terrorism and illegal immigration, Cumberbatch plays a reclusive mathematician who returns to England for his brother’s funeral. Only it turns out that his brother and his brother’s wife may not have been exactly what they seemed. Throw in a Big Brother-style database, a couple of political cover-ups and you have The Last Enemy, which attempts to deal with moral and social issues in a world following the 7/7 terror attacks, but sort of gets lost in its own plot a bit.
Is It Good: To be quite honest, the plot of this five-part series is kind of a conspiracy-theory laden mess and may make little sense to you by the end. However, it’s worth watching for Cumberbatch’s performance – he really does give it his best effort – as well as a fun guest star turn from the always outstanding Robert Carlyle.
How to Watch: All five episodes are available to watch on Netflix streaming and on Hulu. As a Masterpiece production, there’s also a possibility that a rebroadcast of the series could pop up on your local PBS station at some point, so keep an eye out. (For example, our WETA UK channel rebroadcast this late last year, so it happens!)
What is it: A swoony and romantic adaptation of the Ford Madox Ford novel of the same name, Parade’s End is a five-part series that follows the story of English artistocrat Christopher Tietjens and his wife Sylvia from the last years of the Edwardian era through the end of the first world war.
Is it Good: If you enjoy period dramas, then you’ll probably like this. There are sumptuous costumes, smoldering glances, a compelling love triangle, war, etc. etc. Everyone is various shades of unhappy or tortured and it’s the sort of glorious angst that the Brits always do so well.
How to Watch It: If you’re an HBO subscriber, the entire series is available via their HBO Go online website/app. The US version of the DVD has not yet been released for some unfathomable reason, but if you have a region-free DVD player, you can pick up a Region 2 copy here.
What Is It: After celebrating his 29th and - as everyone including himself knows - last birthday, James, a young man terminally ill with cancer, sets out on a last hiking trip with his three best friends, Davy, Bill and Miles. Their destination is James's favorite beach at Barafundle Bay.
Is It Good: Ugh, this movie. It’s a little film with a great cast and a tremendous amount of heart and it’s really just beautiful. (Both in terms of its story and the scenery, which will make you want to go visit Wales immediately.) Also, it will absolutely make you cry your eyes out, so know that going in and pack the Kleenex. Cumberbatch’s performance as James is the standout among a really fantastic ensemble.
How to Watch It: Sadly, Third Star was never released theatrically in America, nor can you buy it on US Amazon. However, the DVD sold via Amazon UK is now region-free (meaning it will play in any DVD player) and you can also rent or purchase a digital copy at Amazon Instant.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
What Is It: A theatrical adaptation of the John LeCarre novel of the same name, this film tells the story of a hunt for a Soviet spy within the highest levels of the British intelligence service. (Really, that’s about all you can explain about this plot without giving things away, so go with it.)
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Is It Good: This is a movie that rewards repeat viewings, as it’s possible you’ll miss (a lot of) things your first trip through. The story is rather dense and complicated, but also quite satisfying. And it’s always nice to find one of the few films where Cumberbatch isn’t playing either the villain/rapist or the guy that dies. His Peter Guilliam is awesome, and his on-screen friendship with Gary Oldman’s George Smiley is lovely.
How to Watch It: The film is currently available on DVD and through digital download services such as iTunes, but doesn’t appear to have made it to streaming portals like Amazon or Netflix just yet.
What Is It: Married couple Dawn and David move to an idyllic country cottage and start renovating it. Their lives seem pretty perfect until the arrival of David’s brother Nick and then things get weird. It’s atmospheric character piece about relationships – and the lies we are willing to live with in relationships.
Is It Good: Wreckers is a subtle, occasionally slow-moving film about familial and emotional relationships, so it’s probably not to everyone’s taste. The ending is also a bit of a struggle (well, it was for me anyway) because it’s what one might call bittersweet (if you’re being kind) more than satisfying. But the acting from all involved is outstanding and worth seeing at least once.
How to Watch It: Much like Third Star, Wreckers also never received a US theatrical or DVD release. However, the film is finally available to watch via Netflix strreaming.
Sherlock: Though one might expect most people that find their way to this blog are probably able to recite most of these episodes by heart, if you’re someone who is entirely new-to-Cumberbatch, you may not have experienced his incredible turn as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s Sherlock series. You should definitely correct that immediately.
What is it: A modern day retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Cumberbatch stars as Sherlock alongside Martin Freeman as Holmes’s BFF and generally awesome sidekick John Watson. There are only 6 episodes so far and the series does its best – much, much more so than US Holmes series Elementary – to stay true to the spirit (if not the exact letter, but they’re close) of the Conan Doyle canon.
Is it Good?: Everything about this show is basically flawless. Except the insanely extended hiatuses between season which drive fans around the bend, because, OMG, the cliffhangers.
How to Watch It: Both Series 1 and Series 2 of Sherlock are available on Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime. And make sure to keep an eye on the local PBS station in your area, as they do tend to rebroadcast the series as well. Series 3 is currently filming, with a rumored airdate of the end of the year.
This is but a limited list of some of the many fine things you can watch Mr. Cumberbatch be fantastic in. Want more? Just ask. But this is a good place to start!