Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Da Vinci’s Demons paints a wider canvas for Season 2

Tom Riley stars in 'Da Vinci's Demons.'

Tom Riley (center) returns as Renaissance inventor, artist and adventurer Leonardo Da Vinci in Season 2 of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ premiering tonight on Starz.


Da Vinci’s Demons, the sexy historical fantasy that kicks off its second season tonight on Starz, opens with a surreal prologue that finds Da Vinci (Tom Riley) and his nemesis, Count Riario (Blake Ritson), in a setting and situation that may have you wondering whether you’ve wandered into Indiana Da Vinci and the Temple of Doom by mistake.
As weird as that scene is – don’t worry, you’ll find out what it means in a few episodes – it serves notice that the fantastic adventures of the title character are going to take him far away from his hometown of Florence, Italy this season.
After that brief opening scene, however, the action flashes back to pick things up where we left them at the climax to Season 1: the chaotic violence shaking Florence to its foundations following a ghastly betrayal by the treacherous Pazzi family, in cahoots with the forces of Rome. His brother dead, a critically wounded Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan) struggles to stay conscious as Da Vinci frantically tries to get him to safety. Nearby, Medici’s wife, Clarice Orsini (Lara Pulver, Sherlock), desperately tries to keep ahead of angry mobs as she rushes their young daughters to the relative safety of the Medici palace.
Resolving the pandemonium that prevails throughout the city takes up most of the first two episodes, but ultimately Da Vinci returns to the same obsession that drove him last season: locating a fabled tome called the Book of Leaves, which he suspects contains vital clues about his dimly remembered mother, as well as the truth about his own identity. That book, he learns, is located across the ocean, in the New World. Unfortunately, Count Riario, seeking the volume for his own ends, has a head start on Da Vinci.
In the season’s other major story line, we learn the secret of Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), former lover to both Da Vinci and Medici, and her relationship to the mysterious prisoner in the dungeons of the Vatican, a revelation that sends Lucrezia on her own dangerous journey to Constantinople.
In terms of sheer scale, these new episodes (Starz made the first five available for preview) dwarf what preceded them as fate separates these principal characters and sends them in pursuit of their individual (and eventually interlinked) destinies. Each of these threads has engaging plot developments that fans should enjoy, but I have to admit, I miss seeing these main characters sharing the screen together as often as they did before. Season 2 is bigger and more epic, to be sure, but there’s a trade-off in terms of focus, which simply isn’t as sharp as it was last season.
Among new cast additions, Lee Boardman is delightful as Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer portrayed here as the P.T. Barnum of the Renaissance, but Da Vinci’s Demons properly is dominated by Riley’s Da Vinci, a performance that is even more finely detailed than it was previously. Like Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, Riley artfully conveys the impression of a genius whose mental gears never, ever stop spinning, as well as the frequent impatience and arrogance that comes with being the smartest guy in any room. With a prickly hero like this, fans of Da Vinci’s Demons will happily follow him to the New World and beyond.
Fast-talking explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman, left) teams up with Leonardo da Vinci and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin, right) in Season 2 of 'Da Vinci's Demons.'

Fast-talking explorer Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman, left) teams up with Leonardo da Vinci and his friend Zoroaster (Gregg Chillin, right) in Season 2 of ‘Da Vinci’s Demons.’

.

PBS delivers a valentine from London’s National Theatre

Judi Dench performs 'Send in the Clowns.'

Judi Dench performs ‘Send in the Clowns’ from ‘A Little Night Music’ during ‘ National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage,’ tonight on ‘Great Performances.’


If you’re eager to take a break from the Winter Olympic Games, or if you’re just ready for two beguiling hours of television on general principal, Great Performances tonight presents the national television premiere of National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage on many PBS affiliates (as always, check your local TV listings to confirm when it’s airing in your area).
This glittering two-hour special, which was screened as a live satellite transmission to a limited number of U.S. movie theaters last November, spotlights a jaw-dropping array of British actors as they assemble to pay tribute to the first half-century of productions at a venue that is their part-time home: The National Theatre, which opened its doors at the Old Vic in 1983 under the artistic leadership of Sir Laurence Olivier before eventually transferring to its current location on London’s South Bank. The NT, which houses the Olivier, Lyttleton and Cottlesloe Theatres, annual generates an acclaimed combination of both classics and new works each night.
The evening’s program combines archival snippets of great past productions with a number of actors appearing live on stage to perform a speech from a play with which they’re associated. In the most moving example, we see an old clip of Maggie Smith at her most hilariously mannered in a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever from her salad days, juxtaposed with the veteran actress of today as she recites a worldly-wise monologue from The Beaux’ Strategem, a Restoration comedy.
Another huge audience favorite, Judi Dench, appears to recreate two roles that won her the Olivier Award (London’s equivalent of the Tony Award) as best actress: as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and as aging actress Desiree Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
Among Britain’s younger contingent of stars, Benedict Cumberbatch appears in a scene from his past triumph in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, while Cumberbatch’s Sherlock nemesis, Andrew Scott, and Dominic Cooper perform a scene from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
The cast of 100 performers also includes such familiar faces as Christopher Eccleston, Joan Plowright, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Penelope Keith, Helen Mirren and Derek Jacobi.
As the program unfolds, the producers’ desire to pack as much as possible into two hours inevitably starts to feel like the video equivalent of picking one’s way through the greatest Whitman’s chocolate sampler of all time, as one great moment in English drama after another follows all too fleetingly on the other. Also, I do regret that not all plays or even featured performers are identified (for the record, that’s a singer named Clive Rowe bringing down the house in “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls).
Still, even if you can’t put a name to an occasional face or performance, there’s no missing that, in terms of quality per minute, National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage is an embarrassment of riches.
Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch appears as Rosenkrantz in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’

A new game’s afoot as Sherlock returns for Season 3

Season 3 of 'Sherlock' begins tonight on PBS.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (from left) return as Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Season 3 of ‘Sherlock,’ beginning tonight on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’


The last time we saw Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), he was standing quietly in a graveyard and covertly watching as his best friend, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), stood grieving at Sherlock’s graveside. John is numb with shock, having watched in disbelief as his dear friend, by all appearances, committed suicide by jumping from the top of a tall building.
As Sherlock finally returns tonight for its third season on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!, two years have passed since that day and, for John, they’ve been two very dark years. Grief, as well as a moustache he ill-advisedly is now sporting, has aged him well beyond his years, and he hasn’t even been in touch with his former landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), since that fateful day.
Meanwhile, viewers are learning what Sherlock has been doing all this time and why. Only brother Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss, who also wrote tonight’s season premiere) and a few members of his team have known that Sherlock isn’t dead. Now, as a horrifying terrorist threat looms over London, it’s time for the great sleuth to reveal himself to his loved ones.
Sherlock is looking forward to reconnecting with John, brushing aside Mycroft’s suggestion that their reunion may be a little sensitive.
“It’s been two years,” Mycroft tells his brother. “He’s gotten on with his life.”
“What life?” Sherlock snorts incredulously. “I’ve been away.”
The show’s creative team has asked critics not to divulge how John reacts to Sherlock’s reappearance, but think about it: How would you react if you discovered that your dearest friend had just put you through two years of the most hellish grief you could ever imagine?
In fact, the majority of tonight’s episode focuses on the close relationship between these two men, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on laughs. The title of the season premiere is “The Empty Hearse,” which refers to a social group Scotland Yard staffer Philip Anderson (Jonathan Aris) has founded for conspiracy theorists who want to get together to hash out possible scenarios for how Sherlock may have eluded death. It’s a clever tip of the hat to the many, many Sherlock fans who just as obsessively have gone online and shared how-he-dunnit theories during this two-year hiatus.
There’s not much else I can divulge about tonight’s episode – the first of three this season – without wading into some serious spoilers, so let me leave it at this: Sherlock is back, and better than ever.
Amanda Abbington co-stars this season in 'Sherlock.'

Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s longtime companion in real life, co-stars this season on ‘Sherlock’ as Mary Morstan, the new woman in John Watson’s life.

New on home video: Two Emmy nominees from HBO

Candelabra
Director Steven Soderbergh had no luck finding a commercial distributor for Behind the Candelabra, his movie about the turbulent relationship between flamboyant showman Liberace and his erstwhile lover Scott Thorson, but the lavish production certainly found a cushy home at HBO, where the film pulled some of the highest ratings in the premium channel’s recent history and snagged a staggering 15 Primetime Emmy nominations.
This Tuesday, HBO Home Entertainment releases Candelabra in both DVD and Blu-ray single disc formats in a pristine transfer that allows fans to revisit the sumptuous design detail as well as the exceptional Emmy-nominated performances by co-leads Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as, respectively, Liberace and Thorson. Despite the sensitive nature of the material, which includes a couple of fairly graphic same-sex love scenes, both actors really throw themselves into their roles with a commitment that is both fearless and ego-free.
“You forget about us (as actors) pretty quickly,” Douglas comments in The Making of Behind the Candelabra, a 14-minute behind-the-scenes extra included with the set. “And you pretty quickly also forget it’s two guys. You’re just watching (a film) about a relationship.” The short documentary also includes several pieces of production trivia, such as the fact that the exterior of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s residence in Los Angeles stood in for Liberace’s Las Vegas mansion.
The large supporting cast also includes fellow Emmy nominee Scott Bakula, along with Rob Lowe, Cheyenne Jackson, Dan Aykroyd and a virtually unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds in a memorable cameo as Liberace’s mother. Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravanese also scored Emmy nods, and the film itself is up for the outstanding movie or miniseries trophy.
If Behind the Candelabra is largely about capturing the glitzy, over-the-top extravagance of Liberace’s world, Parade’s End, another recent HBO Home Entertainment release on two discs, charts the repressed but explosive World War I triangle encompassing an English aristocrat and the two women who love him. Superstar-in-the-making Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as Christopher Tietjens, a morally upright chap who is seduced into marrying pregnant socialite Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) even though there’s a very good chance the baby isn’t his. Bored and restless, Sylvia is aghast that her husband is too decent to be angry about her infidelity, and she treats Christopher pretty abominably over the course of the five-part miniseries.
Both Hall and Cumberbatch, who earned an Emmy nomination for his performance, are so good and deliver such multifaceted performances that they keep you switching allegiances as you watch this catastrophic couple clash again and again. Newcomer Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) also stars as Valentine Wannop, a suffragette who loves Christopher but must endure a chaste relationship with him, since he’s too nice a guy to divorce his wife. The strong cast also includes former Oscar nominees Janet McTeer and Miranda Richardson.
The only extra in the set is, somewhat oddly, a half-hour radio interview between screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), who earned an Emmy nod for his work, and film critic Elvis Mitchell. Not surprisingly, Stoppard has a lot of fascinating stuff to say about adapting the four 1920s-era novels by Ford Madox Ford that form the basis of the miniseries, but Mitchell more than holds his own in this cerebral chatfest, demonstrating a capacious grasp of both Ford’s novels and Stoppard’s own plays. In fact, at one point, Stoppard stops to tell Mitchell, “I haven’t been interviewed by a man so well briefed for about 40 years.” If you’re up for a challenging but very rewarding drama, I highly recommend this set.
Parade's End

A searing ‘Parade’s End’ from HBO

On its surface, HBO’s new three-night miniseries adaptation of Parade’s End, beginning tonight and based on a series of novels by Ford Madox Ford, might appear to be a perfect tonic for Downton Abbey addicts going through withdrawal now that their PBS favo(u)rite has ended another season.
Despite similarities in their Edwardian period settings, however, HBO’s ambitious and very adult drama is a good deal more complex and psychologically challenging than PBS’s glossy, grandly acted soap opera. Where Julian Fellowes dishes out readily accessible and often campy melodrama on Downton, HBO’s Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) charts the explosive course of a doomed marriage set against the backdrop of wartime and social upheaval in England.
Benedict Cumberbatch, a shooting star at the moment thanks to his work in Sherlock and his highly anticipated villainous turn in the upcoming Star Trek feature film, stars as Christopher Tietjens, a well-born conservative Englishman who meets and is seduced by the ravishing and headstrong Sylvia Satterthwaite (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) during a train journey. Later, when she reveals that she is pregnant – possibly by him, but maybe not – Christopher manfully does the right thing and marries her.
Yet while opposites may attract, Christopher and Sylvia’s union is explosive. She’s a sensual, decidedly modern woman with a voracious appetite for excitement, while he’s a cerebral genius who spends his idle time scribbling corrections in the margin of his Encyclopedia Brittannica. It’s only a matter of time before she decamps for an impetuous and scandalous fling in France with a besotted male admirer (Tom Mison) before returning to the shocked and humiliated Christopher, who dutifully takes her back.
Yet Christopher’s forbearance only drives Sylvia further around the bend. A devout Catholic, she resolves never again to be sexually unfaithful even as she continues to flirt with men at every turn, hoping against hope to rouse Christopher into an emotional confrontation that might let them finally lance the poison that is killing their marriage. Instead, Christopher embarks on a chaste relationship with Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), a young suffragette whose selfless idealism is balm for Christopher’s wounds.
As love triangles go, this one is well short of equilateral in Stoppard’s hands. Clemens’ Valentine is endearing, but she’s somewhat stuck in standard ingénue mode. Fans who know Cumberbatch primarily from his role as the borderline-autistic sleuth in Sherlock will be deeply moved by his tender, vulnerable work in the fiendishly difficult role of Christopher. Stoic decency is never easy to make compelling, yet Cumberbatch lets us feel Christopher’s pain all too keenly.
Make no mistake, though, this miniseries belongs to Rebecca Hall, whose Sylvia emerges as the real life force driving Parade’s End. The odds are good that you’re going to spend a good part of the miniseries wanting to strangle this character, but the confident, mesmerizing Hall peels away Sylvia’s haughty exterior to reveal the chastened wife underneath. “You forgave without mercy!” she hurls at Christopher during one angry confrontation, and you can feel the aching loneliness of this infuriating but all too human woman.
The formidable cast also includes Roger Allam, offering invaluable comic relief as Cristopher’s military superior, former Oscar nominees Janet McTeer and Miranda Richardson as the mothers of Sylvia and Valentine respectively, and Rupert Everett as Christopher’s brother. Parade’s End isn’t easy TV – Stoppard’s dense dialogue demands that you pay close attention to every scene – yet ultimately delivers as much emotional payoff as spending time with the Crawleys of Downton Abbey.