Actor Spotlight: Benedict Cumberbatch

By Lydia Lucas

If you’ve come in contact with the internet lately, you may have heard of a guy by the name of Benedict Cumberbatch. If you’re a The Reel Deal fan, you may have seen my segment about him on the show. If you talk to me for any length of time, you’ll discover that I am a Cumberbatch fan-girl. My three-minute segment was enough time to give viewers a taste of Cumberbatch’s development as an actor. This included his early roles from such films as AtonementThe Other Boleyn GirlTinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and War Horse. Of course his more recent successes in SherlockStar Trek: Into DarknessThe HobbitAugust: Osage County, and 12 Years a Slaveare noteworthy as well. However, as an avidly devoted fan, I am interested in his numerous lesser-known projects.

The 2004 TV biopic Hawking depicts the early life of Professor Stephen Hawking and his struggles with motor neuron disease. Cumberbatch plays the titular character and displays some of his greatest talent in this 2004 TV movie. His development of the character’s deteriorating physical state is some of the most remarkable acting I’ve seen. This, combined with his portrayal of the psychological isolation that Hawking experienced in his day-to-day life, results in an incredibly dynamic and interesting performance.

   Other early Cumberbatch films I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who loves his movies are Starter for 10 and Third StarStarter for 10 is a comedy that came out in 2006 that stars James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, and Alice Eve. It centers on “University Challenge,” a famous British quiz show between different universities. Cumberbatch plays the team’s awkward and tragically laughable captain who is determined to bring his team to victory in order to avenge his past embarrassment on the show.

Third Star is a little less comedic, but no less poignant. Cumberbatch stars as the main character, James. He is a young man dying of cancer who wants one last camping weekend with his mates before he is incapacitated. This film manages several surprisingly hilarious moments, but is a tear-jerker in the end. Secrets and declarations are exposed, and none of the characters are the same after all is said and done.

In Danny Boyle’s 2011 stage production of Frankenstein. Miller and Cumberbatch swapped roles each night they performed, a feat that was displayed in movie theatres across the country in the series “National Theatre Live.” I saw both screen incarnations and it remains one of my favorite Cumberbatch roles. Unfortunately the only legal chance of seeing it would be if it is re-released in theatres. The NTL enforces a strict no DVD policy and prefer to keep the stage tradition of a one time theatre experience.

If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, some comparisons have been made between the show and the 2012 mini-series Parade’s End. The five total episodes are set between 1908 and 1917, during the first World War and women’s suffrage movement in Great Britain. This show focuses on the class issues within that era’s social structure. Cumberbatch plays Tietjens, an upper-class civil servant who goes on to serve in World War I, all while caught in a love triangle between his horrible wife and a suffragette mistress.

If television and movies aren’t your cup of tea, take the time to listen to the award winning radio sitcom, Cabin Pressure. If the idea of a radio show seems completely last century, I assure you that if you appreciate British comedy, you need to hear this series written by Cumberbatch’s co-star John Finnemore. The show follows the antics of a hapless airline crew who pilot a single charter jet for hilariously extravagant guest characters. The series is set to record its last episode on the February 23.

Most actors have cringe-worthy early roles that fans endure for only a glimpse of their celebrity crush. However, Cumberbatch’s projects represent a fantastic collection. I can’t wait to see where his current career trajectory takes him. In the meantime, these classic Cumberbatch roles are available for fan enjoyment.