Why The Fifth Estate is the perfect thing to stream this weekend

Our weekly Cut the Crap streaming recommendation column looks at a new Benedict Cumberbatch series, and his 2013 turn as Julian Assange

There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.


Because Cumberbatch can currently be seen in theaters in Avengers: Infinity War, and this Sunday night will be on Showtime in Patrick Melrose.

Patrick Melrose is a five-part miniseries, based on five autobiographical Edward St. Aubyn novels, tracing the author’s troubled youth and his journey toward domestic normalcy — all set against the backdrop of the English upper-class. Cumberbatch is one of the lead producers on the project, which was written by David Nicholls and directed by Edward Berger. He’s playing the title character at various phases in his life, capturing the dark humor and heavy struggle of a man working hard to overcome his own weaknesses and addictions, along with his memories of growing up in abusive environment.

The Showtime series (also airing on Sky Atlantic in the UK) is a rare case of Cumberbatch taking on the role of a relatively ordinary person. Much of his TV and movie career to date has been divided between playing well-known genre characters and historical figures. He’s been Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek’s Khan, The Hobbit’s Smaug, and — in theaters right now — Marvel Comics’ “sorcerer supreme,” Dr. Stephen Strange. He’s also played Richard III, Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, and Thomas Edison — plus, obviously, Julian Assange.

Before The Fifth Estate debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in fall 2013, it was pegged as a potential Oscar-contender. Then the reviews were less-than-enthusiastic, and the movie eventually got lost in an awards season that also included such heavy-hitters as Gravity, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, Her, and 12 Years a Slave (in which Cumberbatch played a supporting role). Frankly, The Fifth Estate isn’t up to the level of those other films. But Cumberbatch gives a performance that’s very much the equal of his more high-profile work, doing what he does best: bringing deeply felt nuance to a larger-than-life character.