Benedict Cumberbatch: an essential viewing guide

Image for Benedict Cumberbatch: an essential viewing guide

In a few short years, Benedict Cumberbatch has become a fan-favourite so beloved, he can barely blow his nose without the internet exploding. He's taking a short break to do some more films - Doctor Strange and Jungle Book: Origins - but our Cumberwatch continues. Following in the footsteps of his old pal Tom Hiddleston, we've taken a forensic eye to the back catalogue of the man you voted the Sexiest in movies. Here, then, are the great, the good and the (very occasionally) terrible entries on his CV so far...

Essential viewing: Sherlock (2011-)

These entries are usually confined to films but Cumberbatch’s TV triumphs can't be ignored. With brutal brilliance and a lack of anything resembling manners, his Sherlock is an unlikely object of devotion, but that’s exactly what he inspires. Cumberbatch, sporting Byronic curls and the greatest coat the world has ever seen, muses and deduces while Martin Freeman’s civil Dr. Watson throws his genius into relief. He builds on his early smartypants work in Starter For Ten here to establish himself as the go-to guy for the stupidity-challenged

Essential viewing: Parade's End (2013)

Imagine Downton Abbey's Earl of Grantham, only with a million Germans trying to kill him and you have Ford Madox Ford’s great Edwardian hero Christopher Tietjens. He’s brought to life by Cumberbatch in a hugely elegant BBC/HBO adaptation. Plenty of credit is also due to Rebecca Hall as Tietjens’ louchely cruel and adulterous wife Sylvia, and writer Tom Stoppard, whose script engages both heart and brain. But it’s the Cumberbatch show from beginning to end as a kind, occasionally mulish but ultimately upstanding member of an ancient class torn apart by war. Billed by its director as “Downton meets The Wire” – if you haven’t seen it, the sherry-ups will blow your mind – it’s sophisticated telly with plenty to say and a fantastic actor to say it.

Essential viewing: 12 Years A Slave (2013)

Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender also got nods, but Benedict Cumberbatch deserves a mention too for bringing nuance to the smaller but equally pivotal role of slave owner William Ford. Is he a decent man corroded by the system or a pious fool deluded into thinking he’s on the side of the angels? The actor has us thinking first one thing and then the other. In his kindly-creepy hands, the gift of a violin to Solomon Northup feels about as welcome as a sheep poo in Maltesers packet. The real Ford’s ancestors were reportedly unhappy with the depiction; everyone else just bowed to the Cumbercraft on display.

With a dandyish air masking a needle-sharp intellect, the role of MI6 enforcer Peter Guillam fit Cumberbatch like one of those Savile Row suits in Tomas Alfredson’s mole-hunt thriller. He’s the centre-point of the film’s best set piece, a blood-pressure-cranking rummage through the Circus archives for a crucial clue, but is equally good patrolling the perimeter of scenes with languorous menace as head of the Scalphunters. To prep for the role Cumberbatch visited the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira where his character’s back story plays out in John le Carré’s tale. “I was wandering around the streets at night,” he recalled, “thinking what it must be like to know that every turn could be my last.” Still sounds like a holiday to us.

Huffy fire drake Smaug just pips another hissable Cumberbatch role, Star Trek Into Darkness’s John ‘It’s My Real Name, Honest’ Harrison, in this section, mostly by dint of some first-rate motion-capture work and vocal chords that couldn’t be more perfect for the role if they occasionally burped flames. The battle of wits with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) stands alongside Bilbo and Gollum's riddle-a-thon as the yarn’s most gripping sequence to date. As his tape reveals, even the most bizarre framing in audition history couldn’t prevent Cumberbatch’s rare mixture of honey and thunder from snapping Peter Jackson’s casting bods to attention.

Before Sherlock became huge and Smaug was still in his egg, Cumberbatch was a humble schoolteacher in an intimate drama that awaits Cumbpletists on good streaming sites. Dictynna Hood’s tightly wound story is a three-hander with a man (Cumberbatch), his wife (Claire Foy) and his brother (Shaun Evans) slowly unravelling in a Kentish village. The latter is a returning Afghan War veteran with PTSD and plenty of skeletons in his kit bag. If that sounds semi-familiar to Sherlock fans, be prepared for crimes of a purely metaphorical nature. Instead, there’s rural friction aplenty, marital strife and the kind of edgy craft that may well win Cumberbatch an Oscar one day.

One to avoid: The Fifth Estate (2013)

If you queued up to hear the Cummer get Wiki, you were probably on your own. A good and decent man by every account, Cumberbatch stood loyally by his IckyLeaks flop while the world inched away from it like a stink bomb in a cinema foyer. It’s the narrative rather than any flaws in B-Cumbs’ performance that makes it such an enervating experience. Joining the dots on Julian ‘Wikileaks’ Assange’s life is Bill ‘Dreamgirls’ Condon, an uneasy marriage of director and material that plods methodically from A to B to C with little enlightenment. Assange refused to meet Cumberbatch before filming and later published a letter condemning the movie. Strangely, there was no mention of a garb of white wig, contact lenses and anorak that made him look like an extra-terrestrial rambler.

More from Empire