David Ni­cholls dis­cusses his adap­ta­tion of “Pa­trick Mel­rose.”

Nov­els by: Ed­ward St. Aubyn Adap­ta­tion by: David Ni­cholls

Variety - - Contents - BY DANIELLE TURCHIANO

FOR THE SHOWTIME lim­ited se­ries “Pa­trick Mel­rose,” David Ni­cholls adapted five of Ed­ward St. Aubyn’s semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­els deal­ing with death, ad­dic­tion, mar­riage and par­ent­hood. “The books were fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause they were never en­vi­sioned as a kind of saga. They were writ­ten one by one, and af­ter each book, he thought that was the end of the story,” Ni­cholls says of St. Aubyn. Ni­cholls felt it was im­por­tant to stick to the struc­ture of the books, each of which pre­sented as “a snap­shot from the char­ac­ter’s life” for the se­ries, rather than to fill in the gaps of time be­tween events to cre­ate a more “con­ven­tional” fam­ily drama.

Draw­ing in a Larger Au­di­ence

When­ever adapt­ing a pop­u­lar work, a por­tion of the au­di­ence comes with pre- ex­ist­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. “If you leave one [plot point] out, there’s a sense of be­ing un­faith­ful to this sa­cred text,” Ni­cholls says.

What greatly ap­pealed to him about the “Pa­trick Mel­rose” nov­els was that al­though he con­sid­ers them “mod­ern clas­sics,” they are not hugely well known.

“I feel a duty, be­cause I love the books, to be pretty faith­ful, and yet I also love that for a huge part of the au­di­ence, this will be a discovery,” he says.

The first step in get­ting into this par­tic­u­lar set of sto­ries was to learn the books well enough that Ni­cholls knew them “back to front” — and then to “take a step back to see what stayed in [his] head as im­por­tant and what [he] loved.”

“I was very in­flu­enced by the way Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola broke down ‘The God­fa­ther,’ so I broke each of these books down sim­i­larly and looked through them for the mo­ments that I felt were most im­por­tant and would work the best dra­mat­i­cally,” Ni­cholls says.

Un­re­li­able Nar­ra­tor

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, who plays the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter as an adult, was at­tached to the project early on, and Ni­cholls says it was im­por­tant to him to write the pre­miere with his per­for­mance in mind.

“This is the one where the voices and the sound and the vi­su­als and the pace of the edit­ing have to ab­so­lutely re­flect a sin­gle per­son’s point of view,” he points out.

The episode adapted from the “Bad News” book, specif­i­cally, was told through Pa­trick’s eyes, and since he is the type of char­ac­ter who “ab­so­lutely doesn’t say what he feels,” notes Ni­cholls, voiceover be­came a key part of the scene, de­spite his nor­mal “wari­ness” of the de­vice.

“I know that there are in­cred­i­ble dan­gers with it and it’s a very blunt in­stru­ment and of­ten doesn’t work, but if any book could jus­tify its use, then it’s this be­cause he’s in this ex­tra­or­di­nary schiz­o­phrenic, manic frame of mind and the per­son that he com­mu­ni­cates with most is him­self," he says.

The first time the au­di­ence hears Pa­trick’s in­ner voice is when the ad­dict rides in a taxi af­ter learn­ing his fa­ther has died. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of the shiny Man­hat­tan sky­line out­side of the win­dow was writ­ten specif­i­cally to play off of “the twitch­i­ness of Pa­trick’s hand” and his wild eyes as he is “des­per­ately try­ing but fail­ing” to be sober.

“It’s the ul­ti­mate sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ni­cholls says.

Ni­cholls wanted to be sure to keep the story's late May time­frame in­tact in his on­screen ver­sion.

“Each of the books have a very strong sea­sonal feel,” the “Pa­trick Mel­rose” adapter says. “In ‘Bad News’ it’s a beau­ti­ful sum­mer in New York, but [Pa­trick] never takes his coat off. He’s al­ways sweat­ing, he’s al­ways shak­ing — he talks about his coat as his shell. So that was to note that this man, ev­ery­where he goes, should be wear­ing more clothes and be a lit­tle bit more un­com­fort­able than ev­ery­one.”

SEMINAL WORDS The sec­ond novel in Ed­ward St. Aubyn's se­ries was adapted into the first episode of Showtime's retelling of Pa­trick Mel­rose's life. "Bad News" was orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1992, im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the first novel en­ti­tled "Never Mind." Lead­ing Man Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch em­bod­ied the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter in Showtime's lim­ited se­ries.

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