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The Many Faces of Benedict Cumberbatch


Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch is an award-winning English actor who has been appointed a CBE by the Queen and included in Time magazine's annual 100 Most Influential People in the World list. Attending the Victoria University of Manchester before enrolling for a Master of Arts in Classical Acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Before Eddie Redmayne became inextricably linked with Stephen Hawking, it was Cumberbatch who had played the late great in Hawking. Rising up through the ranks of theatre, TV and film, you may remember Cumberbatch playing a supporting role to James McAvoy in Starters for 10. While Cumberbatch is best served in leading roles, he has done a great job in smaller supporting roles with an old world look also makes him an asset to war dramas such as Atonement, War Horse, Dunkirk and 1917.

The Many Faces of Benedict Cumberbatch

The actor has been described as the king of impressionists, based on his ability to impersonate people. This probably explains how he's managed to accumulate such a broad range of performances over the last two decades. Cumberbatch became known for his critically-acclaimed performance as a modern Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock, a role that garnered many awards and has overshadowed his acting career. Having played the brilliant mind of Sherlock, most of his performances have had a similar edge, making him the go-to when it comes to playing characters of rare intelligence. Having been nominated for his lead performances as Phil Burbank in Power of the Dog and The Imitation Game, it seems inevitable that he will eventually land the covetted statuette.

There are no signs of slowing down as the actor is currently attached to projects such as: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, a TV adaptation of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps as well as sci-fi drama Morning with Laura Dern and Rogue Male, having just recently released Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Stephen Hawking - Hawking (2004)

Even as far back as 2004, Cumberbatch was attracting challenging roles where he was asked to portray genius. Perhaps its his elongated face, calculating blue eyes or distinguished manner that make him seem intelligent, even a bit alien. In the BBC film Hawking, Cumberbatch plays Hawking in his early years at Cambridge University leading to his struggle with motor neuron disease. The performance, credited as the first portrayal of the world famous physicist on screen not by himself, was lauded with praise from critics in particular putting the young actor on the map.

Vincent Van Gogh - Van Gogh: Painted with Words (2010)

Cumberbatch has an artful quality, something not often as exploited as his aura of super intelligence. While far from being impoverished, the "New King of Celebrity Impressionists" was able to capture the essence of one of the art world's most adored impressionists. A chameleon of sorts, the actor was able to channel his talents into a performance as Van Gogh, which The Daily Telegraph described as "impassioned", "vividly" bringing the renowned artist to "blue-eyed life".

Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock

The list just wouldn't be complete without adding his eponymous role as Sherlock Holmes. The contemporary version finds Cumberbatch giving his own spin to the character whose brilliance is cleverly edited to demonstrate how quickly his mind works. Sparring with Andrew Scott as his nemesis Moriarty in a modern London and joining many adventures with The Hobbit Trilogy co-star Martin Freeman, the revitalised Sherlock benefits from Cumberbatch's immense presence and intoxicatingly wiley charms.

Victor Frankenstein/Frankenstein's Monster - Frankenstein (2011)

Danny Boyle directed a stage production of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at the Royal National Theatre, which was broadcast to cinemas. The Slumdog Millionaire director's adaptation received high praise, much of which was directed to Benedict Cumberbatch for his performance, which found him alternating between playing Victor Frankenstein and his monster on . It was this performance that garnered Cumberbatch the covetted "Triple Crown" earning him the Critics' Circle Theatre Award, Evening Standard Award as well as the Olivier Award.

Smaug - The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

When people speak about motion capture or "mocap", it's generally Andy Serkis' name that crops up. The undisputed king of motion capture performance, his work is probably the biggest proponent for inclusion at the Academy Awards. While these are still early days when it comes to completely digital characters or those based on physical performance, it's Benedict Cumberbatch's turn as Smaug that's only getting the credit it so rightfully deserves now. Videos depicting his behind-the-scenes performance where "gives it horns" seems like an understatement, the actor contorts his body like Tolkien's dragon would, once again plying his golden voice and air of centuries-old wisdom and intelligence.

Khan - Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Playing Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness just seemed obvious for Cumberbatch, maybe too obvious considering his work on Sherlock. While Kirk and Spock's romance take centre stage, it's Khan's scheming, scene-stealing performance as the "superhuman" character with personal vendettas that align his deceptive machinations that make him every bit as mysterious and troublesome as Loki in The Avengers.

Julian Assange - The Fifth Estate (2013)

Besides Smaug, playing Julian Assange is probably one of his most dramatic transformations. It's not often that Cumberbatch makes a drastic physical transformation like his Stuart: A Life Backwards co-star Tom Hardy, who didn't get enough credit for his unrecognisable performance as Bain in The Dark Knight Rises. So, it's usually a slight physical alteration and more about his actual appearance from the shoulders up. Going for long white hair is a bit of a shock for audiences who have become accustomed to seeing Cumberbatch transform more gradually on screen or stage. While the film was a little underwhelming, Cumberbatch got a chance to try something completely different in the paranoid Fifth Estate as the WikiLeaks bigwig.

Alan Turing - The Imitation Game (2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be more concerned with capturing the essence of his characters than making a dramatic transformation by way of prosthetics or make up. Slight adjustments are acceptable but the actor prides himself on being able to transport audiences with the minutiae of his performances. The Imitation Game finds Cumberbatch reaching for greatness opposite an equally admirable Keira Knightley. Playing the British cryptographer and genius (it's Cumberbatch), the film made some startling revelations about the strategy around the enigma decoding machine. Offering nuance and yet another thoughtful performance, Cumberbatch allows an equal measure of himself and Turing to carry the performance to give the gist in a more authentic and grounded fashion.

Dr Stephen Strange - Doctor Strange (2016)

Having played professors, inventors, scientists and many forms of genius, adding neurosurgeon to the mix didn't seem like that big a leap. Just like Robert Downey Jr had his detractors before the launch of Iron Man, there must have been a few question marks hanging over the head of Cumberbatch before taking on Doctor Strange. Any doubts were quickly quashed with Cumberbatch's performance, injecting life and wonder into the role. Swishing about, it's refreshing to have an actor of Cumberbatch's calibre donning a superhero cape and veritable sidekick. While spectacle seems to be trumping star quality in today's blockbuster world of superheroes and fast cars, this casting decision does show some promise, even if Cumberbatch is best served in a leading role.

Thomas Edison - The Current War (2017)

The Current War was a surefire hit on paper but unfortunately didn't reach its full potential, in spite of its heavyweight match up between Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse. The historical drama portrayed the epic saga as both Americans tried to push their agendas in a bid to see which electric power delivery system would serve the United States. While Cumberbatch relishes the opportunity to play Edison, who's rarely portrayed in contemporary film, his performance is undermined by the character's distance with both men waging war without offering enough points of identification. Still, it's wonderful to see Cumberbatch working his way into roles like playing with a Rubick's Cube.

Dominic Cummings - Brexit (2019)

In Brexit, Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings, an undeniable kingpin in the Brexit crisis and Leave EU campaign. Reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes for his strategy, the Social Network type TV film treats the Brexit debacle like a sports drama with each team trying to outplay the other. A tense, smart exploration of the behind-the-scenes campaigning and digital rights, it's a fascinating political drama with Cumberbatch chiming in with another magnificent and transformative performance as Cummings.

Phil Burbank - The Power of the Dog (2021)

Now best known for playing Doctor Strange based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe's popularity, it must come as some surprise for some fan boys who watch Doctor Strange in anything else. While Cumberbatch may have been mostly drawn to the pay check and refreshing change of direction in bringing Doctor Strange to life, he shows he's still got what it takes with the revisionist western and psychological drama, The Power of the Dog. Taking a step down in terms of the art of cinema with a role as a comic book hero, he dismisses any naysayers with an Oscar-nominated performance firing on all cylinders in Jane campion's widely acclaimed actor's showcase, The Power of the Dog. Unlucky not to win for his immense performance as the toxic powerhouse that is Phil Burbank, it shows Cumberbatch's intent with a string of high profile nominations during awards season.