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There’s something intangibly strange about Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s served him well for his best-loved roles, most notably Sherlock and Doctor Strange, but also the genetically engineered Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, and evil dragon Smaug (later the Necromancer) in The Hobbit.

We don’t just mean he looks a teensy bit like an otter (which he does, unquestionably). We mean he has a certain endearingly reserved quality that helps him bring charm and empathy to characters as diverse as Alan Turing, a mustachioed rotter in Atonement, and even a conflicted slave owner in 12 Years a Slave, roles that in anyone else’s hands could become one-dimensional.

His performance in Patrick Melrose, starting tomorrow night (12 May) on Showtime, has been rated a career high, which got us thinking of some of his lesser-known roles. We’ve dug into his back catalog to find 10 of his very best.

10. Starter for Ten (2006)

Believe it or not, Benedict cut his teeth in comedy in the U.K., playing for laughs in 2005 dotcom sitcom Nathan Barley, media satire Broken News, and 2010’s Four Lions. His comedic talent shines through in this romantic comedy, which sees him play Patrick, the fiercely stubborn captain of a university quiz team, whose rivals include future collaborators James McAvoy (Atonement), Rebecca Hall (Parade’s End), Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) and Charles Dance (The Imitation Game).

9. Third Star (2011)

Benedict plays James, a young man about to die of cancer, in this independent film featuring a Where’s Waldo? of up-and-coming British acting talent. When a trip with three of his best buds doesn’t exactly go to plan, James’s last chance to experience laughter, adventure, and friendship becomes both hilarious and touching in Benedict’s hands.

8. August: Osage County (2013)

Standing out in a cast that also features Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor is no mean feat, but Benedict does just that as shy, awkward “Little Charles” in this big-screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts.

7. Wreckers (2011)

In D.R. Hood‘s little-seen, low-budget British three-hander, Benedict plays David, a newly-married teacher trying for a baby with his young wife (The Crown‘s Claire Foy). Long-buried antagonisms quickly come to the surface when his brother (Shaun Evans) arrives, with Benedict digging beneath the surface of a seemingly balanced guy to find a worryingly unstable personality.

6. Parade’s End (2012)

Benedict was one of the few British actors not to pop up in Downton Abbey, but if you squint while watching this it’s possible to imagine what it would have been like if he had. He plays an unhappily married man from the pre-war upper classes, who falls for another woman while trying desperately to remain faithful to his wayward wife (Rebecca Hall). Of course, the whole thing would have been shut down immediately if the Dowager Countess had had anything to with it.

5. Frankenstein (2012)

One of Benedict’s best performances wasn’t captured on screen at all, apart from a few beam-backs into theaters. He and Johnny Lee Miller took turns to play Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster in this stage play directed by Danny Boyle at London’s National Theatre, which was filmed and shown in a few select U.S. theaters.

4. Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007)

Four years before Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and long before they were both household names, Benedict shared the screen with Tom Hardy in this TV film about writer Alexander Masters and his friend Stuart Shorter (Hardy). Tom’s explosive portrayal of a troubled homeless man earned him a BAFTA nomination, but Benedict was also lauded for his moving, restrained performance.

3. The Child in Time (2017)

This haunting one-off special about a couple dealing with the loss of their child is a challenging watch, but one made bearable by Benedict’s deftness of touch, and the interplay between his character and Kelly Macdonald‘s.

2. Amazing Grace (2006)

Benedict’s breakthrough performance came in this film about the abolition of the British slave trade in the late eighteenth century. He played William Pitt the Younger, Britain’s youngest ever prime minister, garnering him a nomination for the London Film Critics Circle British Breakthrough Acting Award, and the notice of fans and critics everywhere.

1. Hawking (2004)

Benedict’s most critically acclaimed role has since been eclipsed by The Theory of Everything, which also charted Stephen Hawking‘s early years as a PhD student at Cambridge University. Eddie Redmayne may have won the Oscar for his performance, but many consider Benedict’s the best portrayal of the late physicist.

What’s your favorite ever Benedict role?

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Filed Under: Benedict Cumberbatch
By Kat Sommers
Kat is a freelance writer for Anglophenia.