Pity Benedict and his rounded vowels
Poor little posh boy? Benedict Cumberbatch. Photo: Getty images
Benedict Cumberbatch, the man behind the appealingly aspergers, probably asexual and eminently brilliant modern-day Sherlock Holmes, possessor of a voice once described by Caitlin Moran as like “a jaguar inside a cello case” and a face oft compared to an otter this week landed himself into something of public backlash.
Cumberbatch has complained of being disadvantaged for being too posh in the past, now he’s considering leaving England because of it. Twitter, as usual, was full of opinions with Benedict Cumberbatch trending on Tuesday night. The son of two professional actors, the 36 year old was educated at top English public school Harrow and it seems he has the polish to prove it. Gosh darn it.
Benedict calls it “posh bashing” and says that after complaining of the perils of poshness he is being "castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school b******, complaining about only getting posh roles".
He’s not the only one to have complained of similar ill treatment. As Anita Singh recalled last year, Helena Bonham Carter once said that she was “punished” because of her privileged background. Working class actor Kathy Burke promptly wrote Bonham Carter an open letter to Time Out magazine,
“As a life long member of the non-pretty working classes, I would like to say to Helena Bonham Carter (wholly pledged member of the very pretty upper-middle classes): shut up you stupid c---.”
Complaining of privilege is, quite rightly, difficult for everybody else to swallow. Indeed this Guardian poll which asked if “posh bashing had gone too far” is so far pointing to a resounding loss for those in possession of a plum in the mouth.
Yet Cumberbatch and Bonham Carter do have a point. For one thing, for Cumberbatch it must get dull to keep playing the oft Machiavellian, stiff upper lip-using a fish fork for the fish – wearing a stiff collar to dinner type character (though playing Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit is perhaps a nice diversion). And then there are the typically English roles he is immediately looked over for - cheery cockney cab driver, chav with a heart of gold, actually any sort of chav, highly moral butlers, negligent father in one of those unrelentingly grim housing estate movies where the colour tone is only grey, charcoal and bleak. In any case, even if making fun of those better off than most seems a fair enough sort of game, it's still prejudice. What's more, as Brendan O'Neill pointed out in the UK Telegraph, modern day posh bashing is hardly revolutionary. Or helpful.
As Cumberbatch said last year, “We all want to escape our circumstances, don’t we?” “Especially if you’re an actor. It’s the imaginative process that gets my juices going. The further away you can get from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is such great fun.”
Typecasting anybody, be it in show biz or in real life, is limiting to both them and you. It’s also boring to judge people because of their background, accent or looks. Besides as Eliza Doolittle, Victoria Beckham and any other person who’s “bettered” themselves have demonstrated, you really can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I’m sure that the same could be said of the reverse. Escaping one’s comfort zone is what makes life good, or in the very least interesting. And you don’t need to be an actor trying to expand your range to know this.