Benedict Cumberbatch has decided to leave acting.

Benedict Cumberbatch at an event for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Okay, don’t panic! That’s not true, but I couldn’t write a post on April Fool’s Day and not throw at least one “Fooled Ya!” worthy statement in here.

Cumberbatch has, however, made career-changing decision that is about to hurtle across the pond to your television screens this evening. He recently became the co-founder of SunnyMarch TV. The fledgling company selected as its first drama to adapt The Child in Time by Ian McEwan starring none other than acclaimed co-founder Cumberbatch himself.

The novel follows Stephen Lewis. An accidental children’s author with the whole package–notoriety, house, wife, and child–Lewis’s life seems storybook perfect until the unthinkable happens: His daughter is kidnapped while they shop for a few weekend groceries. The repercussions of this single act seep into every area of Lewis’s life–especially his marriage–with all lyrical and honest intensity readers have come to expect from the author of The Atonement. Both poignant and beautiful, The Child in Time is a book that stays with you.

Will SunnyMarchTV and its partner for this drama Masterpiece Theatre do it justice? American viewers will be able to find out tonight on PBS Masterpiece Theatre at 9/8pm Central. But before you do Adapt That has a few speculations…

What They Will Do:

They’re going to keep it British.

What to I mean by “keeping it British?” The Child in Time book is haunting in its simplistic portrayal of crippling loss. That haunting honesty is what won McEwan the Whitbread Prize. This is not another Kidnap (2017)Although dealing with incredible circumstances, the creators of the this adaptation are not going to veer into the “thriller” genre. The adapter they selected, Stephen Butchard (The Last Kingdom), excels at delving into the complicated and conflicting emotions of a protagonist. And when the protagonist is played by an actor who possesses the emotional subtlety of Cumberbatch… You can bet Julian Forian is thrilled to zoom in on someone genuine behind the camera. Expect close ups with honest emotion, action that means something, and a story expressing subtle symbolism.

That’s what I mean by British. *stepping off of soap box*

What They Won’t Do:

The creators of this adaptation are not going to let the story speak for itself.

I think one of the things that impacted me the most about the book while I was reading was that the characters were brand new. Stephen Lewis could have been my neighbor. He’s the guy who takes his daughter grocery shopping on a Saturday morning so that his wife can have a break. He is a “every man” sort of guy before his life is altered.

By casting Cumberbatch, Forian and the production team can rest assured that their lead will bring all of the talent of a seasoned actor to the adaptation. However, they will never be able to capture the same “every man” sort of feeling for the character that they would with a lesser-known actor. Just about everyone has seen Cumberbatch in some sort of film, television, or stage production. That fame will certainly encourage people who would have never watched a “SunnyMarchTV” drama to screens tonight. He is a name and face people know. He is “the known man” attempting to be “the everyman” guy, and I think perhaps that is going to provide a different experience for people merely watching the story.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Beatrice White in The Child in Time (2017)

What They Should Do:

There are two moments that really stood out to me in the book. Keeping this post spoiler-free, I will only say that they are extraordinary in their simplicity and emotional impact. They will require, however, moments of stillness. It is rare for creative teams to have the courage for their story to have a moment that is not trying to capture viewers attention with some flashy new plot point and merely let the story be. Yet, to achieve what is powerful in The Child in Time, time will need to stand still at certain places of the story. The mundane will need to be told for the extraordinary to be revealed, and sometimes this starts with a mere note on the door or an umbrella left in a toy store on a rainy day.

It would also be fantastic if they visualized Stephen’s relationship with his daughter Kate a bit more than what is allowed in the book.


Please, for the love of all that’s decent, find a way to tell this story without reducing it to a pathetic first-person narration track with accompanying video!

Believe me, I, of all people, could listen to Cumberbatch’s voice for a very, very long time. But nothing stifles a story faster than being told what the protagonist is thinking and feeling. McEwan shows readers the complexities of Stephen’s grief without the crutch of first-person narration. It would be a shame to lose this dance of reality, thought, and feeling in the adaptation.

Keith Madden and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Child in Time (2017)

With Cumberbatch at the production helm, I doubt this sort of travesty will occur.

But he did play Kahn… See the trailer for The Child in Time here.

Wish List Item:

There is a delightful minor character named Edward who appears toward the end of the novel. It would be a treat to see him “in the flesh” in this adaptation.

Chances of this happening:

I give it three copies of Lemonade out of ten.

The Child in Time (2017) will appear for the first time for American audiences at 9/8pm Central on April 1, 2018, on most PBS stations. It should be available to stream online briefly after airing. It appeared to British audiences in 2017. 

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