Jane Campion’s Netflix film, The Power of the Dog sees the acclaimed actor Benedict Cumberbatch play a gay character. The actor recently opened up about the same, defending the decision and saying that “it wasn’t done without thought”.
The film has recently premiered at the Venice International Film Festival where the Sherlock actor is seen as Phil Burbank, a “sadistic” ranch owner who gradually has a change of heart.
Based on Thomas Savage’s novel, starring an ensemble cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee and more, the film is set in the 1920s Montana ranch where Phil and George Burbank are wealthy rancher brothers.
They meet a widow named Rose and her son Peter, whom Phil incessantly taunts. He is cruel, beguiling and hurtful. He constantly hums a haunting whistle tune that Rose can no longer sing. His cunning drives Rose to tears, and he constantly taunts Peter along with his cowhands.
His brother George marries Rose, and Phil’s mockery borders on claustrophobic madness. However, Phil soon takes Peter under his wing and begins training him, which might indicate the beginning of love and affection. Or could that indicate a further descent into twisted lies and menacing despair?
Hollywood has always had a very misguided debate regarding the lack of queer representation and whether straight actors should really be allowed to take on queer roles. From Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet to Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, the list of straight actors playing queer roles are endless.
Recently, Russel T Davies from It’s A Sin argued gay actors should be allowed to play gay roles for “authenticity” and “the taste of 2020”. He suggested, “You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places.”
There has been some ambiguity regarding Peter’s sexuality in the film with whom Cumberbatch’s character develops a close bond. The Doctor Strange actor addressed the controversy recently at the Telluride Film Festival.
Cumberbatch, who has previously played a gay character in the 2014 flick The Imitation Game as Alan Turing, said that it was Campion’s discretion to choose the characters. “Jane chose us as actors to play those roles. That’s her question to answer.”
He spoke about his understanding of “representation, diversity and inclusion” and said that he is “sensitive” towards inclusivity.
“One of the appeals of the job was the idea that in this world, with this specific character, there was a lot that was private, hidden from view.”
He said, “It wasn’t done without thought. I also feel slightly like, is this a thing where our dance card has to be public? Do we have to explain all our private moments in our sexual history? I don’t think so.”
Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays Peter, does not identify as gay and has spoken about his role. He says that although he is straight, he is “extremely in touch with [his] feminine side”. He attributes that to the influence of his mother and sister and says that despite his father’s “huge masculine influence” in his life, his “feminine side” is “intrinsically” a part of himself.
About his character in the film, he said, “It was just a matter of bringing it out… and letting it be in the world. It was a really experimental but beautiful thing to do.”
The film is set to release on Netflix on December 1, 2021. Watch the official teaser trailer below: