Skip to main content

Home Culture Culture Film & TV

Benedict Cumberbatch defends The Power of the Dog after Sam Elliott attack

"It’s not a history lesson"

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Netflix/Wiki

Benedict Cumberbatch has defended cowboy drama The Power of the Dog after it came under criticism from Sam Elliott, an actor well-known for his Westerns, for “allusions to homosexuality”.

Speaking to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast recently, Elliott, known for A Star is Born and Grace and Frankie, called TPOTD a “piece of s***”, comparing the film’s cowboys to the New York Chippendales.

He added: “They’re running around in chaps and no shirts. […] There’s all these allusions of homosexuality throughout the movie.”

He also lambasted the film’s director, Jane Campion, asking: “What the f*** does this woman from down there [New Zealand] know about the American West?”

“It’s not a history lesson”

Hitting back in a BAFTA interview, Cumberbatch, who plays the closeted Phil Burbank, described Elliott’s response as an “odd reaction”. 

Continuing, he said: “Someone really took offense to — I haven’t heard it so it’s unfair for me to comment in detail on it — to the West being portrayed in this way.”

The Doctor Strange actor said: “Beyond that reaction, that sort of denial that anybody could have any other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born; there’s also a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still and toward an acceptance of the other and anything kind of [different].

“No more so than in this prism of conformity of what’s expected of a man in the Western archetype mould of masculinity. To deconstruct that through Phil, it’s not a history lesson.”

Cumberbatch tells BAFTA of his character: “This is a very specific case of repression, but also due to an intolerance for that true identity that Phil is that he can’t fully be. The more we look under the hood of toxic masculinity and try to discover the root causes of it, the bigger chances we have of dealing with it when it arises with our children.”

The Power of the Dog is up for 12 Academy Award nominations (the most this year) including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cumberbatch, and Best Director for Campion. Cumberbatch’s co-stars Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Jesse Plemons are all nominated in acting categories. 

Watch Cumberbatch’s interview in full below:

Attitude’s new-look March/April issue is out now.