Benedict Cumberbatch had the politest response to Sam Elliott’s ‘Power of the Dog’ dig

A man in a cowboy hat and chaps rides a horse toward a blue sky studded with white clouds
Benedict Cumberbatch plays rancher Phil Burbank in Netflix Oscar favorite “The Power of the Dog.”
(Kirtsty Griffin / Netflix)

Benedict Cumberbatch is reacting in a very British manner to American actor Sam Elliott calling his movie “The Power of the Dog” “that piece of s—.” Without naming names, the best actor Oscar nominee called Elliott’s reaction “very odd.”

“Someone ... really took offense [at] the West being portrayed in this way,” Cumberbatch said in a BAFTA Film Sessions interview that streamed Saturday. (His remarks begin around the 44-minute mark.)

He noted that he was reluctant to comment in detail because he hadn’t yet heard the episode of the “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast and said he didn’t want to “stir over the ashes” of the story. He proceeded to comment anyway.


Actor Sam Elliott, who has played a cowboy for most of his career, slammed Jane Campion’s revisionist take on the American West: ‘I took it personal.’

March 1, 2022

Elliott, who stars in the Paramount+ streaming series “1883” and has sealed his place in the canon of the western genre over the course of his 77 years, took huge issue last week with a blurb from a “Power of the Dog” review that — in his words — described the film as an “evisceration of the American myth.”

“They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the f— movie,” Elliott said of the story set in 1920s Montana. Later he added, “It’s like ... where’s the western? Where’s the western in this western?”

Cumberbatch took issue with Elliott’s “denial that anybody could have anything other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born.”

Maybe ease up on your hatred of Phil Burbank just a little, the actor asks. There are things about the man that should be celebrated.

March 1, 2022

He also criticized what he saw as “a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still, towards an acceptance of the ‘other,’ of any kind of difference, and no more so than in this prism of conformity in the sense of what is expected in a man in the sort of western-archetype mold of masculinity.”

But the English actor did it all in a nonconfrontational way, absent any outrage. He described the storytelling in “The Power of the Dog,” which leads the pack of Oscar contenders with 12 nominations, as a look under the hood of toxic masculinity.

The western tends to be macho fare, akin to the gangster movie in the genre universe. But love takes many forms out on the prairie.

March 2, 2022

“I think there’s no harm in looking at a character to try and get to the root causes of that,” he said. “I mean, this is a very specific case of repression, but also due to an intolerance, a societal intolerance for that true identity that Phil is, that Phil has, that he can’t fully be.”


As for the deconstruction of Phil, the character he played in the film, in the context of the American West? Well, Cumberbatch said, “It’s not a history lesson.”