Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch (Photo: Shutterstock)

Sixteen years after Brokeback Mountain, another cowboy movie that explores notions of masculinity and sexuality is being tipped for awards. However, the relationship at the center of this one sounds far more ambiguous.

The Power Of The Dog stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock). Directed and written by New Zealand’s Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady), the 1920s-set Western finds Cumberbatch as sadistic, Montana farmer Phil Burbank.

He forms a bond with a younger man, Peter, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who comes to the same farm when his mother, played by Kirsten Dunst, marries Burbank’s brother.

Related: Benedict Cumberbatch’s obsessive fans have some “scary behavior”

Described by the BBC as a “slow-burning gothic melodrama”, the movie premiered at the Venice Film Festival and is already being talked about as an awards season contender.

Over the weekend, it was shown at the Telluride Film Festival. Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee attended and took part in a talk about their roles.

We’ve not seen the movie, so can’t comment on the sexuality of Cumberbatch’s character. However, he was asked about discussions around which actors play what roles. He famously played the part of persecuted maths genius Alan Turing in 2014’s The Imitation Game.

“I feel very sensitive about representation, diversity, and inclusion,” he said, as reported by IndieWire. “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.”

“It wasn’t done without thought,” he continued. “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.”

It’s unclear whether he’s talking about his own sexual history or is speaking about actors in general.

Ultimately, he suggests he went with the director’s vision.

“Jane chose us as actors to play those roles. That’s her question to answer.”

Related: Director spills the tea on which A-listers turned down “Brokeback Mountain”

Smit-McPhee, 25, first came to attention in the 2009, post-apocalyptic movie, The Road. His character is more gawky, artistic, and clearly a fish-out-of-water among the ranch hands.

“I would say that there’s a lot in Peter that I relate to,” said Smit-McPhee. “Sure, I’m a straight man, but I’m extremely in touch with my feminine side. I was raised by my mother and my sister.

“Of course, my dad has a huge masculine influence on my life but he could never really take me away from the feminine side that I just intrinsically have in myself. 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 Power of the Dog will hit theaters on November 17, before streaming on Netflix from December 1.

You can watch a trailer below.

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