Wandering home from my girlfriend Rina’s place last week my ipod decided to cut out on me (bastard technology), so I decided to hit up some old skool entertainment by picking up something to read for my long journey home – get me, all archaic like. I stepped into one of Notting Hill’s exchange shops and decided to avoid the tempting stacks of second-hand comics and graphic novels in favour of some crime fiction. I darted to the correct section of the shop and managed to rustle up a copy of Agatha Christie’s ‘They Do It With Mirrors’, just before it was kick out time. Pheww.

I’ve also just ordered ten Poirot novels. That’ll keep me busy… when I finish Skyward Sword.

What a Dick.

I’m a big fan of detective fiction, devoting my final year’s dissertation to the subject at university. It’s not just crime fiction of a literary nature that I enjoy though, far from it. I really liked Guy Ritchie’s modern take on Sherlock Holmes, expertly played by Roderigo Downey Jr., though I am yet to see Game of Shadows. Download imminent. And I mustn’t forget the regular doses of Diagnosis Murder on those lazy weekdays off – isn’t old timer Dick Van Dyke dreamy? Can’t believe that’s a real name… Sounds more like a character from a bawdy Benny Hill sketch.

Aside from Ritchie’s cinematic creation, there is another modern adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that has gained notoriety, the BBC’s fittingly titled, Sherlock. Some important word guy once wrote, “What’s in a name?” (yes, I know it was bloody Shakespeare!), a question strikingly relevant to this contemporary adaptation. In a word, the name tells you everything you need to know. ‘Sherlock’, ponder that for a second. What conclusions would you get from it?

It’s quick and punchy, just like the show. It highlights that the series is undoubtedly about one character, one man, Sherlock Holmes. He pulls focus throughout, overshadowing other protagonists (Watson, Mycroft Holmes, Moriarty). It suggests his arrogance, the self-confidence in his own ability and others interest in it. Using just the sleuth’s first name, like Madonna or Seal, implies a level of modernity and a relation to popular culture. Perhaps it also suggests a degree of informality, offering a level of insight into the world’s greatest literary detective.

Or maybe I’m just tenuously extracting comparisons that are no more present in the title than there are intellectuals in Jersey Shore, or not pricks in Jersey Shore, or two dimensional arseholes in…. Ok you get the picture.

With rave reviews and countless references on dreary daytime blabathons like Loose Women, I decided to delve into the Beeb’s modern take on a classic. Unfortunately, iplayer is only currently streaming the 2 latest episodes, that is ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ and ‘Hounds of Baskerville’, the first episodes of series 2. That’s a great ‘start’ isn’t it,  a series bloody down. Nay bother, I’ll just have to begin there for now….

Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson aka Cumberbatch and Freeman

Whoaa. I did not expect that! First it’s important to note. If you are intending to session the episodes to catch up then make sure you set yourself a few days aside. Each episode somehow manages to last an hour and a half without tiring you, AN HOUR AND A HALF! That’s the length of a lot of films these days. It’s a testament to Mark Gatiss’ creative sensibilities that he has written a script that is energetic, pacey and intriguing. You never feel the time passing, which is bloody dangerous! Additionally, it highlights the BBC’s confidence in the premise and execution of Sherlock, that they can weekly devote the length of three prime time programming slots to this one show. Marvellous work, better than My God Fucking Awful Family.

Let’s delve a bit deeper into the show. I’ve watched the two episodes mentioned above and I can only champion this brilliant modern adaptation. Everything is right: the pace of narrative, the unconventional modern visual techniques, the casting, the consistently engaging script which is witty, funny and most importantly fresh, taking old short stories and novels and injecting into them a delicious modern twist, e.g Baskerville being an isolated genetics research facility. They are faithfully grounded in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original literary fiction, yet infuse his classic mysteries with exciting modern inclusions, updating the stories for an audience with new technologically advanced sensibilities. Episodes are wonderfully thought out and executed. A proficient level of planning and narrative structuring has clearly gone into the creation of each episode, ensuring that the riddles, the enigmas are logically and believably explained from a delightful modern perspective – including the use of mobile technology, the web, etc. They have their own blogsite where Watson recounts the trials and tribulations of the detective duo, forming a contact page for bewildered clients to employ Sherlock’s almost supernatural observation and analysis skills. From what I’ve seen so far, episodes are well considered, if a little fantastical at times (though Conan Doyle was also known for his reasoned yet fanciful explanations). The viewer is provided with all the clues that Sherlock and Watson receive, vital for active participation in each criminal investigation, yet undoubtedly watch captivated until the final resolution.

The casting is absolutely astounding, with Gatiss himself starring as Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft. He delivers this role incredibly, cleverly portraying levels of sibling rivalry alongside professional respect. The blurred relationship between Holmes and Watson is tended to wonderfully in the show, executed impeccably by the actors. Seemingly, the relationship extends beyond mutual professional and platonic respect. There is an awe in Watson, which can perhaps come across as almost homoerotic, but really more like a bromance. Martin Freeman is a triumph as John Watson, portraying the military man with a subtlety and ambiguity. He marches throughout each episode, speaking with an authority of voice that suitably mirrors his military station in life. Criticisms are few and far between in Sherlock, which unfortunately for Freeman makes them stand out ever more. His accent is sometimes a little flimsy, moving from a more refined middle class voice to a more common, colloquial accent in the space of seconds. Beyond this slight critique, his portrayal of an aggrieved yet perpetually adoring sidekick is wonderful.

Cumberbatch dealt with his childhood bullying through music.

The feeling is requited though, with a seemingly jealous Holmes continuously belittling Watson’s relationships, insulting his partners to breaking point. Benedict Cumberbatch (you can smell the childhood bullying) is the show’s greatest success. Sherlock Holmes is not an easy character to approach as an actor. He is so beloved, and his character’s representation is so deeply engrained into the consciousness of our artistic society that it is a real challenge to adhere to expected character traits whilst attempting to stamp any kind of self onto the role. Cumberbatch (haaaaaa) somehow manages this though. His Holmes is magnificent, not too distant from RDJ’s cinematic portrayal.

He is arrogant, intellectually pompous, yet somewhat vulnerable, even neurotic. He lives by an emotional detachment, is reliant upon it, yet sometimes is unable to abide by this effectively revealing a vague insight into the man beneath the analytical facade: “I’ve always been able to keep myself distant, divorce myself from feelings”. He is governed by a logic, somewhat protected by it. Yet this grounding in rational, natural explanation proves to be dangerous; the sight of a monstrous hound shakes him to his very core, completely breaking his comfortable detachment. Primarily he is a show off, regularly celebrating the genius of his explanations, relishing in them. He cares little about the expectations of others, or of social etiquette. Instead he freely – and frequently – upsets others preferring to follow the path of open, logical rationale rather than considering their thoughts, anxieties and emotional well-being. Sherlock is all about the challenge, the explanation. He needs to use his mental capacity, in fact crumbling without it as seen in ‘Hounds of Baskerville’. He challenges the rules of verified, nominal logic, such as his refusal to abide the rules of Cluedo, explaining that the victim is the only logical suspect. In a new element to his character, Holmes is surprisingly lazy, often sending Watson to review a crime scene allowing him to remain at home in his dressing gown. Although, this is perhaps just another sign of his arrogance, feeling cases are so beneath him that he is able to treat them with such a disrespectful, distanced overview. Cumberbatch (Jesus, this is too much…..) executes a troublesome role with an ease that effectively displays his worth as an actor. The character was seemingly made for him, witnessed as he portrays the sleuth with subtle nuances of characterisation and delivery. And he doesn’t like his hat, how’s that for an adaptation?

See Sherlock's investigative train of thought.

On a final note, I adore the visual direction of the show too. The zoomed camera angles when Holmes spots something, the annotated clues to inform us of his thought processes are amazingly effective, especially the latter. It is such an obvious, such a simple technique but is employed to wonderful effect. It helps to characterise Sherlock further whilst providing us with a detailed, almost comical insight into his analytical world of observation.

Time to watch the rest… see you in a week!

* On a slight afterthought, I really hope that they don’t dumb down explanations in the rest of these episodes. Let me explain, in ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ in was very clear that Holmes had deduced the code to Irene Adler’s wall safe from her measurements. This was made perfectly clear by her reference to being flattered. Yet, for some reason they decided to reinforce this with a direct explanation later on in the episode. This I found disappointing. Although it was abundantly clear already, there was some self congratulation on the part of the viewer for understanding Adler’s implicit response to Holmes’ cracking of the code. For a while we were detectives too, working out for ourselves how he had managed to solve the puzzle. By explaining exactly what she meant they only served to damage this sense of enjoyment and the level of interaction. Leave us guessing guys, it would be much more fun!

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  1. […] (tele, computer and silver). Apart from a few choice selections (for example, the BBC’S Sherlock, or Ridley Scott’s new Alien iteration Prometheus)  2012 has very little to offer […]

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