Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle said of his most famous creation, “You may marry him or murder him or do what you like with him” and, in the 125 years since the one and only Consulting Detective moved into 221B Baker Street, many people have taken him up on that offer. I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading, watching and generally getting over-excited about the different incarnations which leaves me with a decision to make. Namely, which version of the Sherlock Holmes stories should this post be about?
Do I pick ACD’s original stories (which were first introduced to the world in December 1887 in the Beeton’s Christmas Annual), Granada TV’s beautifully faithful adaptation from the 1980’s (first broadcast in 1984, Jeremy Brett playing the title role. He is, for many, the Sherlock Holmes), one of the many books written by people other than ACD (like The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Adrian Conan Doyle, A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman, Barefoot on Baker Street by Charlotte Walters to name but three), the recent Hollywood version involving Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law dashing round a sexed up version of Victorian London or the BBC’s latest offering, Sherlock, which brings the stories into the modern world with a flair and verve that leaves me breathless every time I watch it?
I don’t think you need to have Sherlock’s abilities to deduce which one I’m going to pick. And if there was any doubt, this should solve it!
So, firstly I guess I ought to thank Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss for coming up with their version of ‘Modern Sherlock’ and thus making this post possible and, of course, Benedict and Martin for heading up a superb cast and …
Oh yes, this is a blog post, not an awards ceremony acceptance speech. It’s so important not to confuse the two, isn’t it!
Right, so why does this modern re-telling of Sherlock affect me so strongly? And before anyone – yes Bryony, I’m looking at you – accuses me of simply lusting after the lead actor I’ll say now that, although I do fancy Mr Cumberbatch something chronic (sorry Ben love, but you knew about this particular peccadillo before we got together), he really isn’t the reason I’m about to praise this show to the heavens. After all I also find Bradley James and Colin Morgan attractive but the appalling script writing, complete inability to maintain any semblance of continuity in certain aspects of the series and character development that makes The Simpsons look deep has seriously dampened my enthusiasm for BBC’s Merlin.
But I’m digressing.
Sorry about that, I’m easily distracted (think cats and laser pointers).
Anyway, as I was saying – before my righteous indignation about the massacring of the legends I love got the better of me – Sherlock inspires me and makes me passionate in a way few TV shows ever have because it’s intelligent. You have to engage your brain to watch it.
Steven and Mark are huge ACD fans – I actually think terming them fanboys in this instance is highly accurate and they’d probably take it as a badge of honour – and the way they’ve weaved tiny little nods to ACD’s original stories throughout the show fires my soul. I’m not talking about the big things here – like the spot on characterisation and seamless melding of the modern world with Sherlockian philosophy or even the slightly less obvious things like the fourth victim scratching Rache on the floor in A Study in Scarlet Pink or the calling one of Sherlock’s cases The Greek Geek Interpreter – I’m talking about the details. The minutiae that act like a set of flags to other Sherlock Holmes fanatics that say Yes we love it as much as you do. We’ve written this because we love it so much. So things like John’s blog counter sticking at 1895, the gift of the diamond cufflinks, those penknife speared letters and an unframed picture in the flat warm my heart and make me appreciate just how much trouble they and the whole production team went to in order to get it just right.
Then there are the scripts themselves. The re-working of ACD’s stories for the modern day is superb. There may only be 6 shows in total at the moment – I’m trying not to think about how long I still have to wait for Series 3 – but they are all fast paced, witty, funny and captivating. I cannot praise the scriptwriters (Steven, Mark and Steve Thompson) highly enough. Of course the scripts aren’t perfect – nothing is – but they are, for me, as close as dammit and I’m not ashamed to admit just how inspirational the style and content has been for me.
I’m especially in awe of the way they’ve written the relationship between Sherlock and John. It is beautiful to behold and has made me look harder at how I write the interplay between the characters in my own creations.
And yes, I am aware of the many complaints about the treatment of women characters in the show. I’m afraid I simply don’t care. I can see how it could be upsetting but it doesn’t bother me and I’m not going to pretend it does just to be politically correct. Same goes for John’s repeated cries of ‘I’m not gay’ and the speculation about whether Sherlock and John are or will be ever be anything more than really good friends. I know how I read the relationship, I know what I’d like to happen and I have no intension of discussing it any further on here. If any of you have seen the fan fiction I’ve beta’d and worked on with Bryony -bradspyjamas/sherlocksdressinggown to all the LJ, AO3 and FFnet people amongst you – you’ll know my views.
However, delectable scripts notwithstanding, there are three other things that make this show something special; the cast, the score and the setting.
London is a fabulous city. I may not live there but I love it with all my heart and it’s clear that Sue Vertue and Elaine Cameron share my views. The visuals of London in the show are stunning and they add to the ‘reality’ of the show in a way not many other settings do. The only other comparable TV show, in terms of turning its setting from mere backdrop into a character in its own right, is Lewis (and previously Morse) with its glorious worship of Oxford.
Sherlock interacts with London almost as intensely as he interacts with John and I often find myself referring to the city as ‘She’ if I’m writing from Sherlock’s perspective. I doubt he’d approve of the anthropomorphising on the grounds of “sentiment” but I also don’t think he’d be able to help it in the privacy of his own head. It certainly hasn’t stopped me. Then there’s the fact that the opening credits are art in their own right (note the picture above – it is a thing of beauty). I could watch them on loop for hours and not feel like I was wasting my time because just looking at how all the elements segue together and unravelling the layers of meaning behind the angles, filters and images is a little like being Sherlock myself. Each episode has been shot to perfection, giving the show a ‘filmic’ feel that is a joy to behold and experience. Steve Lawes and Fabian Wagner, the cinematographers on the show, really excelled themselves.
Then there’s the music.
Oh the music!
I have both series soundtracks downloaded and they are often on repeat while I’m writing – although I’ve had to remove the track that accompanied the fall as all I can see is John’s face when he gets to Sherlock’s body and then I have to think hard about jam, jumpers, glow in the dark rabbits and other fluffy items just to get back to a semblance of a normal mood. I love both the tracks themselves and how they have been used within the episodes. The way they enhance the mood, elevate elements of Sherlock and John’s characters and draw the viewer into the action without being obtrusive or overwhelming is, for me, the perfect example of how to write a good score.
Then you look at the tracks themselves, the mix between full orchestra and solo violin, the meshing of synthesised sounds and real instruments, the emotions created by the ebb and flow of main theme and … I could go on for hours and it would probably be a post in itself so I’ll stop there. You’ve got the idea. I am in awe of David Arnold and Michael Price and would gravel at their feet if I ever met them; which would probably disturb them quite a lot as I doubt anyone would appreciate a 32 year old woman doing an impersonation of a cartoon warthog but hey ho!
However, none of the above would mean a damn thing without the cast.
And I do mean the whole cast.
Steven, Mark, Sue and Kate Rhodes Jones really did a damn good job of finding the right actor/actress for each role. I can’t think of a single character that I didn’t find entirely believable or felt was out of place or jarring. Mark as Mycroft was inspired – I now have a soft spot for Holmes the Elder that certainly wasn’t generated by ACD’s version – and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty is deliciously creepy (his eyes are genuinely disturbing when they go completely blank, it gives me the shivers). Una Stubb’s Mrs Hudson reminds me of my Gran (a core of steel overlaid with soft words and a kind heart), Louise Brealey gives us Molly (who isn’t part of the original books at all) as a gentle soul with sparks of perspicuity that makes her endearing on every level.
And then there’s Rupert Graves with his likeable, laid back and very lovely Lestrade. Rupert gives his Lestrade a rounded personality that is often missing in the books and his brand of no nonsense intelligence mixed with genuine caring provides a far more compelling reason for Sherlock to work with and trust him than simply him being “the best of a bad lot”. And no, that isn’t just the script writing – with his lines it would be completely possible to play Lestrade “straight” as it were, to make him more of ACD’s version – Rupert made the decision to play him this that’s what got him the role and made his character development in Series 2 possible. Plus there is something about his smile (and his face when he saw Molly in that dress) that makes Lestrade very much my division.
I’m not going to touch on the one-off characters, other than to say that I really, really liked Laura Pulver’s interpretation of the Irene Adler that Steve and Mark wrote. She made that episode succeed in a way I think few other actresses could have done and she deserves some recognition for that.
So, we’ve come to the point where you’d expect me to start waxing lyrical about Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and their fantastic portrayals of Sherlock and John.
Except I’m not going to.
Because I don’t think it needs saying.
I know they’re amazing. You know they’re amazing. Hell, the world knows they’re amazing and many, many people with far better credentials and writing skills have said so, repeatedly, in every possible permutation of the English language.
So all I’m going to say is this:
If you want to see proper acting, acting in its pure platonic form, go and watch (or re-watch) all the episodes and absorb Benedict and Martin’s individual and combined fantasticness. After all, it isn’t every day you get to see Sherlock Holmes and John Watson come to vivid, pulse-raising, heart-wrenching life right in front of you.
The BBC really got it right when they commissioned Sherlock and it is the only reason (apart from Parade’s End, which hasn’t aired yet) I feel happy paying my licence fee. It has everything I could ever want from a TV programme and each time I re-watch an episode I find something else in there that I hadn’t noticed before, something else that makes me proud to be a fan.
Which is really quite a long winded way of saying that, without a shadow of a doubt,
PS There’s a companion post to this up here on my ‘Odds and Ends’ blog, where I’ve shared a few of my favourite websites, books and other Sherlock phenomenon related things. Feel free to pop over there, check it out and share any of your favourite Sherlocky things.
Oh and clearly the photos aren’t mine. They are both screen captures – the top one from Series 1 Episode 1 and the bottom one from Series 2 Episode 1 – from Aithine’s wonderful website here. No copyright infringement is intended in reproducing them here.