Some people have been getting hoity-toity about this one. The updated Sherlock with a Blackberry instead of a deerstalker?! How, COULD the BBC, darlings? And he’s turned into an Emo, gone all teenager-ish and pouty. Aside from suggesting the same type of urbane sophistication as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett did with seamless ease, doesn’t Benedict Cumberbund look a little, well, young to be the great detective? And he seems to know something about pink nail varnish and shoes too (see Episode One). What the silver blazes is going on?
It’s a much-needed update, of course. Sherlock Holmes translates well, because he was emblematic of the modern late Victorian city to start with. All of Conan-Doyle’s stories could be played out in the modern world with success, in fact this series owes its strength to the fact it has done so. If the original Sherlock had been a character from 1730 it would have created problems (presumably Sherlock’s deduction skills would have been put to use by examining yeomans’ excrement, hiding in rural haystacks, and despairing that his only cases would have been concerned with farm husbandry and suspicious yokel singing) but the transition from 1890 to 2010 is a surprisingly small one, as Holmes was always symptomatic of the highly-cultivated, post-industrial urban space. He’s sociopathic, exhibits toxic bachelor-type behaviour, plays the violin instead of talking to girls and likes to inject heroin and cocaine of an evening. How many more modern malaises do you want for God’s sake? The only huge difference – and what a massive fan of this difference our modern day Sherlock is – is the advent of communications technology evident in the texting and sat nav systems used in the first episode, all of which are innovations that have only emerged in the last 15 years. It’s shocking to think that as recently as the early-1990s we had to organise our social lives from standing in urine-infested BT phone booths with a sweaty handful of 20p pieces.
Still, enough about my sex life, back to the television review. We at Bluebird Towers thought it was magnificent. We particularly loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. Sherlock (“Surnames are SO 20th century,” thought the BBC) has such a superior intellect that in the first episode he mentioned that he thought the insides of other people’s “little brains” were funny. Steady on, Sherlock, no one likes a show-off, dear. But then, we forgive Sherlock Holmes his disdain to those less intelligent than him because we always do. His sense of deduction is so brilliant but yet – as it always must be – accessible clearly and smoothly by the application of logic which all of us can utilise, if we are prepared to do so. However, we still gasp in awe at Benedict “Benny” Cumbersnatch’s unblinking eyes as he tells people what kind of radiator is in their living room by looking at their earlobes.
We needed a magnificent television thriller to look at, having realised that “Identity”, that promising police series which brightened up Monday evenings for a couple of weeks, had an identity crisis after the first two episodes and deteriorated rapidly. As far as I can see, it’s just a vehicle for Aiden Gillen to prance about in leather jackets from Top Shop, waving around cappucinos at Keeley Hawes whilst furtively flirting with the camera. Not to mention the wardrobe mistress on “Identity” who clearly has it in for Keeley Hawes and wants to destroy her allure by shoving her in pasty, knee-length skirts and covering her up with a green belted raincoat whenever she might start to look attractive. In fact, wardrobe seem to have given the sexy-lady jackets to Gillen, who struts about in them as if the theme tune to “Staying Alive” was playing inside his funny, over-coiffed head. Keeley, meanwhile, tries clamping her lips together and trying to look plain, but just ends up looking like a lesbian geography teacher in a minor public school.
No chance of Sherlock looking like a lesbian geography teacher. He’s too busy solving crimes, thank you very much, and getting Una Stubbs to make cups of tea for him. Martin Freeman did a truly excellent job as Watson, a role usually underwritten but in this instance fleshed out to accommodate a character with his own difficulties and traumas. I really hope that Freeman’s great performance will mean he finally slips off the guise of Tim “Everyman” from The Office. The updating of this series was dramatic, but nodded to previous Sherlocks: “The game’s on!” replacing Holmes’s original “The game’s afoot!”, which is itself a direct quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V. In Guy Ritchie’s splendid Sherlock Holmes film which features a topless Robert Downey in every other scene (thumbs up from Bluebird Towers) Ritchie can’t resist going the whole hog and putting the entire quote in : “The game’s afoot. Follow your spirit and upon this charge / Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!” Presumably, “The game’s afoot!” might have been appropriate for Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, which was updated to the 1940s, but today it would seem anachronistic. The trouble is, Sherlock is one of this country’s best-loved eccentrics. It suits him to speak with archiac words in a rakish manner. Also, if people no longer say “The game’s afoot!” they are hardly more likely to say “The game’s on!” are they? Our friends at BBC America might like it, but in this country all it means is you’re going to watch football on the telly. “Mrs Hudson! Bring me my heroin on a tray! The game’s on. I’ll solve the multiple murders at extra time.”
Not that Sherlock is the football sort, of course. I can’t even picture him doing rugby, either. Or even rounders; possibly ping-pong. Wherever he schooled he probably spent his life on the sick-bench dreaming up algebraic formulas which he would use to take over the world and mucking about with the school’s bunsen burners in the lab. It was a relief to see that this modern-day Sherlock had good grammar when texting though; there was none of this “Gr8. cu at skool. LOL watson, ele’mntry” business that goes on nowadays amongst the youngsters. He texts obsessively, but concisely, in full words – sometimes to murderers from their dead victims – cor! Although it wasn’t clear why his Baker Street apartment looked like 1974. Perhaps they’d borrowed the set from “Life on Mars”. Phil Davis gave a chilling performance as a sinister taxi driver, in a cardigan so awful and unrelentingly taupe that Keeley Hawes will probably have it on next week. Our modern day Holmes slapped on the nicotine patches instead of using a bag of shag (stop sniggering in the back. That’s late Victorian tobacco) to try to solve the dastardly case of murders Rupert Graves’s Lestrade had given him. I fail to see why Sherlock can’t be a smoker. I know that smokers have become the modern pariahs, but it really wasn’t necessary to slap a load of Nicorette patches on Mr Cumberbund. I can only hope they weren’t real, otherwise Mr Cumberbund may suddenly find himself craving 60 B&H a day as he was wearing three of them, because his character had just given up. It wasn’t clear why though, as when his in-house doc said it would mean his breathing was now improved, Sherlock responded with a teenagery curl of the lip that “Breathing is boring”. Unfortunately, this script allowed Sherlock to dip in and out of gauche undergrad ennui when he wasn’t whipping corpses in a morgue.
The great thing about this Sherlock though – and my original inspiration for including it in this week’s blog – was that London looked bloody marvellous. One reviewer – was it AA Gill spluttering from the back of the classroom? – commented that the Baker Street used in this series was a terrible choice of location as it looked like Wandsworth. But right there the reviewer revealed his topographical ignorance of the city. If you looked down the street as Sherlock and Watson hailed their first cab together, and peered over the top of Una Stubb’s bouffant , you would have seen the giant monolith of University College Hospital staring back at you. In Euston. Nor far from….er… Baker Street. (I cannot check if this was The Times review, of course, because the utter fools at The Times consider their journalism so valuable that they charge us for viewing it. Chavs.)
The gothic city of Holmes and Watson reveals itself to be with us still; the Chinatown of the second episode, the race through the black back-streets of Soho in the first, the chasing of taxis where before they were hansom cabs, the comprehension and execution of street logic that leads the city dweller in this century and the last, the creepy college building where the taxi driver and his suicide pills takes his victims – all this spelt out the multi-facets of the city and the blatant Londonism of the whole thing was a joy for the Bluebird, of course. It was a delight to see location filming in a city where the logistics of location filming are not easy. Outside the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square there was certainly a man in the background whose mouth was agog and whose expression said “Isn’t that Tim from the Office? And why is that man wearing Keeley Hawes’s cardy?”
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have delivered an absolute blinder. This series bounds along with enthusiastic pace and a great score. I do hope the BBC commission this for a fuller series, and hope that the 7 million viewers from the first episode may drag the BBC to the right choice. In a world where “Mistresses” has been given a third series, surely they’ll recommission anything? Avoid “Identity” and watch the last Sherlock this Sunday if you can. While you are about it you can do a lot worse than shuffle over to mysterynet for one of Conan-Doyle’s finest: http://www.mysterynet.com/holmes/02redheadedleague/.
Sherlock: he may solve crimes, but he still can’t remember his door-key.
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