by Allan Fish
(UK 2010- 532m) DVD1/2
I – O – U…
p Sue Vertue, Rebecca Eaton, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat d Paul McGuigan, Euros Lyn created by Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss w Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson m David Arnold, Michael Price
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes), Martin Freeman (Dr John Watson), Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes), Una Stubbs (Mrs Hudson), Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty), Rupert Graves (Chf.Insp.Lestrade), Lara Pulver (Irene Adler), Zoe Telford, Phil Davis, Louise Brealey, John Sessions, Russell Tovey, Amber Elizabeth, Douglas Wilmer,
We all have our own Holmes. For the old brigade, no-one can top Basil Rathbone, and for sure on the large screen, while Robert Stephens and Peter Cushing were both admirable, he remains definitive. Baker Street obsessives will say the best incarnations were on TV. Hand on heart, if asked who the most accurate Holmes was on screen, it would be Jeremy Brett’s immortal incarnation that ran for a decade from 1984-94 and was faithful enough to build an entire Baker Street set (back to back with the Coronation Street set) on the Granada backlot. Yet while they were the most authentic, the earlier series undoubtedly were the best (Brett’s ailments started to show towards the end). Back a generation earlier there was a now rarely seen take with Douglas Wilmer a superb Holmes (he makes a lovely cameo appearance, aged 90, in the Series 2 finale). Yet these were all faithful period recreations and they failed to make the main text, so how come a 21st century updating could prove the best of the bunch?
What’s ironic is that many of the people who criticised Moffat and Gatiss’ baby for committing heresy and updating Holmes are people who still cherish Basil Rathbone, in spite of the fact that all the later Universal Holmes films with Basil were set in the then present of the 1940s. In other words, the notion of updating was not a new one. So if Holmes could exist in an age of fingerprinting and Nazis, so he could also exist in an age of text messaging, blogging, MI5, genetic engineering and forensics.
In some of his episodes for Doctor Who, one can sense Moffat running away from his audience, breathlessly trying to keep up behind and imagine him tutting like Matt Smith and murmuring “keep up, have you been paying attention?” Yet in doing so he was operating the way the Doctor thinks. There are similarities between the Timelord and Conan-Doyle’s detective, but he and Gatiss have 90 minutes over which to flex their muscles. Even so, one of the most delightful of many such touches in the series is how, by literally feeding the contents of Sherlock’s thought processes and text messages to and from characters on the actual screen, he allows the audience to follow Holmes’ super-charged mind, to see the deductions fall into place without recourse to a recap.
The first series was a runaway hit with audiences and critics alike, and a surprise one, being the BBC were so unsure they only commissioned three episodes. Even the most ardent fan couldn’t have called them perfect, but they were enough to make one hope for even better. Series 2, again just three episodes ironically due to the scheduling commitments of creators and stars, was to take it into uncharted territory. That a still fiendishly clever updating of Baskervilles could be seen as the least of the triptych showed how far it had travelled. Here was a series that was both revisionist and faithful and plotted at the pace of Sherlock’s head; a wonderfully entertaining ride. Yet for all the writers’ wit and cleverness it couldn’t work without the right cast, and the two leads are perfect. Cumberbatch is miraculous ringing off thought processes as if on a speeded up autocue while Freeman plays Watson straight as in the Brett series rather than the buffoon of Nigels Bruce and Stock and is often touching. And a final word for the deliriously twisted Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty, an insane sociopath for our times, with his own Irish drawl delivered in the monotone style of Paul McCartney (who he played in Lennon Naked), dancing to ‘The Thieving Magpie’ while stealing the crown jewels. He’s a worthy foe in a more than worthy update. Somewhere, Conan Doyle is smiling.