Friday, October 22, 2010

Sherlock for the 21st century

Last night I managed to catch the first episode of "Sherlock", the latest iteration of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It is set in present day London in an alternative universe where Conan Doyle didn't write the Sherlock Holmes stories - by which I mean that it presents us with Holmes and Watson without any references to the originals. Holmes is a self-described sociopath and free-lance detective ("The police don't consult amateurs.") and Watson  is an army doctor who has been invalided back to England after having been wounded in Afghanistan - as indeed had the original Watson.

Holmes is played by the splendidly named Benedict Bandersnatch ... Cummerbund ... er, Benedict Cumberbatch, who looks and sounds just right for Holmes; Watson is the wonderful Martin Freeman, late of The Office and The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy; Rupert Graves is DI Lestrade, and Una Stubbs tops off the regulars as a rather perky Mrs Hudson ("I'm your landlady, not your house-keeper.).

One of the things that impressed me about the show was that it addressed something that, to my knowledge, has never been directly addressed in previous versions, viz the fact of two single men sharing a flat and working closely together and the suggestion that the relationship could be more involved. The recent film, Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, in its own campy way suggests that Watson and Holmes are an item; but the whole film is just that - camp.

However the possibility that the pair's relationship could be more than platonic was confronted head on in the café scene where the proprietor, ever grateful to Holmes for getting him off a murder charge, offers to bring a candle to the table the two are seated at, to make it more romantic. "I'm not his date", Watson insists (twice, if I recall); and a little later even Holmes admits to the misunderstanding that Watson is interested in him "like that". This again Watson staunchly denies.

Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting that in this incarnation the two men are romantically involved, just that it's like a breath of fresh air that the possibility is aired and explored.

One other aspect I really liked was the presence of the other great character in the Conan Doyle stories, the city of London. The story, A Study in Pink, centred around a series of suicides where the people involved had all taken the same drug. Lestrade calls for help from Holmes who quickly decides that rather than suicides, these are all murders, and so begins the hunt for the murderer.

The script is snappy and the visuals gloomy, though not in the steam-punk fashion of the Downey/Law film. I look forward to seeing the next episode tonight.

The third episode of Sherlock is being screened on 9 on Sunday.



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