It’s one of those ideas that strike you as fundamentally wrong. A modern day transplanting of Sherlock Holmes. One in which the protagonist uses a cell phone, is on the nicotine patch instead of smoking a pipe and has his contemporaries accuse of him of being psychopathic and autistic rather then simply standing by and marveling at his genius (Holmes counters that he is merely a “high functioning sociopath”). Yet ironically these three TV films stand as a much more faithful and convincing testament to the durability of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation then the big budget Robert Downey Jr. relaunch of last year. While Guy Ritchie’s film was marvelously entertaining, it was also overly insistent. Straining to prove that Holmes was still relevant “for the kids”. In all fairness the film accomplished just that, turning out a robust adventure film that freed the Holmes franchise from the straight jacket of respectability it had been in for so long. Conan was a pulp novelist and Holmes a pulp character. The fact that the new Sherlock Holmes embraced that was no more disrespectful of the source material then the fact that the makers of the Sherlock Holmes films had more or less spent the last fifty years ignoring it. Ritchie’s revelation wasn’t so much that Sherlock Holmes could be relevant as Sherlock Holmes could be fun, an altogether more surprising announcement. And if in doing so Ritchie was a bit hyperactive, well that’s in his nature as a filmmaker.
This new BBC version on the other hand doesn’t insist on a thing. It merely plops down Holmes in the modern day, complex mythology fully intact and observes that hardly a thing needs to be changed in order to produce some immensely tense satisfying detective stories. There’s Moriarty passing orders and arranging assassinations from behind a grey question mark on Skype. There’s Mycroft embedded in a seat of power. And most importantly there is London still a place of mystery at both its uppermost strata and its lowest. A place where it is equally easy to have a lot of fun and get in a lot of trouble. A place perfect for Holmes and Watson to cut through, an environment that never takes very long to produce something interesting enough to be worthy of Holmes’ talents.
As for the central duo they inhabit the roles with ease and conviction. It wouldn’t be stretching far to call them the ideal. Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch (and seriously how perfect is that?) with the perfect mix of hauteur, dry wit, brilliance and self satisfaction, with just enough obliviousness to make him endearing. Martin Freeman (The Future Bilbo Baggins) makes a wonderfully solid Watson. Neither the fussy rolly polly comic relief of the early films, or the crisp superman that Jude Law portrayed him as. Instead he is both remarkably capable and remarkably human the perfect foil. Sherlock is simply put near perfect for what it is. Crisply plotted, smartly written and stylishly directed. It’s the best kind of update, one that realizes that there’s nothing that really needs updating.