Thursday, January 13, 2011


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.


Chris David Richards said...

It's a fantastic show. A piece of Moffat/Gatiss inspiration.

Anthony R. said...

The best thing about the update is that Watson went from a veteran who saw action in Afghanistan to...a veteran who saw action in Afghanistan. The times, they are a-changin'.

Anyway, everyone thinks I'm crazy when I talk about it, but the use of graphics (the text messages on screen are the smartest thing ever) both here and in Scott Pilgrim remind me of the Crank movies, of all things. It's really nice to see CG supplementing - rather than superseding - what's happening on screen.

Budd said...

you didn't care fore Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd century. if you haven't heard of it you will have to google it.

le0pard13 said...

Great look at both, Bryce. I very much enjoyed Ritchie's film (and in its sequel) and what I've seen in the new British TV version. I look forward to what both will bring in the future. Thanks.

Jinx said...

Excellent, Bryce. I generally just assume I'm going to hate anything that isn't Jeremy Brett but I loved the new TV version. On the same principle I've avoided the movie but it was still really interesting to read your thoughts.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Anthony: Seriously, When I thought of that I was like what's reverse serendipity? Shitandipity?

@ Budd: I'll check it out.

@ le0pard13: I too am looking forward to the sequel, would have loved DDL as Moriarty, but the fact that Ritchie avoided flashy casting with Harris makes me think we're in for something special.

@Jinx: Thanks Jinx. I think you might be pleasantly surprised with the movie. I know I was. Bit of a horror element to it too.

Craig D. said...

Cumberbatch is a bit too much of a prick for my tastes -- compare him to Downey, who's more likable as a playful smart-ass -- and the second episode is nowhere near as good as the first and the third, but overall the BBC series is pretty terrific.

It's interesting to compare how Ritchie and the BBC present how Sherlock notices details. Ritchie slows down the action and has Downey list what he notices in voiceover, and the BBC plays it out in real time while text flashes on the screen. It's hard to decide which is better.

It's funny how so many people have been taking sides, usually for the BBC and against Ritchie's Victorian Batman approach, but I'm thrilled that there are two entirely different but very entertaining takes on the character happening at the same time. Late 2011 is going to give us Ritchie's sequel and a second season from the BBC. It's a good time to be a Holmes fan.