Sherlock Holmes revisited

BBC Sherlock

Being a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, I have been largely critical of many of his incarnates, recently that of Robert Downey Jr in the Guy Ritchie slapstick. The movie entertains, helped largely by the chemistry between RDJ and Jude Law, but the brilliance and spirit of the great man is sorely wanting. It is yet another story adaptation falling victim to the common Hollywoodisation problem.

It was in August last year that I had the fortune to catch “Sherlock”, a three-episode mini-series commissioned by the BBC. Prior to this, I have been so convinced no one can even remotely match up to Jeremy Brett as the definitive Sherlock Holmes that I almost wanted to give this modern interpretation a miss.

Boy, was I glad that I gave the show a shot it thoroughly deserved. My mind was blown away just ten minutes into it. I couldn’t stop watching and ended up re-watching the entire mini-series a few more times before I was satiated.

“Sherlock” is a modern adaptation based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is still the world’s only private consulting detective, and John Watson a war-weary vet discharged from the army. Set in the 21st century, mobile phones, laptops and surveillance cameras are a common sight throughout the show. However, all these sleek gadgets take nothing away from the fact that Sherlock Holmes is such an adept user of everything that aids in his investigations, be it back in the old Victorian times or the present days. He takes these charming tools like fish to water. Whether it’s searching for information or tracking down a phone via GPS, the breakneck speed and ease at how he taps away at his devices is matched only by the furious pace that his mind is processing and analysing the information to solve the cases.

The casting of the modern Sherlock and John – yes, they call themselves on a first-name basis like you and I would, rather than the old-school, straight-laced appellation of Holmes and Watson – can be a tricky business. They must exude a certain aura that people have come to expect from a typical Sherlock and John, and at the same time give the characters a proper update so they will not be out of place in the modern world.

Enter Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Cumberbatch is beyond awesome as the modern Sherlock; mentally superior but socially inept, fitting the self-description of a “high functioning sociopath” to a T. Freeman breathes new life into John by being totally capable of holding his own against the great detective, instead of the usual bumbling bungler doctor common in many earlier portrayals.

In the first episode “A Study in Pink”, John had returned from his stint in Afghanistan and was looking for someone to share room with in London. He was introduced to Sherlock and, not long after, was roped in to help Sherlock solve a string of seemingly unrelated suicides, which turned out to be the works of a serial killer. From then on, he became an indispensable part of Sherlock’s adventures.

The second episode “The Blind Banker” saw Sherlock and John investigate the murders of two men who had recently returned from China. Their investigations brought them through Chinatown and they were targeted by the Chinese mafia who travelled under the guise of a circus.

The third and final episode of the season “The Great Game” set the stage for the ultimate showdown between Sherlock and his nemesis Moriarty. The unravelling of every mystery Moriarty threw in his way brought Sherlock ever closer to the fateful meeting.

For most part of the show, particularly the final episode, I was clutching at the edge of my seat – the suspense and twist of the cliffhanger at the end was just heart-stopping. It has been a long time since I was so captivated by a show, and a mini-series to boot. “Sherlock” is true to the spirit of the Sherlock Holmes stories, complete with brilliant deductions and exciting twists. Given the tight pace in which the stories unfold, one hardly notices the time while watching the show, despite the lengthy 90-minute duration of each episode.

Much credit has to go to the show producers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the same creative force behind the brilliant “Doctor Who”. They know they have to update the show without alienating the Sherlock Holmes faithful, so they littered familiar anecdotes throughout the show as a form of tribute to the original stories. E.g. What used to be a “three-pipe problem” in the original stories (which refers to an extremely difficult case) is now called a “three-patch problem” – patch as in nicotine patch that has become a common tobacco replacement in an increasingly smoke-free London. Naturally, fans lap up everything in glee.

With an average of more than seven million viewers per episode, it is unthinkable now that “Sherlock” was actually released as a space-filler when Doctor Who was off-season, making it an even more impressive feat considering the lull period. On the back of such overwhelming response, BBC had announced that it would commission a second season, but it will only be released late this year due to the tight scheduling of both producers and cast. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are working on the new season of Doctor Who. Benedict Cumberbatch will be shooting Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” , and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, a espionage thriller adapted from John le Carré’s novel. Martin Freeman has also been cast as Bilbo Baggins in the LOTR’s spinoff “The Hobbit”.

Come autumn this year, Sherlock fans will be so thrilled to hear those famous words again:

“The game is on!”

Sherlock trailer (BBC, UK)

Sherlock trailer (PBS Masterpiece Mystery, USA)

[Image from BBC]


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