Friday, February 1, 2013

Solomon's Discs: Sherlock

Hello, Readers Mine, I hope this finds all of you hale and hearty.

For some time now I've been hearing good things about the BBC TV series Sherlock, a modern day revisioning of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great consulting detective. So a couple of months ago I put the first disc of Season 1 (or Series 1 as the Brits term such things) on my Netflix queue, and it showed up in the mail last week. I should probably disclose that, while not a Holmes fanatic, I do tend to take out one of my three copies of The Complete Sherlock Holmes every few years and read it cover to cover. I have always been able to find something new to delight me in every reading, and as I grow older more and more is revealed in the text. So, not a fanatic, but definitely familiar, and maybe even well versed in things Holmesian. To this point I have generally held a low opinion of the various attempts throughout the years to revamp Holmes, with the huge exception of the Basil Rathbone films, even the ones set during World War II, because Rathbone was the only actor who really got Sherlock Holmes right, and he got him so right that the character transcended any flubs with the mythology. Rathbone is the only one who's ever been able to pull that off.

Until now.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, and Martin Freeman as Watson, and created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock gets it right - at last! The cast and crew manage to bring Sherlock Holmes firmly and fully into the 21st century while maintaining the heart and soul of Doyle's characters and the atmosphere of his stories. In part, this is done by the reliance on local color, and the city of London is quickly revealed to be the third major character. It is Cumberbatch and Freeman, though who must carry the weight of the show, and they make it look effortless.

Cumberbatch's tall, gangling frame and long, hollow-cheeked face instantly recall the deceptively ascetic-looking Holmes of Doyle's stories, and Cumberbatch's ability to be absolutely still while expressing furious mental activity with minuscule movements of his eyes and facial muscles is matched only by his absolutely frenetic physicality when Holmes leaps into action after his period of cogitation. His Holmes is brilliant, arrogant, abrasive, and and self-proclaimed "high-functioning sociopath." He is also a terribly lonely man, who is both astonished and delighted to find, at last, a faithful friend.

Freeman (who also landed the role of Bilbo Baggins in 2012's The Hobbit) may well be the first time Dr. Watson has ever been done properly (I disliked Nigel Bruce's Watson just as much as I adored Rathbone's Holmes). A Afghan War vet, and British Army doctor who is discharged after being wounded in the field, this is the Watson from Doyle's stories: steady, an excellent physician with nerves of steel, a deep reservoir of courage, friendship, and loyalty to Holmes, while never sacrificing his own self-concept. This Watson accepts Holmes for what he is and delights in his friend's abilities and in accompanying him on his adventures, no matter how ridiculous they might seem on the face of it. Occasionally irritable, Freeman's Watson is never jealous.

The friendship between the two men is quintessentially British, acknowledged not by hugs or discussions of feelings, but a very restrained warmth and wit as the two men go about their daily routine. The cast and crew  keep the the Holmes mythology intact, including the sometimes dark humor of Doyle's stories, but also manage to update  things a bit and even to comment on the body of literary criticism determined to see a homosexual relationship between the two men, as in the first episode where, much to Watson's frustration, person after person assume the two are lovers - though everyone is also very supportive of that possibility. 

Long story short, I've added the rest of the available discs to my queue, and can't wait to catch up on the series and to DVR Season 3 in March on BBC America. This is the Golden Age of television, Readers Mine, and I'm willing to put Sherlock right on up there with the shows that are making that gold. You should watch it.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! I haven't actually read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it's one of those things I've always meant to do. I, too, just watched S1 for the first time last week and was astounded by how good it was! Amazing.