Monday, 13 January 2014
OK I'm going to get nerdy here, after watching the last episode of 'Sherlock'
last night. As just about every paper in Britain, for varying reasons, seemed to deem it front page news. I thought I'd put my oar in too.
I have always been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. As a teenager, I read every
story I could get my hands on. I was attracted by his twisted genius and
imperfection, something normally lacking in later heroes. From Biggles to Zorro,
it's just a lot of derring do. Holmes is an expert in several fields, completely
ignorant of philosophy and the classics, both of which, in Conan-Doyle's time,
were considered essential elements in a liberal education. He is also a cocaine
addict. For me, who was OK at school in subjects that interested me, but useless
at the rest, this was somehow reassuring. Apart from the cocaine ........... anyway.
I went through most of the volumes at the local library and finally stopped when
puberty kicked in and James Bond took over. Remember Pan Books? I realise now
that I never read all the stories as I have no recollection of the Reichenbach
There was a follow up last night, after the main event, about Holme's evolution.
As we know, 'Elementary my dear Watson' has nothing to do with Conan-Doyle: the
expression was invented by William Gillette, the first person to dramatise the
stories and yet has become a central part of the Holmes canon. Likewise the
deerstalker and Inverness cape, which were the inventions of Sidney Paget, the
illustrator for 'Strand' magazine.
There is a little known version with John Cleese as Holmes and Arthur Lowe as
Watson, which oddly enough, I saw on French TV many years ago. The stories had
little to do with the originals, but did their bit to perpetuate and strengthen
Watson, doing the crossword: 'Yellow citrus fruit plant, one, five, four?'
Holmes: 'A lemon tree, my dear Watson..........'
Not only has the character evolved from the original creation, but writers as
diverse as Stephen King and Old Sam Clemens have had a go too. In fact, having
done a quick check, it seems that about a hundred writers have published short stories featuring the man with the deerstalker and syringe. The number of amateur, non-published stories lying about in desk drawers and on hard discs must be astronomical.
Anyway, back to last night. Despite all the rave reviews, I wasn't hugely
impressed. The one-liners are excellent, likewise the photography. The two main
protagonists are marvellous, but somehow it's all a bit too slick and glossy. I
have always liked Mark Gatiss since the 'League of Gentlemen,' but
unfortunately, by casting himself as Mycroft he steals the show. In the books,
he's a seldom seen, shadowy figure, an almost supernatural presence. Deep down,
you are made to feel that he really is the master to his little brother's
There is also a lot of syrupy sentiment, driven home with a sledgehammer which
slows the the overall dynamic, presumably so we can all go 'aah.' Yes, yes, we
get the point, now can we please cut to the chase.
As a result it seemed all of ninety minutes. Unlike the people who wrote the
review, I didn't think it was 'nearly perfect,' as one critic would have it. A
reasonably witty evening's telly, but not really Sherlock Holmes.
PD James pointed out that for a lot of fans, the definitive portrayal was Basil
Rathbone, quite simply because he conformed to the visual image as originally
illustrated. Benedict Cumberbatch does a credible portrayal, but there seems,
for me, at least, to be something missing. I have no objection to his
non-aquilinity, but it would be improved if the script wasn't just a series of
clever and sometimes very funny one liners. It certainly has style. Perhaps in
series three there'll be a little more substance.