When I first heard of “Sherlock”, it was through a friend of mine who messaged me simultaneously with the airing of the first episode. She didn’t elaborate on it much and she described many events as they happened. I was a bit skeptical about a few elements, but the dialogue seemed sharp, and even though I felt slightly jaded because of the 2009 Guy Ritchie movie, I decided to watch it anyway.
I’m infinitely glad I did.
“Sherlock” is a modernization of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective, an icon and possibly my favorite character of all time. It was through Sherlock that I found passion in reading, which was ultimately one of the biggest triggers for choosing Language & Literature at college.
The modernization of Sherlock is not something entirely new; we have, as I mentioned, the 2009 movie which takes the character in his original environment and switches the focus of the story in order to appeal to the 2010 audience. And we have our very own Gregory House, not only similar in name and intellect, but in apartment (221b). BBC, however, took the modernization to a literal context.
Sherlock’s Holmes and Watson are men of our era; one straight out of the Afghanistan war, the other a consulting detective who makes use of every modern device at his disposal to assist in his investigations. On the outside, they are the picture of the now, in our very present-time London, surrounded by people whose ways of thinking and behaving have long changed from when A Study in Scarlet was first published in 1887. But in essence… Are they the same?
Martin Freeman’s Watson is endearing. I have never quite pictured Watson as stupid, and he’s always had the experience of war in him, but I don’t believe it is possible to go through so many years of seeing Sherlock Holmes cinema adaptations without having any sort of influence from its views. Next to Holmes, Watson looks particularly silly, but really – who doesn’t? It is through his eyes that we see most of Holmes’s adventures, so his fascination-tinted vision was always a determinant point for me to be fascinated by the mysterious detective as well. Cinema took his more innocent, maybe even purer demeanor and portrayed it in many ways, but Martin Freeman has managed to create a Watson that is both strong and sweet. He will blurt out compliments about Holmes’s deductions that are so Watson in essence, with a sincerity that owes nothing to the Watson who turned his best friend’s adventures into passionate, thrilling novels. At the same time he can’t begin to compare to Sherlock’s trail of thought, he is capable of following the borderline insane chases across London, being physically strong and not in the least afraid of carrying a gun. He is a simple man who has seen some of the dark sides of the world and is not afraid of entering Sherlock Holmes’s.
About Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes…
It has been way over five years since I’ve read any Holmes story. I remember that A Study in Scarlet was brilliant, that Hound of the Baskervilles was my favorite, and that The Valley of Fear was particularly boring. Like with Watson, it’s impossible to go through the years without receiving influence from cinema and its portrayals of Holmes, especially since the character is now iconic, the origin of a very stereotype, referenced in innumerous works, the most diverse of sources. The image I have of Holmes may, then, be biased, tainted, a blend of multiple interpretations.
But from the moment Cumberbatch was on screen, proceeded to perform the most outrageous experiments on dead bodies, horrifying the poor lab assistant Molly, I was in awe. From the moment he said, “The name is Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221b Baker Street”, I was sold. Not only because it all felt so very familiar, but because it was believable. It wasn’t just any man bearing the name of Sherlock Holmes – you could actually buy that that man was the very incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, what he would be like if he were here today. Not exactly the same, because the moment is not the same, because the age is not the same, but still so close to home. See this post and think about it.
This Holmes is brilliant, cocky, smug, at times arrogant. His very presence, in his tall stature, strong voice, is intimidating and remarkable. You can clearly understand why so many people are not fond of him, because he is intrusive, rude, brutally eloquent. However, at the very same time, it is impossible not to join Watson’s awe about him. His excitement while on the pursuit of murderers is catchy. Cumberbatch is brilliantly expressive and the moments in which the truth dawning upon him, the dots all but joining together in front of his eyes, are a sight to see. He’s eccentric, unique. It is equally impossible to not want to join the man on his adventures, drawing excitement from viewers who may or may have been acquainted with the character before. You just want to see him claim who the murderer is, triumphantly. You wait for it. You try to seek it, too. Who could it be? Why was he doing it? Can Holmes beat him? Can he beat Holmes?
The dynamic between this modern duo is well developed, not forced. Watson finds in Holmes exactly what he was looking for – not an ordinary life. Holmes finds in Watson perhaps what he never looked for – one of the few resemblances of a normal relationship with someone. Their interactions are funny, natural and eccentric in ways only a true Sherlock Holmes story could express. Unlike the 2009 movie, where Holmes wasn’t as brilliant as he was annoying, picking on people at whim, and Watson was more tired of him than really his best friend.
There was clearly a heavy research done from the writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Although the stories are not straight adaptations of the canon works of Conan Doyle, there are many details throughout every episode, a trait of Holmes here (the use of the riding crop, for example), a quote there (the modernization of the “attic” metaphor was particularly exciting to see); a dedication fans should not take lightly. The cinematography itself is unique, how we’re introduced to Holmes’s thoughts, the signs on screen, the colors. There was a quality in the making of this show that cannot be overlooked, even if, admittedly, the stories lacked in originality (episode 2 was a let-down when compared to the first, although episode 3 is a remarkable example of action, excitement and just everything Sherlock Holmes).
I do, however, have to comment on one thing that put me off, even before I started watching it, through my friend’s ecstatic comments. I was worried that this series imply more homosexuality than the original canon dared to. Upon watching it, I am glad it was not as extreme as I thought at first, but the viewer needs to have an open mind nonetheless. BBC makes no apologies when addressing gay relationships, and in a way, it’s very refreshing to see. In our days, it’s not uncommon to assume two attractive males sharing a flat together, or having dinner together are a couple. It’s a recurring source of entertainment throughout the series. If you frown upon the very mention of homosexuality, the writers are sure to kick you in the nuts. You can either take the references as the humor it is meant it to be, or take them as suggestions to something else. Conan Doyle’s own writing has been an object of discussion when it comes to Holmes’s and Watson’s true relationship throughout the years – this series only adds to it. There are, however, several people who wish for the show to go all out, including a petition going on at the moment. As for myself, I do not partake in these thoughts, and even if I’m not so against slash for this particular incarnation of the characters, I’d rather just keep it between the lines instead of all over them. Holmes might be a terribly ambiguous character, but to me, it’s another one of his character traits/flaws. Any stretch would completely change the dynamic behind the two of them, and I personally think it’s been doing quite well in keeping the atmosphere and relationships Conan Doyle has built.
Taking the new, modern BBC Sherlock and placing him beside Guy Ritchie’s rendition, my stance is that the former should have happened earlier and the latter should never have happened at all. While both are attempts to bring the iconic detective back to our screens, the casting, directing, and overall dedicated work by the BBC crew does the book much more homage and, truly, justice. While both are entertaining in their own ways, only one will bring the viewers closer to the figure, the presence, the impact that was Sherlock Holmes. Even if there are few episodes, even if the stories are more original than adaptations, at least it is the detective that we see, and not his caricature.
If you’ve never read the book, watch Sherlock. If you have, watch it too. There are things in it for everyone. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll make you crave to know where Conan Doyle’s Sherlock ends and where Moffat’s starts. Dive into every single story. Experience the adventures. Try and figure it out.
The game, Mrs. Hudson, is on!
A big thank you to my friend Raph, who beta-read this text, and was kind enough to point out when my absolute love for Mr. Cumberbatch was showing through.
Screenshots from lady_elayne_art @ LJ.