Thursday, 29 July 2010

REVIEW: Sherlock

Holmes and Watson get a modern makeover.

After the recent hit Luther, the BBC has churned out yet another gem with Sherlock; a modernisation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective series. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the titular hero whilst Martin Freeman explores new material as faithful side-kick, Watson. Cumberbatch has proved his worth as the unconventional upper-class gentile, and has finally managed to shake his unerring creepiness since his role as a chocolate mogul in Atonement. His portrayal of the great detective keeps the dishevelled hero within the limitations of modern England, losing his drug and tobacco habits to nicotine patches, “it’s impossible to sustain a smoking habit in London these days” he admits. Losing his ‘everyman’ appeal Freeman is deservedly given some meat in which to sink his teeth; Watson’s depth of character allows Freeman the artistic licence to play with British fiction’s most-beloved sidekick. His introduction emerges as a troubled war hero taunted by nightmares of battle, sporting a limp as a result of post traumatic stress disorder. Despite this condition, Watson is ever-ready to jump into the action. Just as Holmes thrives on crime, Watson thrives on danger. The lead duo are a worthy match for each other, each balancing out the others shortcomings.

The creators gave London a thoroughly film noir appeal, with Victorian back allies and cobbled side streets the capital is as dark as ever, reminiscent of Vienna in Reed’s The Third Man. The Big Smoke is as prevalent in Sherlock as it is in Dickens, and Holmes knows London like the back of his hand, possessing ‘the knowledge’ used by the city’s cabbies he is able to track anyone across his stomping grounds. There is no better setting for Holmes’ escapades, and which other city in the world could have an abode so distinguished as 221B Baker Street – an apartment so draped in character and stooped in culture that it could well be its own museum; a collection of Holmes’ past cases and globetrotting adventures, a mausoleum of his work.

Our hero is tasked with unveiling a serial killer who is using suicide pills on his victims, and with his new friend Watson at his side, they set out to do what they do best – get the bad guys. A word scratched into the floor beside one of the victims prompts the detective to indulge his ‘science of deduction’ and after deciphering the smallest traces upon the body he is able to kick-start his investigation. The game, methinks, is afoot. After a series of leads and some quick-witted pondering the duo start getting closer to their target, although it must be said that they are a little slow on the up-take if they didn’t guess a taxi driver – did they not see that episode of Luther? Holmes manages to deduce that the killer hunts in the middle of a crowd and passes unnoticed, yet, the master of observation fails to think cabbies might be worth checking out, even after a high-octane chase in pursuit of a black cab!! Maybe Holmes should be forgiven; it was his first appearance in the modern day afterall.

Sherlock’s pièce de résistance however is in the final moments when we discover who has been sponsoring the murderous cabbie. Just the sound of his name was enough to get the heart racing, a mere glimpse of what will come. You’ve guessed it, “the name that no-one says” (no not him), the villain of all villains, the master of the underworld, the ‘Napoleon of Crime’; Moriarty. The final rasp of his name is enough to whet the appetite. Just as with Ritchie’s recent film (and the earlier Conan Doyle novels), Moriarty is shrouded in mystery – a true supervillain. His mystique is so great that curiosity eventually got the better of me, and after sprawling the web for a cast list to see who will portray the infamous enemy, it would seem he remains as opaque off screen as on because there is no information to be found. Sherlock truly is living in the modern day, and I can only hope that the spirit of the pilot will be maintained throughout the miniseries, and also that Holmes has better luck than I did in finding his nemesis. Conan Doyle would be proud.

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