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A Study in Pink

July 26th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 3 Comments · Life

As soon as I got home from work today I fired up iPlayer on the TV and watched the BBC’s new Sherlock programme, and now I have to join in with the general consensus that it is very good indeed.  It went down very well here, playing to a mixed audience of me (read all the books several times and books about the books etc.) and Jayne (seen a film or two).I was expecting great things as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are both excellent TV writers.  They are obviously both great fans of the Conan Doyle stories too, throwing out lots of little bones to the hardcore fans, but making them fit nicely in the contemporary setting.

It is very convenient for the writers that we have a war in Afghanistan so that the main characteristic of Watson as a Afghan war veteran can be plausibly kept, but they even went the extra bit and added the confusion about whether he was injured in the leg or shoulder – in the original stories Watson’s lodged Jezail bullet was quite mobile.

One very subtle reference to the original Study in Scarlet (apart from the title of course) was the chance meeting with Watson’s old colleague.  While talking in the park they appeared to be drinking coffee from cups with ‘Criterion’ written on them – Conan Doyle had the chance meeting happen in the bar of the Criterion theatre in London.

So. Plenty to keep the anoraks busy.

Martin Freeman was playing to his established strengths for a lot of the first episode, with his bemused looks and double-takes straight out of the Tim-from-the-Office catalogue, but in context they were all perfectly appropriate.  In addition, he showed some new strengths with the more serious scenes.

Benedict Cumberbatch was spot-on as the detective.  I had never heard of him before.  Looking at IMDb, he has been in lots of things, but nothing I have seen apart from the film Starter for 10.  He really has nailed the more sociopathic side of Holmes where he doesn’t bother to take anybody’s feelings into account unless he really makes an effort.  Maybe he is a little too likeable – Holmes has always been admirable rather than likeable – but he offsets that with his superb arrogance.

The central plot was a bit thin and unlikely, but dare we admit that so were many of the original stories?  Personally I always liked the stories for their atmosphere, for the contrast of characters (ascetic detective and hearty, womanising doctor) , and for the tour de force set pieces when Holmes explains some piece of deduction.

What is most surprising is how well the writers have taken those parts of modern life that should totally change the way Holmes works, and incorporated them while still keeping the spirit.  So Watson blogs instead of keeping a journal, Holmes has a website and checks the internet for weather to check out a theory, and everybody owning a mobile phone is made part of the plot instead of ruining it.  Even the smoking ban has played its part by turning a ‘three-pipe problem’ into a ‘three-patch problem’, which I particularly enjoyed.

Another little anorak detail:  the original Sherlock Holmes deduced that somebody was a drunk by the state of their pocket watch – scratches around the keyhole giving it away.  The 21st Century equivalent was deducing somebody had alcohol problems by the scratches around where they charged their mobile phone.

One other aspect of the Conan Doyle stories that I always liked was the way that the case was not always a murder, which I thought made it all a bit more plausible.  Most detective, no matter what out-of-the-way place they live can’t turn a corner without finding a body, but Holmes had the strange cases like the red-headed league or the speckled band.  OK, some of them might have ended up uncovering a murder or attempted murder, but at least it didn’t always start with a body.  I’m hoping that Sherlock will continue that tradition and that one of the other episodes is stiff-less.

What is going to be a polarising attribute of the show is the tricksy directing where  little captions pop up when somebody receives a text message, or to show what Homes is noticing, or the little flashbacks of his observations.  Guy Ritchie did somethign similar in his film.  Personally I like it, just as I liked it when Robert Rodriguez or David Fincher have made a point of letting their direction show, but I know many people prefer direction to be totally invisible.  The next episode has a different director, so it will be interesting to see if that continues.

On the whole I was thoroughly entertained by the programme, and Jayne was too.   A shame there are only two more episodes to look forward to, but surely a proper series will be commissioned on the strength of this?

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • skud's sister

    Maybe they are holding out for more money? I kind of hope not because it may well not be forthcoming and I’d like to think Moffat is better than that….

  • Andrew

    Ooh great info on the geeky details – missed most of that. The directing was fine with me; thought it was pretty classily done.

    I imagine 3 episodes is because they were just testing the water without it costing them a fortune. Hopefully the reaction has been good enough to warrant a proper series.