For once the viewing public across the UK demonstrated a capability to watch more intelligent fare than mindless televised Victorian freak shows and made the first series of Sherlock a palpable hit in terms of both outstanding ratings and critical acclaim. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H Watson retooled for the 21st century had raised eyebrows from many aficionados of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary creations. However, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss proved once more that they are able to produce entertaining and enthralling drama to a level of excellence not often seen at the BBC since the golden days of the 1970s.
Given the cliffhanging nature of The Great Game it’s just as well the public and critics demanded more or we’d have been left with one of the most frustrating finales since those of The Italian Job, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Blake’s 7. Sherlock and John in an explosive Mexican stand-off with Moriarty, snipers, and a vest laden with explosives. We all knew they’d get out of the conundrum, but how? If you guessed how Moffat and Gatiss would resolve the drama then put your hand up now…Ok…now put it down as you’re clearly lying!
For my own part I thought the story might commence with Sherlock and John being pulled out of the rubble of the destroyed swimming pool with the whereabouts of Moriarty a mystery. The gag with the mobile phone and Staying Alive as the ringtone was genius. Also, pure comedy gold was provided by Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott as the latter apologises for the interruption to the apocalyptic proceedings.
In the comments I made about The Great Game I wasn’t overly complimentary about Andrew Scott’s performance as Jim Moriarty. Yet more proof that I can talk incredible shit. Rewatching The Great Game before A Scandal in Belgravia transmitted I suddenly fell in love with this new version of The Napoleon of Crime. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the laid-back (near to comatose) interpretation of Professor Moriarty in that film doubtless helped changed my opinion. Not for one moment did Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes seem in the slightest danger from Jared Harris’ Moriarty. With Scott’s Moriarty and the writing of Moffat and Gatiss you don’t have any idea what the next instant will bring.
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.
A Scandal in Bohemia was the first Sherlock Holmes short story and introduced the character of Irene Adler. She has remained one of the most memorable women in the canon and is frequently used as a romantic interest for Holmes. In the original story Adler was a New Jersey-born opera singer who is using a compromising photograph to protect herself from the machinations of the King of Bohemia. For A Scandal in Belgravia, Moffat re-imagined Adler as a British-born dominatrix who has compromising images of a female member of the Royal Family stored on an encrypted smart phone. As you do…
Moffat’s script appropriated beats from the original tale (Holmes disguising himself as a vicar and Watson faking a fire so that Adler would be tricked into revealing the location of her safe) and wove them into another engrossing, and occasionally bonkers, narrative that revolved around a deception plan against international terrorism that is compromised by Moriarty with the unknowing assistance of Sherlock. In many ways all the crimes, attempted assassinations and political shenanigans were simply the backdrop to the relationship between Sherlock and Irene.
Over the decades millions and millions of wasted words have been devoted to the subject of the sexuality of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes isn’t heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or Watson-sexual – he’s simply asexual. Love and sex for him hold no interest as they are orientated around emotions. His regard for Irene Adler in A Scandal in Bohemia wasn’t love but a respect for her abilities. In A Scandal in Belgravia it’s clear that Sherlock is throughly confused by his inability to read Irene and the feelings that subsequently emerged. In turn she is confused by her attraction to him. Benedict Cumberbatch and Lara Pulver spark beautifully off each other as the couple that were born to be together but can never be. A kind of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor relationship with logic and respect at the root.
Was Sherlock’s rescuing of Irene at the conclusion real or simply a manifestation of his wish that he could have saved her? I’m going with it being reality. Irene is far too good a character to despatch to literary Valhalla and the door needs to be left wide open for a possible return in series 3 or beyond.
Forget Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. Wipe them from your mind. They are not the Holmes and Watson for the 21st century: that honour belongs to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Neither are capable of putting a foot wrong in their performances and the chemistry between the actors is so strong it’s almost visible.
As the story takes place over many months and during the course of it there is a clear mellowing of Sherlock’s character. Though the influence of Irene is behind some of the changes, the time spent in the company of John has clearly affected the purely analytical nature of the world’s only consulting detective. His cold dismissal of Molly’s appearance and aspirations for loving him at the Baker Street Christmas gathering are indicative of the heartless Sherlock of the first series but his subsequent genuine apology is a new twist.
Mrs Hudson’s relationship to Sherlock and Mycroft intrigues and hints at a previous association with the Holmes family. Could she have been their housekeeper in days of old and that’s why Sherlock has that view of her? Mycroft is certainly cow-towed by her. Sherlock’s fury against the Americans that have injured her is beyond any anger that he had previously demonstrated.
Rupert Grave’s Lestrade may not have been allocated the largest amount of screen time but he certainly picked up the best line award when advising a fellow officer to listen to what Sherlock has to say but to resist the temptation to punch him.
Moffat cheekily referenced many of the original Conan Doyle stories with the montage of cases that Sherlock and John tackled after the encounter with Moriarty. The Greek Interpreter became The Greek Interpreter, The Speckled Band was The Speckled Blonde, and The Naval Treaty was changed to The Naval Treatment. The unseen adventure of “The Vatican Cameos” (referenced in The Hound of the Baskervilles) tipped John to the fact there was a gun in Irene’s safe rigged to fire. And were the thumbs in the fridge at 221b Baker Street a reference to The Engineer’s Thumb? Moffat even manages to get a deerstalker onto Sherlock’s head. It must be such fun raiding the canon for all this stuff. When is the knowing nod to “The Giant Rat of Sumatra” going to take a bow?
One of the reasons for the instant success of Sherlock was the incredible direction of A Study in Pink by Paul McGuigan. The original pilot version had a largely similar script to the final televised product but what it lacked was the sheen, class and confidence that McGuigan brought to the proceedings. The on-screen manifestations of texts and character thoughts were his idea and a narrative verve that sets Sherlock apart from all other dramas.
A Scandal in Belgravia was an outstanding opening to the second series of Sherlock. Ignore all the nonsensical allegations of sexism that have been thrown at Steven Moffat and savour 90 minutes of the finest drama that the BBC is likely to air in 2012 or any other year.
Comes The Hound…