Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sherlock (Series One)

Doctor Who writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were once on a train journey from London to the set of Doctor Who in Cardiff. Along the way they began to chat about their mutual, life-long love of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Eventually they started to talk about how well the stories would work in a contemporary setting, and that someone should really do an adaptation that was set in the modern day. And then it occurred to them: why shouldn't they be the ones to do this?! And so Sherlock was born...

To be honest I was very disappointed when I found out that the BBC were doing a modern-day update of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I think I would have been a lot more optimistic about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes if I'd already seen Moffat's brilliant modern-day update of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but at the time I hadn't seen it. I only knew that I hated the thought of Sherlock Holmes texting and sending emails and using the internet to help him solve crimes! However, when I finally saw Sherlock, I realised that I'd been wrong. And not only had I been wrong about Sherlock, I had been WRONG about Sherlock! In fact this show has now become one of my favourites of all time! People, prepare for gushing in this review, a lot of gushing...

I was absolutely blown away by Sherlock. I couldn't believe how faithful it was! It's packed with subtle references and in-jokes to the Conan Doyle stories! Viewers who aren't familiar with the Conan Doyle stories will never be left feeling confused and alienated by all of these references but those viewers who are familiar with the canon will be feeling delighted! Despite the fact that Sherlock is set in the modern-day it's a far more accurate adaptation of the Conan Doyle stories than the recent Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films. With Sherlock the writers have been able to stay true to the spirit, tone and essential details of the Conan Doyle stories whilst still being able to make everything fit into the modern-day. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson now call each other "Sherlock" and "John" instead of "Holmes" and "Watson". Sherlock sends text messages rather than telegrams. He still plays the violin. John blogs about Sherlock's adventures instead of keeping a journal. Their characters even meet in exactly the same way as their book counterparts do in A Study in Scarlet: Watson is an army doctor who comes back to London from Afghanistan after being injured in the war out there. *Hmm, some things never change!* He then meets Sherlock Holmes through a mutual friend and becomes his flatmate. Their flat is on Baker Street and their landlady is Mrs Hudson. One thing that is dropped entirely though is Sherlock Holmes' drug use. In their commentary for A Study in Pink Moffat and Gatiss give their reasons for this. They didn't want their Sherlock Holmes to take drugs because Sherlock Holmes doesn't even take drugs all that much in the Conan Doyle stories. The only times in which Sherlock Holmes takes opium in the Conan Doyle stories are those times when he's feeling bored and hasn't got a case to solve. Sherlock Holmes isn't an addict. Moffat and Gatiss weren't even convinced that a modern-day Sherlock Holmes would take drugs. Times were different in Conan Doyle's day. Opium was perfectly legal back then and you could even buy it at the local chemist! They even had cocaine in Coca-Cola! So instead of taking opium, the Sherlock Holmes of this TV show has an addiction to cigarettes and wears nicotine patches. Having said that, both A Study in Pink and the unaired 60 minute pilot for Sherlock imply that Sherlock Holmes has taken drugs in the past.

Again, the writing for Sherlock is just so, so brilliant. The plots are deviously cunning and mind-blowing. Also - although there's a brilliant scene in The Blind Banker where Sherlock casually battles a murderous swordsman like it's an everyday occurrence - the writing never tries to turn Sherlock Holmes into an action hero. And each one of this series' three episodes is clever, imaginative, brilliantly-plotted, suspenseful and thrilling. It's proof that you don't necessarily need to have loads of action in a film for it to be exciting and thrilling. Also, there is so much humour in the show! The writing in this show can be absolutely hysterical. The humour in this show is amazing and it's oh so quotable.

Now I've covered the brilliance of Sherlock's writing I can move onto the brilliance of Sherlock's acting. Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and he is absolutely magnificent in the role! Critics have praised him as being the best actor to play Sherlock Holmes ever since the late, great Jeremy Brett portrayed the character. *In fact it might interest some to know that Benedict Cumberbatch actually knew Jeremy Brett personally. Brett was a close friend of Benedict Cumberbatch's parents.* The role of Sherlock Holmes has made Benedict Cumberbatch a star. Cumberbatch was hardly a complete unknown when he took on the role of course. He'd already had roles in several big films such as Amazing Grace, Atonement and The Other Boleyn Girl. Having said that Cumberbatch wasn't exactly a household name either. But Sherlock has completely changed all of that and has made him a huge star. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a star-making performance in Sherlock. His Sherlock Holmes is arrogant, cold and sometimes rude and yet Cumberbatch still manages to make him extremely likeable and charming; his Sherlock has clearly got a good heart beneath the surface. His Sherlock is also mysterious, authoritative, energetic, socially awkward, brilliant, sometimes manic, fiercely intelligent, calculating, witty, intense, funny and sexy. There's even a tinge of dark menace to his Sherlock Holmes at times. And he has such a commanding screen presence and an amazing voice! And he has such an otherworldly look with those gorgeous, high cheekbones of his! And I love how he dresses in this series! Yep, Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely amazing in the role and everything I'd want from a modern-day Sherlock Holmes :) He's a truly fantastic actor and - mark my words! - he will win an Oscar nomination some day. And it's a crime that he hasn't won a BAFTA for the role of Sherlock Holmes already!

But of course no adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories would be complete without the character of Sherlock Holmes' loyal best friend John Watson. In Sherlock, John is played by Martin Freeman. I have to confess something here. Before I saw Sherlock I didn't think Martin Freeman was a particularly good actor. I remember being pretty unimpressed with his role in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I couldn't really picture him as John Watson. But I've been completely won over by Freeman now and he thoroughly deserved his BAFTA for the role. Freeman plays John extremely well and I love him in the role. His performance is also very similar to the Watson that we read about in the Conan Doyle stories. He excels at playing the ordinary, reliable, level-headed, relatable, humble and loyal character of those stories. You can definitely buy Freeman's John Watson as a trained soldier as well and I do love that the writers never do what the Basil Rathbone films did; which was to turn John Watson into a bumbling, annoying sidekick so that Sherlock Holmes looks even smarter by comparison. I love the relationship between Sherlock and John in this series so much. Sherlock pulls John out of his boredom and depression by giving his life excitement and fulfilment; and John gives Sherlock something to care about and acts as his moral compass. The friendship between the two of them is very touching and it gives the show a lot of heart. And it really helps that Cumberbatch and Freeman have such an electric chemistry between them! One of the big reasons why I'm so excited about the next Hobbit film is the fact that both of them will be starring in it, with Freeman playing Bilbo and Cumberbatch voicing Smaug. They'll be in scenes together! But they'll be enemies this time! I can't wait to see what this will be like!

And then of course there are all the wonderful supporting characters in Sherlock and the actors who play them. Sherlock and John's housekeeper, er, I mean landlady Mrs Hudson has a much more prominent role in Sherlock than she does in the stories and is very well-acted by Una Stubbs. As Mrs Hudson she's very maternal, warm, sweet and affectionate. The character of Lestrade is played by Rupert Graves. Lestrade's character is portrayed quite inconsistently in the Sherlock Holmes stories but Moffat and Gatiss decided to go with the Lestrade that we read about in The Six Napoleons. So Lestrade is a man who is often frustrated and exasperated with Sherlock but is nevertheless deeply admiring of him, and whom Sherlock considers to the best police officer in Scotland Yard. Lestrade might not be a genius but he's intelligent in his own right and is very much like John in this respect. Graves brings a lot of gravitas to the role and his Lestrade is very likeable. Sherlock Holmes' older brother Mycroft is another character who has a more prominent role in Sherlock than he does in the stories. In Sherlock he's played by Mark Gatiss who - as I've already mentioned - is a co-executive producer and writer for the show. Apparently Gatiss hasn't even considered himself for the role until his fellow writer and friend Steve Thompson suggested it. I think Mark Gatiss is a really underrated actor and he does a superb job at playing Mycroft. He's really well-suited to the role. He plays cold and disdainful really well and his conversations and jibes with Cumberbatch's Sherlock can be very amusing. Eventually I'd love for Sherlock to do a very Mycroft-heavy episode that really shows just how intelligent Mycroft is. There's also a completely original character in Sherlock called Molly Hooper. She's played by Louise Brealey (who also works as a TV writer and journalist). I'm probably sounding like a broken record now but Brealey is excellent in Sherlock as well and her character is very sweet and likeable. I suspect that for many fans she's the most relatable character on the show as well with her massive crush on Sherlock! Other notable actors who guest-star on Sherlock - and do a brilliant job - are Phil Davis and Bertie Carvel. The 5th Doctor Peter Davison also does a brief voiceover in the Planetarium scene during The Great Game. Oh and as for the character of Moriarty, no I haven't forgotten him. I'm going to talk about him during my series two review.

Mrs Hudson
Mycroft Holmes
Molly Hooper
I also love the production values of Sherlock. It's a very cinematic-looking show and all of its episodes look stunning. Sherlock is beautifully-shot and directed and it has some stunning lighting and cinematography. It doesn't look remotely cheap. The fact that text messages and emails appear as on-screen subtitles has also become a signature feature of the show. That is such a simple yet clever idea that I'm amazed that no-one's thought of doing that before! It means that they don't have to do awkward cut-away shots of the text messages on the person's phone! I wonder if that's going to become more common in future films and TV shows? Sherlock is also filmed on location in London. Actually, Sherlock is only partly filmed on location in London because of the cost of shooting there. Most of the show is actually filmed in Cardiff. However the show is still set there and it's so much fun to see Trafalgar Square, Chinatown, Soho and Canary Wharf on screen. And London plays such a vital role in the Sherlock Holmes stories that you just can't have an adaptation that isn't set there. Yes there are occasional stories where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson travel to other places to solve crimes but the vast majority of the stories take place in London. And I would love to live in Sherlock and John's flat in this show! It's beautiful and actually very Victorian-like. And finally, I love David Arnold and Michael Price's music for Sherlock as well.

Series one of Sherlock consists of three 90 minute episodes. A 60 minute pilot for the show was filmed and originally Moffat and Gatiss had intended to make six 60 minute episodes for Sherlock. However the BBC rejected this and told them that they wanted three 90 minute episodes instead. I heartily approve of this! I'm so, so glad that Sherlock doesn't consist of 45 minute length or 60 minute length episodes like the vast majority of BBC shows! Especially now that I've seen the original 60 minute pilot for Sherlock. It's not that that episode is bad but it's quite rushed. A lot of people, even fans, do moan about each series having only three episodes though and the fact that there's a long wait between each series. This long wait is because of Steven Moffat being the current showrunner on Doctor Who, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman having movie careers, and Mark Gatiss being a writer for Doctor Who and an actor himself. They all have other commitments. Anyway, I used to sympathise with this attitude from some of the fans but now I actually find it really annoying when people complain about these things. The Sherlock episodes are 90 minutes long! Every episode is a 90 minute made-for-TV movie! I honestly don't think the fans should be feeling hard done-by for having to wait every 18-24 months or so for three movies! And yes I do often wish that there were more than six Sherlock episodes but I'd take quality over quantity any day! My earnest wish is that Sherlock carries on for years and years. If the writers and actors only have to come back for a few months every two years or so then they'd be happier to carry on doing the show for longer because it would give them the opportunity to do lots of different things. And they could actually do storylines with the characters ageing just like the characters do in the books.

The three episodes of Sherlock series one are A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game. A Study in Pink is written by Steven Moffat and is directly based on the original Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet. The remaining two episodes aren't directly based on Sherlock Holmes stories but instead take plot elements and inspiration from a variety of different stories. The Blind Banker is written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's friend Steve Thompson. The Great Game is written by Mark Gatiss. All of these episodes are absolutely fantastic. The Blind Banker is often considered to be the weakest of the series one episodes - and I suppose it is - but it's still brilliant and I still adore it. I'm not going to give in-depth reviews of the Sherlock episodes in this post but I'd like to do that for another post some day.

I absolutely adore Sherlock. The characters, the actors, the writing, the production values... it's a wonderful, wonderful show. Sherlock is quite simply a must-watch whether you've read Arthur Conan Doyle's stories or not. WATCH IT! WATCH IT! WATCH IT! Oh, and before I wrap this review I feel I should mention that the special features for series one are excellent as well. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue (Moffat's wife and co-producer) provide a commentary on A Study in Pink; Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman provide a commentary on The Great Game. Both of these commentaries are genuinely very interesting and informative. I really wish that they'd done a commentary for The Blind Banker as well but oh well. I would also recommend watching the original 60 minute pilot as well because it makes for a very interesting comparison to A Study in Pink.

Rating: 5/5


Hamlette said...

Hear! Hear!

I just saw the first season this year, and I loooooooooooooooove it. I completely agree with everything you say. Again! Hee. I'm hoping to watch season 2 this winter, so that I'll be all caught up when season 3 arrives. I've been re-reading all the original Holmes stories this year too, for the first time in many years. Once in a while, I find a bit of Cumberbatch or Freeman creeping into my reading!

Hannah said...

Wow! Everything that I say?! I'm not going to lie, this pleases me greatly :D And you won't be disappointed with season two. It's just as good as season one!

I love that Cumberbatch and Freeman are creeping into your reading! I think I've read about 2/3 of the ACD stories, I've read up to The Valley of Fear. Once I've seen Sherlock series 3 I'm planning on reading all of them. So far my favourite novel is The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was the first SH story I read and it's still my favourite out of the novels. I also really love The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, Silver Blaze, The Greek Interpreter and The Musgrave Ritual. What are your favourites?

Hannah said...

Oh, and The Speckled Band is another favourite! I knew I'd left one out! : D

Ruby Danderfluff said...

Why don't more people know about this show?? Absolutely brilliant!!

I had not heard that Steve Thompson convinced Gatiss to play Mycroft. Guess we have that *and* The Blind Banker *and* The Reichenbach Fall to thank him for.

Also did not know that planetarium voice over was Peter Davidson, I'm afraid I've got the warm fuzzies, now. Have you ever seen him in the 1970's All Creatures Great and Small TV show? We watched that one for a little while, he's very fun to watch.

Thank you for the three-movies-in-18/24-months point! Not even Peter Jackson managed to pull that off with The Hobbit. However they manage to pull that off is absolutely beyond me.

Speaking of The Hobbit...Hopefully they won't cut that scene with Smaug and Bilbo too short. The Sherlock fans might rampage if they do. We likes it long, precious.

(wonder if they'd add any very sneaky reference to Sherlock in there, especially since so much of the scheduling with Martin and Benedict revolved around filming series 3)

Hannah said...

No, I haven't seen ACGaS but I have heard that Peter Davison is really good in that. I do love Peter Davison. He's become my favourite Classic Who Doctor purely on the strength of The Caves of Androzani serial. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of him!

Urgh, I get so annoyed when people keep complaining about the "three episodes" thing. A friend of mine did it once. I was raving about Sherlock one time and she was like "Well, yeah but there's only 3 episodes a series so it's not THAT great". I was like "Please I love you but seriously, just stop talking before I start to get angry". Melodramatic? I mean yes, it sucks that we have to wait so long for the episodes but it keeps everyone on the show happy and it IS worth it in the end!

Ooh, it would be absolutely amazing if they did a subtle Sherlock reference or two in The Hobbit! I LOVE that idea! :D

Sarah said...

Hello! Great review for a great show! I think I agree with you about everything! (except I've always loved Martin Freeman. ;) ) Such an incredible show. Sometimes if wish they'd release the season's faster, but you're right, they're doing it right and it's totally worth the wait. And once I remind myself of that I feel much better. :) I think I remember someone saying that the wait for Sherlock was so long they decided to stop watching it altogether. I could never do that, no matter how excruciating the wait!

I'm super excited to see Freeman and Cumberbatch's scenes together in the next Hobbit too, they are undoubtedly gonna be the equivalent of the Riddles in the Dark scene in An Unexpected Journey -- the highlight of the film!

Hamlette said...

Okay, I just realized I didn't agree with everything. I had no reservations about Freeman as Watson because he plays one of my favorite characters in the (rather naughty) Christmas movie Love Actually. But other than that, pretty much yup.

And you've read up to Valley of Fear? That's where I am right now! I know I've read it once, but I think I've only read part of the last collection of stories, which means I'll actually get to read a couple new-to-me ones pretty soon. Woo!

My favorite is also Baskervilles. Ohhhh, how I love it. It was also my first Holmes story, actually. Every autumn, I get this deep desire to watch the Jeremy Brett version while eating split pea soup. I actually don't like split pea soup much usually, but it seems rather British and seems fitting. And goes well with the scene where Holmes tries to get Watson to eat stew and Watson tells him, "It's quite disgusting, Holmes." Hee.

My favorite stories are "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," "A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," and "The Silver Blaze." So we overlap on a couple! I like quite a few of the others, but I love those ones.

Hannah said...

Sarah - Hello! Thanks for the compliment on my review :) It's much appreciated!

"I think I remember someone saying that the wait for Sherlock was so long they decided to stop watching it altogether".

Wait, what?! They're basically saying that they got so sick of waiting for the show that they decided that they'd rather not watch 'Sherlock' at all! I can't get over that! That's so sad!

Yes, I think the Cumberbatch/Freeman scenes are going to be my favourite part of the film. And I'm hoping that they'll either make a subtle Sherlock reference at one point, or that Sherlock series 3 will make a reference to The Hobbit.

Hamlette - Ah yes. I have lots of friends who love 'Love Actually'. Tbh romantic comedies aren't really my thing but I can understand why people enjoy that film. And I know I really need to watch the old Jeremy Brett adaptations. I know I'd love them! It's just that I want to read all of the ACD stories first. Then I'll get round to watching them.

Yes, we like lots of the same short stories! I can't really remember Copper Beeches too well but I do remember enjoying Blue Carbuncle a lot. I'm also quite fond of 'The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk' but purely because it's set in Birmingham which is where I'm from. I'm like "Wow! New Street Station! Corporation Street! I know these places! I see them all the time!" :D

Sarah said...

Yeah they must not have liked it all that much in the first place, or they'd never have quit on it, but it is, very sad.

That would be awesome! I think it'd be more likely for them to put a Hobbit reference in series 3, but either way would be great. Now I'm hoping for that too! :D