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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sherlockathon - A Study in Pink

The BBC's Sherlock was originally commissioned as a series of six sixty minute episodes, and indeed this opening story was actually filmed as a sixty minute pilot but when the powers that be saw the pilot they were delighted and suggested a series of three ninety minute TV movies. This was to be a prestige series and the BBC were throwing their weight behind it.

Writers and creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were delighted with the change in format. They knew the relationship between Holmes and Watson was as important as the mystery itself, and this larger canvas would allow them to explore both without having to neglect either aspect.

The original sixty minute pilot is included on the season one box set and watching it alongside the broadcast TV movie is becomes apparent that this was the right decision to make the series as a collection of ninty minute TV movies. It gave the writers more space to concentrate on characters and this version is as concerned with character as it is with the mystery aspect. Indeed in later episodes the mystery would often be pushed into the background, while the story concentrated on the character relationships.

This was to be an undated Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century, but the writers were concerned to keep the feel of the original Doyle stories. When I first heard of this series I wasn't expecting much, I don't think anyone was, and the one thing that troubled me more than anything else was the lack of a pipe - the modern
day setting didn't bother me at all (after all most of the Rathbone movies, which I love, were actually set in the modern day), nor did the fact that this Holmes would use computers and smart phones, but the one thing that I felt was sacrilege was that Holmes would no longer smoke a pipe.

How the hell can you do Holmes without his beloved pipe? After all the silhouette (Holmes and pipe) is one of the most recognizable images in all pop culture. That pipe is iconic! Holmes without a pipe - why that's like Superman without his cape, Starskey without Hutch or Batman with Ben Affleck.

I don't even think doing away with the pipe was an artistic decision but rather came from the wave of political correctness which is still blighting our lives. Smoking was very much frowned upon by the time Sherlock was filmed, and this seemed like yet another attempt to sanitize classic literature.

I guess you could say that I was determined to hate this new Sherlock series - however as soon as the episode started and I saw the chemistry between Watson and Holmes I was won over. Out first scene of this new manic Holmes saw him beating a corpse with a riding whip in order to determine the extent of bruising after death (a scene that was actually referenced in the original canon) and Cumberbatch is immediately Sherlock Holmes. The writers explained away the lack of a pipe in a great scene in which Holmes is wearing three nicotine patches.

'It's a three patch problem,' he tells Watson which again comes from the original canon because when Holmes was involved in a particularly baffling case he would often chain smoke pipes, calling the case a, 'three pipe problem.' That scene brought a smile to my face.

After that the pipe didn't seem to bother me that much...mind you I would still love to see Holmes puffing on the briar.

Much is made of the bromance between Holmes and Watson, but this is handled with great humour and skill.  A Study in Pink uses the fact that people confuse Holmes and Watson for a couple to great effect. This aspect of the story is pitched just right and provides several great comedic scenes.

Overall A Study in Pink was an excellent first episode - quite brilliant in fact and I've no doubt that for many people the pairing of Martin Freemen and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Watson will become definitive. It's odd but these modern day Holmes feel more like Doyle than the Guy Ritchie/Downey Jnr Holmes movies which were set in the correct Victorian timeline. And whilst the series is not as authentic as say the excellent Jeremy Brett series, it is very much a Holmes for our time.

The final scene in which our demented genius killer of the week tells Holmes that the man behind it all was
The bloke next door - Lestrade
Moriarty is incredibly effective if you know the Holmes canon - it's strange but Moriarty was only used in two of the original Holmes stories but due to subsequent works the character's become a much bigger presence in the Holmes universe than he originally was.  I would also like to give a shout out to Rupert Graves who gives us a wonderfully downbeat portrayal of Inspector Lestrade. This blokey version of the policeman really sparks alongside our modern Sherlock Holmes.

It's no wonder the series has become such a huge hit for the BBC - right from the first story the characters are immediately recognizable and the relationships whilst modernized are pure Conan Doyle.

1 comment:

Buddy2Blogger said...

Great summary of the episode, Gary. I agree with your statement about the characters being Doylean, despite being modernised.