A Brilliantly Mad Sherlock

I don't have the TV DVD, so here's my battered original instead.

I may never have mentioned this, but I love Sherlock Holmes.  And I don’t mean any of the various incarnations–I mean the original, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Holmes.  The Hound of the Baskervilles is on my to-be-reread list, and when I get to it I’ll probably give you a review.

But in the meantime, I wanted to review one of those incarnations.  The BBC is doing a TV version called simply Sherlock.  It’s amazing.  And part of what’s amazing is how well they have balanced changing it completely, while keeping it faithful to the original.

Sherlock translates the original stories into the modern day.  That, of course, changes everything–but within that context, it’s beautifully on track to the original.  Watson is recently-returned from the war in Afghanistan, rather than returning from India.  Holmes deduces clues from cell phones and digital watches.  It’s modernized–but faithful to the original.

The characters are brilliant.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is the most accurate-to-the-book Holmes I’ve seen.  He’s completely insane–but a genius, and totally in control, all the time.  Holmes is a delicate mix–when he’s on an investigation (and sometimes when he isn’t) he runs about doing things that look totally mad, and because he has a distinct arrogant and disdainful streak he probably won’t bother to explain at the time.  When he does finally stop and lay out his thought process, you suddenly realize that it all made sense.  You also realize he was in control of himself and the situation the whole time–and he always looks dignified no matter what he’s doing, probably because he always knows he’s in control.

Sherlock pulls this off.  There’s a scene where Sherlock is investigating a crime scene when suddenly something comes together for him, he rushes off, and the only explanation he yells behind him is “PINK!”  Totally mad.  But it turns out that pink really is the key to the whole mystery.  I couldn’t help comparing this version to the Robert Downey, Jr. Holmes.  That movie, though very entertaining, just makes him look insane and out of control.  Undignified, too.

Also, Benedict Cumberbatch has Sherlock Holmes hands.  And the right nose for the role.

Martin Freeman is great as Dr. John Watson, the often-confused but intrigued sidekick.  I think there’s more complexity added to his role than we sometimes get in the Doyle stories, where to some extent he tries to fade out in his position of narrator.  John is the comparatively normal and rational one compared to Sherlock’s brilliant semi-madness.  He’s also ex-military and realizes that he loves the adrenaline of helping on Sherlock’s cases, even while he’s often frustrated by Sherlock too.  There’s a somewhat delicate balance of a relationship here, with two men who really do care about each other, but will never admit it–except possibly in a “we’re about to die” moment.

The mysteries are loosely based on some of Doyle’s original stories, but more by pulling in elements than by duplicating complete plots.  The mysteries are genuine and suspenseful, somewhat wild but that’s the whole point–they only call Sherlock in for the weird ones.  There are occasional twists, and quite a bit of humor.

If you decide to seek this out, American viewers may be a little baffled by British television schedules.  The first season/series has three, ninety-minute episodes.  The third one ends with a cliffhanger (not literally, although in a Holmes-remake it could be an option!) and they’re currently planning the next season.  Sadly, it won’t be available for a while.  I for one am eagerly awaiting it!

5 thoughts on “A Brilliantly Mad Sherlock

  1. I absolutely love the new Sherlock. I just started a blog on British TV and wrote about it. If you’re interested…www.ilovebritishtv.com Can’t wait to see the new season.

  2. Are the episodes available on Netflix? They sound fun. And I agree that an actor who plays Holmes must have the right nose and hands to be believable. 🙂 On a more serious note, it’s interesting that they had Holmes come back from Afghanistan. Modern-day viewers could see where his madness streak comes from, given what we know about how it is for soldiers living in that war zone. It’s a tough adjustment back to civilian life and that could be used to explain some of Holmes’ more “quirky” qualities.

    1. The episodes are on Netflix, both streaming and discs. It was actually Watson who was in Afghanistan, but they do definitely delve into how that affects his feelings about being involved with Sherlock in all these bizarre and dangerous situations.

  3. I’ve watched the first two episodes so far and really enjoyed them, particularly the first one. It’s amazing the characters are so spot on. I love that they stayed true to the characters and changed the plot, instead of the other way around.

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