A Sherlock Holmes interlude

Chinatown, London. Benedict Cumberbatch during...

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I’m going through a dry period. Does it happen often? You do something you love, for every single day of your life and there comes a point when it exhausts you to merely think of the activity. I don’t think I’ve read a book with great attention since I read Freakonomics a couple of weeks ago, and even that took some doing. My concentration has been patchy, my attention has been wandering and my heart seems to have simply given up on books. It started with 1Q84 at the beginning of the year: the book demands a lot from the reader, and that’s not simply because of its massive size. I thought I could correct my ennui by reading a quick John Grisham, but even that took me a whole week to finish. Right now, I’m struggling with The Journals of John Cheever.

My real trouble, though, I think is that I’m suffering from a bit of a Sherlock Holmes obsession at the moment, probably triggered by the fact that Ionly recently watched the modern BBC adaptation, Sherlock. This show is one of the smartest modern adaptations I have ever watched, and I simply can’t stop going over it, again and again, in my head. I love the casting. The dishy Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as the title character; so good is he that now when I think of Holmes, I only think of him (whereas earlier, I could only imagine Basil Rathbone). He’s got the detective’s ‘machine’ side down perfectly, as someone with no social skills or tact whatsoever (there are hints that he may have Asperger’s Syndrome). And yet, there are moments when you can see how deeply he feels towards the few people that he cares about. I teared up more than once during the series 2 finale – once when he tells Molly that she matters, and the second time during his ‘farewell’ phone call to John.

I also adore the actors who have been cast as Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs). Mark Gatiss as Mycroft Holmes stumped me a little initially – the original Mycroft, as described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is stout and stately, like Stephen Fry in Guy Ritchie‘s movie adaptations. But he’s grown on me too.

My absolute favourite, however, is Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson. Jude Law may created the template for the no-nonsense and assertive Watson, but I think Freeman does it so much better. Physically, he doesn’t match up to Cumberbatch: he is very average looking, short and in a crowd you wouldn’t notice him. But he has personality, and he brings it all to bear on his interpretation of Watson as the loyal, brave friend (not sidekick) of Sherlock Holmes, who also takes no nonsense from the detective and who often acts as his social guide. Weird as it may seem, sometimes Freeman manages to make Watson seem sexier than Holmes.

One of the greatest pleasures for me is to identify the parallels with the original stories and the kooky titles (The Speckled Band becomes The Speckled Blonde, for instance), and spot the reference to various other stories. The writing is simply brilliant, and many of Sherlock and John’s exchanges are lessons in how to write good, intelligent television that is also funny. Of course, there are endless riffs on the homoerotic tension in the two roomies’ relationship, such as the scene in the first episode where Sherlock thinks John is coming on to him. Or the endless instances when John has to clarify to random people that he and Sherlock are ‘just friends’. Somehow though, none of it gets old.

Also brilliant, if you’re following the show, is Dr John Watson’s blog which in this modern day, is how that other famous resident of 221B Baker Street records his roommate’s adventures.  Go check it out, and pay special attention to the comments. They are hilarious. Of course, all of this would really be much more interesting if you have watched the show, or are in any way Holmes-obsessed. You enjoyed the movies with Robert Downey Jr in them? You’ll enjoy this show more.

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