Monday, March 7, 2011

The Game Is On

I like Sherlock Holmes. Have done for many years, stretching back to when I first saw The Great Mouse Detective (Disney’s animated entry into the Holmes canon) – I’ve always had a huge place in my literary upbringing for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. One of my most prized additions to my ever expanding library is a collection of Holmes tales. It may not be some crazy leatherbound super edition, in fact, it only cost me a tenner at a university bookstore, but it’s great nonetheless, and has provided me with the ongoing entertainment that I’ve always taken from Holmes. As his adventures do, regardless of medium – book, TV show, movie; if it’s Holmes, then I will find some large degree of entertainment. Hell, I even love when other writers take a stab at the Holmes mythos (especially when they combine him with other Mythos’ that I adore), he just seems to be one of those characters that brings out the best in writers, actors and the like. And last year, a writer that I have become quite the fan of bought us a series of more modern (yet, no less based in the original canon) takes on Holmes and Watson, and in my mind really succeeded. Today, I will be casting an eye on the first in the recent BBC Sherlock telemovies – A Study In Pink.

Yes, I know it’s a telemovie, but I have precedent, dammit. In fact, one of the first films I covered was a telemovie. So there.

Brought “back” to life by the team of Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss (Doctor Who and The League of Gentlemen, respectively, although Gatiss has worked on Doctor Who himself), the first series of Sherlock is an updating of three classic tales with the first, naturally, being based on the first. In A Study In Pink, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is bought in to assist the police in investigating a series of apparent suicides. He soon deduces who is behind the killings and faces off with the man in a battle of wits, nerve and pure psychology. In addition, Holmes butts heads with DI Lestrade and other members of the London Police Force as well as his new flatmate, investigation partner and friend, Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman). Can the man use his amazing wits and intelligence to solve it all? If you have any knowledge at all of Holmes, I think you’ll already know the answer to this one. And even if you don’t, you can probably answer it pretty successfully too.

Given that this is the first “episode” in a new take on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, it has to work not only as a standalone story but also as character introduction, and it does both extremely well. Cumberbatch’s take on Holmes (a cross between a more Asperger’s take and “a high functioning sociopath”) works brilliantly, making for one of the best, most pure, representations I have seen of the character in quite a while. He manages to hit on all the more arrogant aspects of the Holmes character, and yet still manage to keep him somewhat human, striking a balance that is actually quite hard to get right. Freeman manages to work perfectly both as a partner and as a foil while essentially bringing Watson in as a more grounded and serious riff on Tim from The Office. In addition to the two central players, we also get introduced to many players from the Holmes mythos, both obviously and not so obviously (there are many subtle shoutouts throughout the series for dedicated Holmes fans – a very nice touch, given that Moffat and Gatiss themselves are card carrying Irregulars). And yes, this telemovie manages to bring Mycroft AND a certain other gentleman whose name starts with M into proceedings as well.

I know that a lot of the purists bitched and moaned about Holmes being bought into the present day, but the way it is carried out really works – Holmes is the kind of character who WOULD and did use everything at his disposal to break mysteries, and does so now. Instead of stuffily dicking around in labs and pretending to be CSI Eastenders, he’s a man who has embraced technology, and is able to not only bend it to his own ends, but let you know he is doing it, why he is doing it and flat out tell you to your face that he will always be better than you at it.

All in all, not only is this quite a good take on a well known and well covered character, but I would go so far as to say it is the best in quite a long time. And, I am sure at some point I will cover the other two films in the first series.

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