I will be on Team Sherlock for the MX Publishing Great Sherlock Holmes Debate 2 which takes place next Sunday (March 18). We will all be debating live in London – some of us in person, others via the web/phone. There will be three teams, one supporting the Warner Brothers film franchise, my team supporting BBC’s Sherlock and a third group in favour of the more traditional interpretations. There will also be a discussion about how the BBC will tackle The Empty House, the CBS series and, undoubtedly, a lively interchange about ‘that suicide’.
I think that I have already made my views quite clear over the last few months with regard to Sherlock v Mr Ritchie’s blockbusters. But I thought that maybe it was time to pull everything together in one blog ahead of this major event in the Holmesian calendar.
Let’s start with BBC Sherlock and why it gets my vote:
BBC Sherlock appeals to men, women and viewers of all ages – therefore the series has a greater impact on the long-term future of Sherlock Holmes than other interpretations which have a more selective target audience.
The women in the Ritchie film were simply ‘window-dressing’ and were unconvincing, a few token females eclipsed by the ‘bromance’ and action. But in Sherlock, the women are professional and believable – a police sergeant, the manager of a medical recruitment company, an expert at a museum, a pathologist etc.
BBC Sherlock gets the balance right between appealing to existing fans of Sherlock Holmes and also attracting a new, contemporary audience. Sherlock is innovative in the right way – cerebral, detailed and capturing the essence of the original characters. For this reason, the series is more likely to make someone want to read the original stories.
Sherlock’s stylised, unusual formatting means that it has achieved the perfect balance between being popular but still retaining the feel of something niche and cult-classic. It’s not a sell-out. It’s slick, clever, brave and different – a perfect tribute to the spirit of the original stories. But for me, the Guy Ritchie films feel like a bit of a cash-in rather than something made with a true love and understanding of the source material. Sherlock is done with a lighter touch, a greater sensitivity than this block-busting, commercial romp.
People want to talk about Sherlock. My blog about how Sherlock might have faked his own death is by far and away the most viewed item (more than 4,000) on this blog and has attracted the most comments.
Sherlock’s ‘suicide’ was the most talked about TV mystery since the whole ‘who shot JR?’ scandal. The national press, including the broadsheets, all ran stories and it was even mentioned on the BBC news. The impact was huge. This is the difference with Sherlock; it gets people talking and thinking, especially in the context of a riddle, an intellectual problem which I think Sir Arthur himself would have loved.
Thoughts on the Guy Ritchie films:
There are inaccuracies in the Guy Ritchie films which, in my opinion, are unforgivable and make it seem as though the makers didn’t thoroughly read the original stories. What about poor Mary Morstan, Watson’s first wife who he met during The Sign of Four? She has been replaced in the film by an entirely new character. This doesn’t seem right when the setting and period are the same.
Even though I find the aggressive marketing off-putting, it’s the strap-line which really kills it for me – ‘Bigger, Better, Funnier’. It sounds more like a spoof than a serious attempt to portray Sherlock Holmes on the big screen.
As a character, Sherlock Holmes is all about the small things – paying attention to tiny details which seem insignificant to everyone except himself, taking on cases which seem so small that the official police don’t understand their significance. Bigger is not better. The first film was big and funny enough. As Game of Shadows is ‘bigger’ and ‘funnier’ then surely it becomes a parody, a joke, and a million miles away from what Holmes is really about.
Matthew Bond, a critic in the Mail on Sunday, attacked the film’s ‘anything goes’ humour and summed up my concerns perfectly with the line – ‘The damage this sort of cavalier approach does to the underlying Holmes franchise is incalculable.’ My worry is that Ritchie has turned Holmes into a comedy figure, lowered the tone.
My concern is that the film franchise somehow devalues and trivialises the character of Sherlock Holmes, making him too commercial. I fear that the forthcoming CBS series, Elementary, will further this process – full of shiny, attractive people with perfect teeth. And a female Doctor Watson, I could drone on for hours about that one . . .
Tackling the Empty House:
Sherlock’s The Reichenbach Fall managed the rare trick of improving on the source material in a few very clever ways. Firstly, the episode presented a more credible, sensitive look at Sherlock’s emotions about self sacrifice, his true feelings towards his small circle of friends and his desire to save them at all costs. Secondly, it showed, very convincingly, the pain John felt about the ‘death’ of his best friend.
So why did Holmes play dead for three years in the original canon? It’s never been entirely clear to me to be honest. Sounds to me like he just enjoyed a bit of an adult gap-year (or three) travelling and experiencing new things while his only friend mourned his death and that of his own wife.
So how will BBC Sherlock tackle this? There are a few key differences to consider. Sherlock’s death is a rather more noble action in their version of the Final Problem. Moriarty/Jim forces him to commit suicide because it is the only way to call off the snipers who are about to kill the people he cares most about. He fakes his death and goes into exile in order to save his friends. So far, so forgivable. But will the writers stick to the original and keep him away for three years? If so, how can he come back and justify that? He saw John’s heartbreaking sadness at the gravestone and seemed genuinely moved by it; surely he can’t leave him to mourn for three whole years? And if he does, forgiveness needs to be harder to achieve than in the original. He needs to really work for it this time.
In my own novel, Watson has come out from Holmes’ shadow to become a stronger, more confident person during the Great Hiatus and the dynamic of their friendship has changed forever. Will it be the same for John? Will he flourish or crumble without Sherlock? Will he be married or even widowed as in the original?
What about Moran? So far there has been no mention of him but surely the writers of Sherlock wouldn’t leave out such a vital character? Was he watching when Sherlock jumped and could he be the man who brings him back to London? Or perhaps ‘he’ is actually a ‘she’? Exactly how close were Moriarty and Irene Adler – could she actually be his Moran?
- How will BBC’s Sherlock tackle the problem at the heart of The Empty House?
- So how did Sherlock fake his own suicide?
- BBC Sherlock – a televisual feast for the mind and eye
- Another triumph with the Hounds of Baskerville
- A Scandal in Belgravia – wimply wow
- ‘Bigger, Better, Funnier’ – if I see that poster one more time