Last night ITV aired the final episode of their three-part dramatization of Julian Barnes’ novel – Arthur and George. Starring Martin Clunes as a gentle but determined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the action follows Doyle’s investigation into ‘The Wyrley Ripper’, a case he takes up in order to clear the name of the accused – George Edalji. Right from their first meeting, Doyle is sure of the man’s innocence and he works tirelessly to prove it, using the case as a way to cope after the death of his first wife.
Based on true events and set around 1903, it was almost like watching a traditional Holmes and Watson adventure. Doyle applied many of his creation’s methods to solve the crime and outsmart the sceptical, sneering police. Examining footprints, breaking and entering, testing a knife to see what sort of wound it would make, arguing with officials and defending an innocent man despite the odds – sound familiar?
Doyle was assisted in these endeavours by his friend and valet Mr Wood (Woodie), who fitted into the Watson role perfectly – advising caution and trying to be the voice of reason to temper Doyle’s persistence.
Hansom cabs rattled along the cobbles and steam trains puffed into stations. It felt very much like ITV were testing the waters to see if there was an appetite for a traditional Sherlock Holmes set in the period, similar to the famous Granada series starring Jeremy Brett which aired on ITV between 1984 and 1994. It certainly left me hankering for it.
But then, this morning I see that Steven Moffat has now officially confirmed that the BBC Sherlock one-off special will be entirely set in the Victorian period – not a dream sequence or costume ball as I had feared. ‘The special is its own thing,’ Moffat told Entertainment Weekly. ‘It’s not part of the run of three episodes. As we could hardly conceal – it’s Victorian.’ Moffat also adds – ‘(co-creator Mark Gatiss) and me, we wanted to do this, but it had to be special, it had to be a separate entity on its own. It’s kind of in its own little bubble.’
So no testing of the waters for the BBC, the massive success of Sherlock and the popularity of the cast has given them the confidence to jump straight in and give us a traditional Holmes. Personally I think this is brave and exciting but I hope they don’t spoil it with gimmickry and over-the-top ideas – just keep it simple please, full of subtleties as with Arthur and George.
Clunes put in a great performance as Doyle with a soft, warm Scottish brogue and gentle manner but obvious passion against injustice and racial prejudice. And for me personally, I grew up near to the area where the drama was set so loved hearing the accents of my childhood, of Cannock and Staffordshire. Some of the scenes were even filmed at the Black Country Living Museum, an excellent local visitor attraction I have been to many times.
I’d say that the future of Sherlock Holmes looks set to go back to the past, possibly on both BBC and ITV. Or will we get a whole series of ‘Sir Arthur investigates’?
Can it be only a matter of time before we get the natural successor to the Granada series? And will this end up being bigger than both Sherlock and Elementary who have displaced the detective into a modern setting? Is it time we went back to the past?