Arthur and George tested the waters – now the BBC is jumping right in

imagesLast 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?

About barefootonbakerstreet

Author from Shropshire
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3 Responses to Arthur and George tested the waters – now the BBC is jumping right in

  1. rowana says:

    Love your blog, Charlotte! And I know your post above deals with TV. But — as I’m working on a book about them, I must point out that one highly successful and immensely popular version (though not TV), the Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmmes” movie series, IS set in the Victorian era and has been since 2009. So the precedent HAS been set; the “future of Sherlock Holmes” has already “gone back to the past” — and in front of more audiences worldwide than any TV show could ever hope for (the movie franchise has made over a billion dollars so far…). I don’t think we can forget about their influence, even if the medium is slightly different — they are firmly in the Sherlockian zeitgeist and were the catalyst for millions of people discovering or re-discovering Sherlock Holmes and reading the books and then, presumably, being more inclined and eager to watch Holmes on TV. So – a huge audience is definitely already attuned to Holmes in the Victorian era because of the Downey movies, which were an entry drug for countless people. It will be interesting to see how many hat-tips and homages the BBC Victorian-set special will pay to both Downey and Brett (as well they should, since they’re basically visiting territory well-trod by both those versions already…). It’s not like Moffat is re-e-ally breaking any new ground here or setting any “modern” precedent by going back to the past, because the RDJ movies did it first, only a few years ago — and did it beautifully and creatively. As one critic said of the Downey movies, “Has there ever been a better-looking Victorian London onscreen?” — and they’re still most definitely in production (#3 coming up soon). As big tentpole action-adventures with a comedic twist, the RDJ movies may or may not be your Sherlockian cuppa — they are most definitely mine, and I will happily argue all of their canonical virtues and arm-wrestle any naysayers — but they without doubt set the stage for the success of ALL the current Holmeses. It was the RDJ movies that whetted the world’s appetite once again for Sherlock Holmes, by kicking the dust off the old outworn stereotypes, modernizing the storylines for today’s audiences, and making him a dashing and romantic hero. All the others since 2009 have followed in RDJ’s footsteps, because it was RDJ who kicked off the current global Sherlockian renaissance.

    • I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Warner Bros films if I’m honest. Initially, I didn’t warm to them – they just seemed like big commercial blockbusters with too much action and humour, not enough substance and true understanding of the subtleties in both Holmes as a character and the original stories by ACD. The strapline which was something like – ‘Bigger, Louder, Funnier’ killed it for me. I didn’t think these words were ever appropriate when it came to Holmes. But I revisited the two films a few years after they came out and in that time, I’d watched 30 or so episodes of Elementary and two series of BBC Sherlock. Suddenly, I started to appreciate the films and enjoyed seeing a Holmes and Watson back in their Victorian setting, both male and living in a really impressive recreation of London. It felt familiar, and I liked that. I came to enjoy them and admit that Jude Law is a very good Watson.

      Were the films the start of the renaissance? I suppose you are right, they probably were. They didn’t feel like it for me at the time because at first, I didn’t like them but instead loved BBC Sherlock and felt that it spoke to me far better as a fan of the original canon. Now I appreciate them and see all these productions as part of the same, a group of interpretations that try to put a spin on Holmes – be it modern settings, action and bromance, a female Watson. A collective renaissance. This isn’t a criticism at all, just an observation and I hope that Warner Bros, Elementary and Sherlock all continue to go from strength to strength. But I find myself increasingly hankering for a TV series similar to that produced by Granada – that takes actual stories from the canon and brings them alive in a subtle, traditional way – set in the period.

  2. I would love to see a new series set in the Victorian Era. I loved the Jeremy Brett series, thought it was one of the best.

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