15 June 2013

Windin’ your way down on Baker Street

I have been watching a couple of versions of Sherlock Holmes on television recently: Sherlock; and Elementary. Both contemporary updates on the classic originals. Sherlock is a BBC production, transplanting the characters, locations andstorylines (ish) from Victorian, foggy cobblestones to modern day London.Whereas Elementary, an Americanversion, is based in modern-day New York with a couple of twists: Holmes is still English but Watson is a woman.

Both series start with Holmes and Watson meeting as (relatively) young (wo)men and avoid the problem that I have had with Sherlock Holmes adaptions in the past. I grew up with an idea that Holmes and Watson were old men, in a dark, gloomy London; it wasn’t until I read the stories that I realised that they were not dusty old relics. These new versions bring humour to the party with Jonny Lee Millar and Benedict Cumberbatch playing the same eccentric with different aspects: Millar is a recovering heroin addict; Cumberbatch has given up smoking. I find it ironic that Martin Freeman playing a modern Watson who, as in A Study in Scarlet, which was published in 1887, has just returned from Afghanistan. We seemed to have been fighting that war for a very long time; even Holmes can’t solve that conundrum.

How many characters could survive being played by different actors contemptuously in different productions? Could you imagine two versions of James Bond being produced next year?

It seems that Arthur Conan Doyle legacy is going to live on and on; we can’t get enough of brilliant but flawed detectives. Both Elementary and Sherlock are very good, but if pushed I’d go for Elementary as the better one, mainly as I like the American concept of setting up a story with drama, threat, danger and denouement all in 45 minutes, Sherlock is feature film length (if feature films hadn’t grown to be longer than a day on Venus). A trend that started with Morse, you could sit in front of an episode for two hours and half an hour later forget who did what to whom.

There are other modern American TV shows that owe a debt to the original brilliant maverick, a couple that come to mind are: Perception, with a schizophrenic neuropsychiatrist; and Numb3rs with a mathematical genius. Both have pragmatic assistants, both are geniuses. Even The Big Bang Theory, one shining light in the dross on E4 has a Holmes/Watson partnership: Sheldon, brilliant but knows he is, unable to interact with normal life; and Leonard, with whom he shares an apartment, extremely intelligent, but not up to Sheldon’s heights, able to deal with the outside world and be Sheldon’s cushion to real life. They don’t solve crimes but their relationship is very familiar.

With his believe in spiritualism did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have any idea that he and his most popular character would live forever?


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