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Saturday, 20 October 2012

The game is afoot

Have I ever shared with everyone that I'm a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan?
I don't recall.

Anyway, I don't wear a deerstalker, carry a pipe around with me or claim that the game is afoot at every opportunity, neither do I play the violin or dabble in narcotics.
So most people who know me probably weren't aware of my fascination for Doyle's most famous character.
I actually own all the original books, and a fair smattering of the novels that carry the legend on into the present day.
I also have a rather sizeable collection of DVDs featuring the detectives detective from cinema to television.
These range from the 1954 US series with Ronald Howard to the more recent BBC success that starred the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role (and for those who haven't seen the 1954 series, and laud the originality of the more recent version, then you should have a gander and wonder at the audacity of the virtually word by word lift of certain scenes. Naughty, naughty to say the least for the lack of a credit).
Of course I also have the Jeremy Brett ITV series with the two Dr Watson's that most fans will still accept as the definitive Holmes, and who am I to argue the point.
Add in all the Basil Rathbone films, the recent Guy Ritchie directed blockbuster movies, some made for television feature length films, the Hammer studios version of Hound of the Baskervilles and more, and then bits and bobs such as the Murder Rooms series and such, and while I don't have nearly the exhaustive collection that some fans have I do seem to be able to claim to have a little more than a passing interest.

This all leads me to the new US series 'Elementary' that has had some fans wringing their hands and uttering such strong words as sacrilege.
I mean a female Holmes....well I never.

Apparently they wanted to simply make a US version of 'Sherlock' in a similar style to their versions of 'The Office' and more recently 'Shameless'.
Just a straight remake with US stars in the roles, but when that idea was knocked on the head for whatever reason, they still went ahead with a show starring Jonny Lee Miller in the lead role, Lucy Liu as Watson and Aidan Quinn as a sort of 'Lestrade' figure.

It's all rather interesting as that's now three roles that Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch have shared.
Both alternated between playing Doctor Frankenstein and his creation in Danny Boyles adaptation of Mary Shelley's iconic creationist tale, and now here they are playing the master detective.
This mirroring of characters they have played has obviously lent itself to some wanting to claim that ones interpretation is of course better than the other, and in general as the BBC series does lean more towards a modern take on Doyle's character, rather that the American show using the character as a springboard to introduce a rather new, and less conventionally recognizable Holmes, the fans are nailing their colours to Cumberbatch's performance as the one that is superior.
However that's something that I would maybe question.
After watching a couple of episodes of the new series it's like comparing apples to oranges.
It isn't really a case of one being better than the other, just different, and isn't there room for both anyway?

What I would say is that maybe they shouldn't have used Doyles characters at all, and simply went for a detective series that people could claim featured a lead character who was Holmes-esque.
In doing that they could have avoided all the negative fan loathing and just allowed the show to find it's own feet as one that pays homage to the Holmes character.
They didn't though, and instead kept with a tenuous link and what we get is Jonny Lee Miller playing Holmes as a thoroughly modern character.
Sort of like a Derren Brown on steroids.
He's flawed, he's had his problems with alcohol, and even seems to have had past relationship issues, he's tattooed, he's edgier than expected, and the loose cannon aspects seem less to do with the always held belief that the character is operating in the autism range, and more to do with a bit of psychosis maybe linked to his previous alcohol abuse paired with his level of intelligence.
It's a strong take on a modern Holmes and could be described as the dreaded re-imagining of the character, but I found him interesting and thoroughly watchable.
In fact I'll go as far as to say his portrayal of a Holmes grounded in the present is rather fantastic.
Similarly Lucy Liu isn't playing a Watson that has a strong link to the defined character as we recognize him, but instead she's a Watson who is paid by the father of Holmes to keep an eye on his wayward son and ensure he doesn't have a relapse into addiction.
Apart from her hanging about with Holmes as his sidekick and foil, the only real link to the well known character is a surname and her previous employment as a doctor (surgeon in this case).
This side stepping of the heavily defined characters is really what the draw is rather than it being a negative point.
That they aren't aping the 'Sherlock' series is its saving grace.
So as Sky have bought the rights to air the show here in the UK I would recommend it as a very entertaining new serious.
Give it a go and you may be surprised.
Just remember to put any preconceived ideas to the side.

Oh and if you do want a fix of a more traditional Holmes then read 'The House of Silk' by Anthony Horowitz as that nails the spirit of the originals with a nice twist.  

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