Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring characters in literary history. Just about everyone can say his name and conjure up the image of the guy with the weird curvy pipe and the deer-stalker hat. They can conjure those images even though Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never put his character in that hat or gave him that pipe to chew on. No, the Holmes written by Doyle was addicted to cocaine and loved to play the violin, but he didn’t have odd taste in hats or smoking accessories.
One thing about Sherlock Holmes is that he is, and always has been, a bit of a jerk. He loves the challenge of finding who murdered someone or who has committed some kind of terrible crime. It is the game that he loves and he barely makes any money from the job he does. More importantly he loves showing up the police and making them feel like fools. He has never truly been in love nor does he have many long-lasting relationships. His only friend is the eternally befuddled Dr. Watson.
These days we would probably classify a Sherlock Holmes as mentally ill. He would be someone with Asberger’s Syndrome, for example. Or, he might be classified as a sociopath as someone who enjoys things just for himself with seemingly little concern for the people around him and who might get hurt in his relentless pursuit of showing how much more brilliant he is than everyone around him.
Had Holmes turned to crime, he would have been the greatest villain in history. However, he turned his talents toward solving crime and has become the literary worlds greatest detective. He has been adapted to the stage and screen countless times. He has been in comic books and even spoofed as a character on Sesame Street. What is left for Holmes?
Well, how about updating the stories and setting Holmes in a modern world? How about a Holmes who uses a smart phone and texts and receives emails? How about a Holmes that carries an automatic weapon, rides around in modern taxi cabs and surfs the internet for clues and information? Such is the premise of a series of mini-movies from PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery Sherlock.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster. It sounds like something some idiot in Hollywood would come up with and then put on the CW or something like that. Instead, this is a version made in England, adapting the stories of Doyle and putting them in a modern setting. This is a version written by two classic British television writers. In short, this is an excellent version of Sherlock Holmes.
Of course, nothing is more important than the man who plays the great detective himself. The man they have found to play him is Benedict Cumberblatch. You may not know his name, but you should be paying attention. He has an impressive resume on British television and a growing list of movie roles. He also has a voice that is a dead ringer for Alan Rickman’s and he has a knack for playing characters that are geniuses but flawed.
He plays Holmes like Hugh Laurie plays the character of Gregory House. This is how it should be as House was based on Holmes. If you have watched House, you know how this story looks. Holmes is a genius with a knack for being able to study a scene and deduce things almost instantaneously. The world is a giant puzzle for him and he delights in proving himself right and takes even greater delight in proving everyone else wrong. He would rather not have any contact with the families and people who are the victims of the crimes he tries to solve. He has a barely-concealed contempt for the rest of the world. Doesn’t all of that sound like the beloved doctor?
I had never before seen how closely the writers of the medical show had gotten to the literary detective until I saw this. Holmes does not come up with three possible solutions to the crime before finding the correct one, however. He gets right to the point.
By his side is Watson, like always. This time Dr. Watson is played by Martin Freeman who you may remember from the British version of The Office. This time Watson is, in addition to a doctor, a blogger rather than a writer for The Strand.
Holmes in this version uses all of modern technology to solve crimes. The stories move at a modern speed and the characters all embrace their roles with vigor. The writers seem to love adapting the stories. The actors seem to love playing the characters. The director loves to show these people to the audience in such a way to keep them guessing and on the edge of their seat.
There is only one problem with the series and that is the fact that there are currently only three movies made in the Masterpiece Mystery series for PBS. All of them are available on DVD through the PBS website. However, the response to this has been so positive, so far, that it is likely they will make more. This is a good thing. I think even Doyle would approve.