Holming into the new age

Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson in the BBC series Sherlock. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Say Sherlock Holmes and you immediately think of the deerstalker, the pipe, the hansom cabs and the mist-wreathed streets of turn-of-the-century London. These, to paraphrase Hamlet (where will we be without the gloomy Dane?) are but the trappings and the suits of the stories. Arthur Conan Doyle's tales of the brilliant consultant detective are rollicking, cutting-edge sagas of danger and detection. And that is the Holmes we get to see in the TV series “Sherlock.” The three 90-episodes telecast on BBC Entertainment, created by Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss, present a fast-paced, millennial Holmes using the latest technological tools (internet and GPS among others) to solve crimes.

“Sherlock Holmes was written as a modern-day man,” says producer Sue Vertue over the phone from London. “He sort of fell into a reverential fog in translation to the audio visual media.” Watson and Holmes referring to each other by their first names is just one of the things that set the series in the modern day. “Sherlock is a good name. Interestingly, people tend to call him Sherlock but still say Watson.”

The millennial Holmes has traded in his pipe for nicotine patches. So will we see him indulge in his seven percent solution of cocaine? “No, there won't be any cocaine. Actually there wasn't cocaine in many of the stories either in the same way Moriarty wasn't in many of the stories, but he is still very famous.”

Giving a face to the roles

Casting for the iconic roles had to be just right and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson have brought an extra something to the series.

While Cumberbatch was always visualised in the role of Holmes, according to the makers, casting Watson was a challenge. Gatiss plays Holmes' brother, Mycroft.

The arch villain, Moriarty, who in earlier productions was always portrayed as a suave and slightly dull character has also had a makeover. Andrew Scott's Moriarty who we see in the “The Great Game” is evil personified.

“He's good isn't he? It is just the evilness. The way he smiles — he has played it in a very personal way.”

Award-winning costume designer Ray Holman designed the costumes for the series. Cumberbatch wears a, believe it or faint, £1,000 Belstaff coat. “We bought up all the coats we could find,” says Vertue. “We bought three. The coat has a good line. It is a beautiful coat — modern, yet traditional. And rather hot in summer though! I think Sherlock is a smart dresser. He wouldn't follow fashion, but would go once a year to the tailor and get three suits stitched.”

The first episode, “A Study in Pink,” is recognisable as the very first Holmes adventure Doyle wrote, “A Study in Scarlet.” “Steve and Mark were talking about how well the stories could be set in the modern day. In “Scarlet” Watson returns from war in Afghanistan and there is still war going on there now. ‘Scarlet' was the first book that Steve read. It was sort of the natural place to start.”

The other two episodes, “The Blind Banker” and “The Great Game” have elements of the stories that Holmes buffs will joyfully recognise.

“They are bits of the stories in them. There is ‘Five Orange Pips' and ‘Dancing Men'. A lot of the original stories are not long enough to run for the 90 minutes. We have taken elements of the original stories and used and abused them.” (Laughs). Of season 2, which will telecast early next year, Vertue says: “We are tackling the big ones — ‘Scandal in Bohemia' (‘Scandal in Bulgravia'), ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles' (‘The Hounds of Baskerville') and ‘The Final Problem' (‘The Reichenbach Fall').”

Gay or not

“A Study in Pink,” which introduces the characters, has quite a few references to Holmes and Watson's sexual orientation. “The point is that they are not gay. The reason it needed to be addressed is I think partly because in the modern day you don't necessarily have men in their 20s and 30s sharing a flat as you could in the original stories.”

Talking about the choice of making 90-minute episodes instead of the usual 60 or 30-minute ones, Vertue says: “The pilot was 60 minutes. I think 90 minutes is a proper length. We could do a lot more with the 90s and decided in the end to do fewer 90s rather than six 60s.”

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is a reimaging of a different kind. Vertue says, “We like the movies. It is two very different styles of showing the same world.”

“The Great Game” ends with Moriarty and Holmes facing off and now we are left gnawing our fingernails wondering at the resolution.

“Sorry about that! I quite like the cliff-hanger ending. It is a talking point for people.” And though Vertue doesn't reveal much about the second series, she promises that the “cliff-hanger will be resolved.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 12:19:05 PM |

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