I blogged a wee while back about being pleasantly surprised by the Guy Ritchie take on Sherlock Holmes. Well, if Ritchie is successful by taking Sherlock, ramp up the homo-eroticism and chuck in bare knuckle fighting and a dash of steampunk, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss take a different, more modern slant, and comes up with a Holmes that is even more enjoyable.
The BBC’s Sherlock places the classic detective in modern London: a Holmes with his own website who loves to text, and who favours nicotine patches over pipes. Throw in a batch of ‘where do I know that face’ Brit actors and some flashy graphics and the programme has all the makings of a tedious, lazy modernisation – why come up with a new idea when you can stick a lick of paint on an old one? That it isn’t any of these things is testament to smart writing, a clear and genuine affection for the source material, and fantastic casting.
Rising stage and screen star Benedict Cumberbatch is compelling as Holmes, all gangly charm, a mixture of intellectual arrogance and almost childlike bemusement at a world he can analyse but never understand. Martin Freeman as Watson is the perfect foil – bringing his perfected deadpan comic charm but tempering it with understated steel. No bumbling sidekick he - as an Afghan war vet with an uncanny aim, he is more than a match for his new housemate. The chemistry between the two – always the foundation of any Holmes story – is peerless, and the show plays into it by letting everyone around them hint at a homo-erotic subtext which the script then deftly sidesteps. The core pair are complemented with a solid cast of Beeb favourites, including Rupert Graves, splendid as Lestrade, and Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson.
The initial story itself didn’t blow me away – it’s a BBC drama, the cabbie always did it* – but it was handled with charm and aplomb and enough energy that it was only on the second watching I thought, oh, come on. But that I sought it out for a second watch so quickly speaks volumes in itself. I never thought a pale, lanky Brit would manage to make an American movie star seem underpowered, but when it comes to Downey Jr v Cumberbatch, I know who’s the Sherlock for me.
*I suspect it’s in retribution for all those stories about taxi expenses at the Beeb. Oh, and yes, I did notice the wee dig at the Daily Mail...