Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia

When I think of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I now think of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  That these two actors have so thoroughly eclipsed their predecessors obviously has a lot to do with the medium of television, but it’s mostly due to Steven Moffat  and Mark Gatiss’s brilliant reinvention of a Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.  They set the tone in the first episode of the first series (2010) with  A Study in Pink, and carried it through to A Scandal in Belgravia.  As with Moffat’s other project, Doctor Who, I have to watch each episode twice to get catch everything the writing and acting has to offer.

In A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock meets his match in the supremely intelligent and beautiful dominatrix, Irene Adler, played by Lara Pulver.  Her clients from the upper reaches of the British establishment tell her everything, and she has it all stashed away in her cameraphone, protected by a passcode that takes Sherlock almost the whole episode to discover.

This duel of minds and sexual attraction (“Brain is the new sexy”) is the core that runs through A Scandal in Belgravia, relegating the serious business of why these secrets are so important to the subplots that weave around it.  Irene’s first meeting with Sherlock, when she walks into the room naked, was stunning.  It set the agenda for her plan to seduce him into complicity, something she seems to have accomplished until he confesses to feeling her pulse at that opportune and tender moment.  So deducing that she was in fact aroused, and extrapolating from it the passcode for the cameraphone.  What else but SHER?

But Sherlock is also smitten enough to rescue Irene from terrorists about to cut off her head.  “The Woman.  The Woman” says it all.

There is so much to enjoy.  A jumbo jet filled with dead people, so terrorists don’t realize that their plot to blow it up has been discovered, is wonderfully Gothic.  The kicking the CIA agents get is thoroughly satisfying – couldn’t happen to more deserving characters.  I particularly like the way their leader falls out of a window several times after brutally interrogating Mrs Hudson.  And it’s heartwarming to see how Sherlock reacts to her being in danger.  He’s a good boy, and he protects the people who care for him, despite his offhand manner.

That said, he’s also cruel in his honesty.  Poor Molly is humiliated at the Christmas party when she turns up dressed to seduce, armed with the knowledge that she’ll have Sherlock to herself when everyone leaves.  Sherlock’s dissection of her behaviour, and discovery that the present was meant for him, is painful to watch.  His apology is even more surprising.

Then there’s the assumption that Sherlock and John are a couple.  Even Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) accepts that John is now part of the family and can be trusted with emotional secrets.  Irene thinks they are, and so does John’s date at the Christmas party when he stays behind to keep an eye on Sherlock after Irene’s purported death.  At Mycroft’s insistence, no less.  Only John is convinced he’s not gay, and they’re not a couple.  Yet there’s a whisper of jealousy in the way he asks Sherlock if he’ll see Irene again, when she’s revealed as still alive.

John’s blog is a great joke, and making it the reason for Sherlock’s runaway success as a consulting detective is inspired.  Leading as it does to them fleeing the paparazzi in a hasty disguise, which of course means Sherlock grabbing a deerstalker.  What else would he wear?

Terrific stuff.  Can’t wait to see what Mark Gatiss makes of the Hound of the Baskervilles next week.  Robert Downey, Jr. can take his action/adventure, CGI-enhanced Hollywood Sherlock and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

Secrets of the Pop Song: Anthem (3/3)

Secrets of the Pop Song: Ballad (1/3)
Secrets of the Pop Song: Breakthrough Single (2/3)

Anthem saved the best for last – pop anthems that make you sing along, music that makes you feel really good.  Guy Chambers teamed up with singer, Shingai Shoniwa, and guitarist, Dan Smith, of the Noisettes.  Three days were allowed for writing this song, perhaps in recognition of the innate difficulty of the job.  While the music and lyrics need to be fairly simple, so people can sing along to it, finding the special something that makes an anthem successful is notoriously elusive.  As the narrator points out, “anthems aren’t made, they’re anointed.”

They began with a Sly and the Family Stone riff, using I Can Take You Higher as inspiration.  I was amazed at how quickly and fluidly Shingai improvised the lyrics to the rough outline of the music.  That was ditched in favour of another riff.  By the end of the first day they had the basic musical structure worked out, and Shingai had laid down a vocal track, using some of the lyrics.  This was Precious Time.

On the second day, Guy dropped Precious Time, thinking they needed something more contemporary – the song had a 70s feel to it.  The next idea seemed to work well, but Shingai felt the chorus was “too polite,” so that was changed.  They had the musical building blocks in place, with work needed on the lyrics and a catchy title, by the end of the day.  This is important because without a catchy hook, people won’t want to sing it.

The final day took them outside to work on Hampstead Heath, overlooking London, after being cooped up in Guy’s recording studio.  To see them sitting out on the grass, with families, children, and dogs wandering past, gave a new, open feel to the idea of professional songwriting.  Let’s Play was the result, recorded back in the studio.

As before, interspersed with footage of the creative process in action, the narrator introduced a lot of background information, through clips of bands from the 60s (You’ll Never Walk Alone, by Gerry & the Pacemakers) to the 90s and noughties (Common People, by Pulp).

The interesting thing is how rousing, feelgood music transcends genres and migrates to the strangest places.  Take football songs.  You’ll Never Walk Alone began as a Rogers & Hammerstein song from Carousel, then became associated with the Munich air disaster of 1958, in which many Manchester United footballers died.  Jerry & Pacemakers then recorded the song, and it’s since become inextricably associated with Liverpool Football Club.

Not just musicals, either.  Songs as diverse as gay anthems (I Will Survive), operatic arias (La donna e mobile), and Land of Hope and Glory have all made their way to the football terraces, although sometimes with different words.

We are a musical nation, as Reverend Jenkins says of the Welsh in Under Milk Wood.  This series has been a delight.  I’ve learned a lot about pop music, most importantly the craft that goes into it, and the enjoyment that comes out of it.  It’s been an epiphany.  I’ll leave you with Shingai’s comment on the creative process:

Make good love, and hope for the most beautiful sonic baby.

Here’s the first public performance of Let’s Play, with the full Noisettes line-up and Guy Chambers on keyboard.  I loved it.