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.
Richard Dadd (1817-1886) painted The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke between 1855 and 1864, as a patient in an asylum, where he had been committed for the murder of his father in 1843. Dadd wrote a poem in 1865 explaining the painting, Elimination of a picture and its subject – called the feller’s master stroke.
Here and here are links to the Tate Gallery, where it’s exhibited. I’m endlessly fascinated by the miniature Shakespearean world in this picture – A Midsummer Night’s Dream with nightmare overtones – which was also the world inside Dadd’s head. Look at the dwarf with the white beard – he’s clearly terrified.