Thursday, November 11, 2010

A 19 century story, 21st century style!!

In the wake of Guy Ritchie's reimagining, the BBC puts its own stamp on Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth--and sets him in a London filled with cell phones and laptops. In the pilot, director Paul McGuigan (a keen visual stylist) introduces Sherlock Holmes (Atonement's Benedict Cumberbatch) as a "high-functioning sociopath" and Dr. John Watson (The Office's Martin Freeman) as an army veteran with posttraumatic stress disorder. Through a mutual friend, the two become flatmates at 221B Baker Street (Una Stubbs plays their landlady). Holmes, who consults with Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) on his trickier cases, drafts Watson to assist him.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Holmes and Watson have been brought to our screens. Many refer to the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films of the 1940s as the definitive version. (Yes, Holmes did exist on film before Robert Downey Jr.)  And many other distinguished actors have played Holmes on film or TV during their careers. To name but a few: Christopher Lee, Peter O’Toole, Patrick Macnee, Charlton Heston, Edward Woodward, Peter Cushing and Tom Baker. (We’ll ignore Michael Caine‘s turn in Without a Clue, shall we?) That’s quite a list!

Now onto our main topic:

Sherlock is a British television series produced by Hartswood Films for BBC Wales, co-produced with WGBH Boston for its Masterpiece anthology series. It was created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who wrote one episode each. Paul McGuigan directed the first and third episodes; Euros Lyn directed the second, which was written by Stephen Thompson. It is a contemporary update of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes detective stories, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. WatsonUna Stubbs appears as their landlady Mrs. HudsonZoe Telford as Watson's girlfriend Sarah, and Rupert Graves as DI Lestrade.

But I’m sure you all must be wondering about the fact that the topic of the article says “A 19 century story, 21st century style!!” Well to answer the question;

In the words of Mark Gatiss "What appealed to us about the idea of doing Sherlock in the present day is that the characters have become almost literally lost in the fog ... And while I am second to no one in my enjoyment of that sort of Victoriana, we wanted to get back to the characters and to why they became the most wonderful partnership in literature". Steven Moffat also talks about returning to the core of the original stories, saying, "Conan Doyle's stories were never about frock coats and gas light; they're about brilliant detection, dreadful villains and blood-curdling crimes — and frankly, to hell with the crinoline. Other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures, and that's what matters". Gatiss criticises recent television adaptations of the Conan Doyle stories as "too reverential and too slow", aiming to be as irreverent to the canon as the 1930s and '40s films starring Basil Rathbone.

Benedict Cumberbatch was cast to play Sherlock Holmes. "Cumberbatch", says The Guardian, "has a reputation for playing odd, brilliant men very well, and his Holmes is cold, techie, slightly Aspergerish". Cumberbatch says "There's a great charge you get from playing him, because of the volume of words in your head and the speed of thought – you really have to make your connections incredibly fast. He is one step ahead of the audience, and of anyone around him with normal intellect. They can't quite fathom where his leaps are taking him". For the role, he learned some violin-playing techniques, such as how to hold the bow. The role of the detective inspired Cumberbatch to analyse people's characteristics and behaviour: "You can't help but cast an eye round you and think about people and the explanation that might lie behind the exterior show ... you can't help it. That indentation where a wedding ring should be, the dynamics of families. People in a moment of isolation, certain things do stick out. It's an achievable superpower” Piers Wenger, Head of Drama at BBC Wales, describes the eponymous character as "a dynamic superhero in a modern world, an arrogant, genius sleuth driven by a desire to prove himself cleverer than the perpetrator and the police — everyone in fact". Addressing changing social attitudes and broadcasting regulations, Cumberbatch's Holmes has replaced the pipe with multiple nicotine patches.

In an interview with The Observer, co-creator Mark Gatiss says that they experienced more difficulty finding the right actor to play Dr. John Watson than they had for the title character. Producer Sue Vertue says, "Benedict was the only person we actually saw for [the part of] Sherlock ... Once Benedict was there it was really just making sure we got the chemistry for John [Watson] – and I think you get it as soon as they come into the room, you can see that they work together".

Several actors auditioned for the part of John Watson, with Martin Freeman eventually cast in the role. The writers say that Freeman's casting developed the way in which Cumberbatch played Holmes. Journalist Victoria Thorpe says "Freeman's dependable, capable Watson unlocks this modern Holmes, a man who now describes himself as "a high-functioning sociopath". Gatiss asserts the importance of achieving the correct tone for the character. "It's important that Watson is not an idiot, although it's true that Conan Doyle always took the piss out of him," said Gatiss. "But only an idiot would surround himself with idiots". Another commentator, from The Herald, points out that Freeman's incarnation of Watson seems brighter than the version portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the 1940s.

The show opened to critical acclaim, with excellent reviews from many respected analysts. The first episode rated highly on the Appreciation Index, meaning that viewers thought very highly of the programme. The Observer said that the show resembled "a cross between Withnail and I and The Bourne Ultimatum, there is also a hint of Doctor Who about the drama; hardly surprising, since it has been written and created by Doctor Who writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat". The Guardian's Dan Martin said, "It's early days, but the first of three 90-minute movies, "A Study In Pink", is brilliantly promising. It has the finesse of Spooks but is indisputably Sherlock Holmes. The deduction sequences are ingenious, and the plot is classic Moffat intricacy. Purists will take umbrage, as purists always do. But Sherlock has already done something quite remarkable; it's taken television's Sunday night and made it sexy". However, Sam Wollaston, also for The Guardian, was concerned that some elements of the story were unexplained. Tom Sutcliffe for The Independent also suggests that Holmes was "a bit slow" to solve the case, but his review is otherwise positive. He wrote, "Sherlock is a triumph, witty and knowing, without ever undercutting the flair and dazzle of the original. It understands that Holmes isn't really about plot but about charisma ... Flagrantly unfaithful to the original in some respects, Sherlock is wonderfully loyal to it in every way that matters".


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