A Tale Of Two Sherlocks

Sherlock Holmes is now big business, lads and lasses. It was clear from the rapturous reception given both to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film and Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ 2010 TV reinvention of the character that there were still substantial audiences who wanted to see new or reimagined exploits of 221b Baker Street’s great inhabitant. Granted, they were entirely different in outlook – Ritchie’s film was a laddish caper that leant heavily on the charisma of Robert Downey Jnr as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, whereas the Gatiss/Moffat series had a stunningly multi-faceted performance from Benedict Cumberbatch as a strange, apparently autistic Holmes – but both succeeded admirably as highly enjoyable mainstream entertainment.

Now, we see the next installments of both, in the shape of the film sequel A Game Of Shadows and the subsequent tranche of TV adaptations. The USP with the film was the much-heralded appearance of Holmes’ nemesis, ‘the Napoleon of crime’ Moriarty (who had appeared briefly in a cliffhanger at the end of the TV series) in an entirely original plot, whereas the BBC version adapted three of the most famous stories, beginning with a version of A Scandal In Bohemia, where the titular scandal is relocated to Belgravia. But which one wins?

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it’s the TV version by a substantial distance. The second Holmes film was much anticipated in the casting of Moriarty, with names such as Brad Pitt and Daniel Day-Lewis being bandied about. The eventual choice – Jared Harris – is a fine actor, who does a more than capable job in the part, but there’s a slight sense of ‘oh…’ to his appearance. This partly works in the film’s favour, but the problem comes when this sort of gimmicky, lightweight entertainment tries to play it at all seriously. Thus, Moriarty has the odd interesting character quirk – he makes a potentially fatal delay to feed pigeons in the park, and appears more genuinely moved during opera than when organising countless deaths – but by and large, he’s an identikit villain, with a Bondian scheme that becomes clear during the finale. The various action scenes are fine, the banter between Downey Jnr and Law again amuses and some of the locations are stunning, but it’s one of those frustrating sequels where the potential to deepen and darken has been muffed. Oh, and Noomi Rapace has about the most perfunctory female role in recent memory.

Not so the TV series. The first three episodes scored more highly in their reinvention of Holmes and Watson and the creation of their milieu than they did in terms of the plotting; the first ended with a run-of-the-mill denouement, the second one wasn’t particularly good and the third ended with a strong cliffhanger but the unexpectedly bizarre characterisation of Moriarty as a camp, psychopathic Irishman. This cliffhanger is resolved for laughs rather than thrills immediately, and then we’re into a rollicking yarn involving Holmes meeting his match in the character of Irene Adler, aka ‘The Woman’, a high-class dominatrix who has the unlikely goods on virtually every figure at the highest echelons of British society.

The episode, written by Moffat, fairly barrels along, with Irene Pulver’s icy, brilliant Adler a worthy match for Cumberbatch’s Holmes. It incorporates a stunningly choreographed scene of slow-motion violence (a possible hat-tip to the films?), Mark Gatiss dialling it right down as Holmes’ icy brother Mycroft, a warm and sympathetic Martin Freeman as the ever-exasperated Watson, a very satisfying denouement and a pleasingly ambiguous final scene. On the basis of this, the next couple of Sunday evenings are about to be very good fun indeed.

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