"I found myself in dream-land, with the sweet face of Mary Morstan looking down upon me." [SIGN]
[This review was also published on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, where you can read other contributors' reviews as well.]
After 2014's filler episode of Sherlock, "The Abominable Bride." I was afraid that the Moffat and Gatiss may have painted themselves into a bit of a corner. As entertaining as it was to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman transported into a more traditional Victorian setting, the one-off episode didn't really advance the plot of the show at all. Besides, I've never been the kind of Holmes fan who really gets much of a charge out of the Victorian nostalgia aspect of Sherlockiana. I know all kinds of Sherlockians really dwell on that whole period, and I get it, it can be a lot of fun. But I've always thought the great strength of the BBC's Sherlock was their ability to make Holmes and Watson so contemporary, while still always retaining so much of the flavor of Doyle's original stories. For me, then, "The Six Thatchers" was a stunning return to form. I may as well take this chance to warn any readers who may be approaching this review without having seen the episode, that MAJOR SPOILERS lie ahead! If you read from this point on, I am assuming that you have seen "The Six Thatchers." So let's move along, shall we?
For much of the first act of the episode, I wasn't certain that this episode was going to work: there was a lot of comedy in that first twenty minutes. I was beginning to think, "this is all very enjoyable, seeing Cumberbatch displaying his comedic side, but when does the story really begin?" As the story began to get more serious, however, and the plot began to reference "The Six Napoleons" (as we all thought it would), I really began to be drawn into the story. Looking back on the episode now, I feel as if the comedy towards the beginning really heightened the drama to follow.
One thing I'd like to mention right off the bat is how much I enjoyed Amanda Abbingdon's work in "The Six Thatchers." Ever since they introduced her as Mary, I've thought the chemistry she shared with Martin Freeman's Watson has been spectacular, and the equal rapport with Cumberbatch's Sherlock was just as enjoyable. Most of us who have loved Sherlock from the beginning knew that the Holmes/Watson duo was one of the best in film and TV history; Mary changed the relationship into an intriguing equilateral triangle. Indeed, for a little while during this episode, I found myself wondering if the attention paid to Mary's role in the show might be working at cross purposes to the dymamic of Freeeman and Cumberbatch's perfect balance as Holmes and Watson. As the show progressed, though, all of those fears were put to rest as, in the end, Mary's presence (followed by her absence) made that Holmes/Watson relationship even more powerful for me. (I told you there would be spoilers...)
Anyway, back to the story... I continued to be fascinated by how skillfully the writers managed to combine elements of "The Six Napoleons" with some of the plot of "The Sign of the Four," a story that is, of course, inextricably linked with Mary as a canonical character. The four assassins who went by the acronym of AGRA would make any Holmes fan immediately think of Major Sholto and his associates. Another thing I've always admired about the writing on Sherlock is how they manage to refer to the Holmes canon (as well as extracanonical sources), without merely repeating them as reworked plots in a modern setting: in other words, "A Study in Pink" is not "A Study in Scarlet" in the 21st century, "The Hounds of Baskerville" is not an updated "Hound of the Baskervilles," and so on. (Did some fans catch the brief reference to Nicholas Meyer's pastiche, The Canary Trainer, in this episode? It made me smile.)
As Mary's plot began to thicken, I found myself wondering if she would come out of it alive, but I never really thought they would kill her off! Yes, now we come to the biggest spoiler of all: the death of Mary Watson, taking a bullet for Sherlock. As the tears ran down my cheeks, I found myself thinking, "You fool, of course she had to die! We've always assumed that Watson ended up as a widower in the books!" Now, I don't know enough about ballistics and such to know whether it's even possible in real life to jump in front of a bullet, but we all know it's a trope that has shown up throughout film history. For a minute, I thought back to Sherlock being shot by Mary in Season 3's "His Last Vow," and I thought, will they actually save her? At this point, I'm thinking she's really gone, and I hope there is no "resurrection," as there was for Sherlock. And so three have become two again.
Before I'd even had the chance to recover from my shock at Mary's death, I had to deal with my sadness at the wedge that has now come between John and Sherlock, as a result of that death, and Mary's posthumous request that Sherlock "save John Watson." Which made me shed yet another tear or two...as well as wondering, what's in store for John Watson? So, as I look forward to the next two episodes of Sherlock Season 4, I find myself with many questions:
Just for fun (I sometimes have a bizarre notion of what constitutes "fun"), I've been watching the Asylum Pictures "mockbuster" called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, which came out the year after Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film. In case you didn't know, Asylum is the film company that brought us the Sharknado films, among other bizarre offerings. So it's not like I expected any sort of quality from the film, but it was on Hoopla Digital, which is a service through our local library that enables users to check out digital entertainment for a limited time. Still, as bad films go, this one exceeded my expectations, by which I mean, it's worse than I could have imagined.
The film opens with an elderly Dr. Watson watching the Germans bomb London in 1940. He reminisces to the nurse caring for him (who has an amazingly modern hair-do for the period) that this is not the first time he's seen the city on fire. Thus begins the flashback to the "untold adventure" of his great friend Sherlock Holmes. It turns out to be a bizarre tale that includes a kraken-like creature sinking a ship, dinosaurs rampaging around London, and an awful lot of sup-par acting and writing.
When I first wrote this post, I hadn't finished the film yet, but I just finished it. And all I can say is...wow. Wow. There's so much wrong with the film, even beyond the bad acting and CGI. For example, when Holmes and Watson first encounter a dinosaur during a walk in the park, and said dinosaur is limited to some trees rustling and some shaky camera work. Presumably there was a limited CGI budget to animate the dinosaurs, so they had to keep things really basic whenever possible. There are several other hilarious details that illustrate exactly how awful the film is:
Perhaps the most concise criticism of the film I've read is this citation on Wikipedia from Alan Barnes' excellent book on Holmes films:
In his book Sherlock Holmes On Screen: The Complete Film and TV History, Alan Barnes...described Ben Syder's Holmes as "punchable" and called the overall film "dismal," "cheap and cheerless," and criticized the "risible final act" in particular. He concluded by saying that "listing the production's many deficiencies would be an entirely pointless exercise."
I'm including the trailer for the film below, so my readers can get just a taste of this cheesy adventure in filmmaking.
Every once in awhile, I stumble upon a "discovery" that combines a couple of my main interests: in this case, Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare. I don't know why I hadn't heard of this story before, but Vincent Starrett once wrote a fun little pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes story entitled "The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet," in which Holmes is hired to help solve the theft of a unique quarto edition of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. The story, which was originally published in 1920, was reportedly considered by Ellery Queen to be one of the greatest pastiches of Holmes ever written. I just read it, and found it to be quite entertaining. Simply click on the title of the story above to read it online!
(I shall also share this same post on my Shakespeare blog, entitled Willy Wigglestick.)
Having been a fan of the BBC's Sherlock since it first appeared, I'm always interested to see what they do next. Since the longer trailer for the new season has arrived, we can get a tiny glimpse of what is coming up. So why am I not impressed yet? The trailer seems to emphasize action, edge-of-your-seat thrills...things that don't seem to fit into the Sherlockian universe. I'm beginning to hope they wrap it all up this season. And I hope they wrap it up well...keeping my fingers crossed, until the game is afoot once again.
(I've posted below the longer trailer from October, and the somewhat shorter and more action-oriented teaser trailer from July.)
After trying to consolidate all of my various blogs into one (called Corybanter), I have decided to try a different approach: Baker Street Babble is now a subset of my main website, CoryHowell.net. So from now on, interested parties can stumble on this site on their own, or link to it from the main site. I will resume posting material about Sherlock Holmes on this blog (it may not be regular, but I will attempt to post here from time to time).
We'll see if this blog can reappear, like Holmes reappearing from Reichenbach Falls!
So once again, dear readers, THE GAME IS AFOOT!
No doubt about it...when I first saw Sherlock, I thought, "My God, they've finally gotten it right!" For me, the interest I have in the Sherlock Holmes stories has never been about the Victorian London setting. It's always been about the quickness of Holmes's intellect, and the relationship between Holmes and Watson. And Sherlock nailed those tow elements! Sure, Jeremy Brett may have looked more like Sidney Paget's illustrations, but I don't think any actor has ever captured the character like Cumberbatch has.
I was captivated by Cumberbatch's portrayal instantly, and as I continued to watch the program, I was even more impressed by how he and Martin Freeman captured the Holmes/Watson relationship. That's one area where Sherlock has never been matched. Even the best Watson actors have never been able to balance Holmes. Until Martin Freeman came along...
So that's it: my Top Five Holmes actors. Sorry it took me so long to finish. I've been busy with my Shakespeare blog and some other stuff. I'm sure some people will disagree with my list, but that's okay. Feel free to share your own list in the comments!
#2. Jeremy Brett
If I had come up with this Top Five several years ago, there is no doubt that Jeremy Bretty would have been my number one choice. And I still think, as far as Victorian portrayals of the great detective, no one has ever matched Brett's version. When the BBC series starring Brett as Holmes began in the early 80s, I was a teenager, and though I was relatively new to the Sherlock Holmes canon, it was clear to me that no actor had ever really captured the true spirit and style of Sherlock Holmes. And then I saw Jeremy Brett...
It was as if Sidney Paget's drawings had come to life! Every little pose, every mannerism was just as I had imagined Holmes, based on the illustrations I had seen. For many years, then, to my way of thinking Jeremy Brett was the Sherlock Holmes. As I've read more about that BBC series, and its ups and downs, I've learned that the series consciously imitated Paget's drawings as closely as possible, and that Brett himself had an almost obsessive insistence on the most minute details. (He also smoked several packs of cigarettes a day, which contributed to his poor health in later installments of the series...)
As I've gone back and watched many of the episodes of this very successful BBC Sherlock Holmes series, I'm still immensely impressed by Brett's finely detailed portrayal of the detective. Sure, some of the adaptations of the stories tend towards slavish adulation, while other episodes add somewhat poorly rendered plot lines to flesh out the stories. And Brett's performances in several of the later episodes was negatively impacted by his failing health. But Jeremy Brett at his best inhabited the role as very few actors have managed to do.
As I said above, if I had written this several years ago, Brett would have easily been my favorite choice, but then along came a series called Sherlock...and my world changed. But more of that in my next article...
#3. Peter Cushing
If you've never seen Peter Cushing's portrayal of Holmes, go right now to the Sherls on Film page of this blog, and watch one of the videos of the TV series he did in 1968. Actually, Cushing's first Holmes was in the Hammer Films version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959 (which also starred the great Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville). In my humble opinion, Cushing really nails the physicality and speech of the great detective, despite the cheesy horror movie atmosphere of the 1959 film, or the relatively low production values of the 1968 series.
Anther interesting thing about the TV series is that, even though they produced 16 episodes of the 1968 program, only six episodes are still available today, due to the BBC's policy at the time of taping over programs that had already aired a couple of times! (I should also mention that Cushing was the second actor to play Holmes for the BBC; Douglas Wilmer played him for the earlier black-and-white installments of the series from 1964-1965. Nigel Stock played Watson to Wilmer's and Cushing's Holmes.)
For your enjoyment, and because the full film is no longer available for free on YouTube, here is the trailer for the 1959 Hammer Films version of The Hound of the Baskervilles:
Occasionally, I publish articles for I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, an excellent Sherlock Holmes news site.
Here's my newest article, just published on the site:
Sherlock Holmes vs. Tarzan--By the Numbers
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.