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Posts Tagged ‘Sherlock’

…or, possibly, Finding the Character.

So, this is going to be about the way in which the presentation of a certain class of TV character has changed over the last forty to fifty years and what this may tell us about changes in UK culture. As I’m mainly going to talk about British genre shows, particularly action-adventure and SF (the latter is almost invariably a subset of the former), there’s going to be a lot of stuff about Doctor Who and Sherlock (yeah, sorry about that, people who aren’t interested in them) but also some other shows that no-one seems to care about any more (yeah, sorry about that, people who are interested).

What got me thinking along these lines was a discussion about – yes, you guessed it – Sherlock and Doctor Who, wherein a friend of mine argued that the two lead characters were presented in a fundamentally similar way. Regular readers may recall that I have visited this topic before in the not too distant past, and I’m not planning to go over it again here in too much detail. But anyway, as I suggested to my friend, this may well be a bit of an optical illusion inasmuch as this is how all TV action-adventure heroes are presented these days, and it’s only the scarcity of this type of character that’s clouded the issue.

Certainly British action-adventure TV shows are a lot thinner on the ground than they used to be. Casting our minds back to the 1960s, surely the golden age of the genre, we encounter The Saint, The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, the original Randall and Hopkirk, The Champions, Danger Man, The Prisoner, Adam Adamant Lives and many other less celebrated examples – to say nothing of the early years of Doctor Who (albeit a rather different show in those days) and no fewer than two BBC-produced Sherlock Holmes series (starring Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing respectively). Wind on to 2012 and all we really find are Doctor Who, Sherlock, and – still just about current – Primeval. (Oh, and I suppose the grisly Merlin qualifies, but I can never watch more than five minutes at a time without losing my temper and switching over, so I can’t really discuss it in any detail.)

The reasons for the decline in this genre’s presence are, I would suspect, mainly economic: most of the 60s shows I mentioned were made on film and largely shot on location, with lengthy runs – mainly because they were made by ITC with more than half a eye on selling them to the lucrative American market. American sales were what made a lot of these shows viable propositions and the major American networks are a lot less open to foreign product these days – the only British show to get a major network slot since The New Avengers in the late 1970s is Merlin, for reasons I find utterly impossible to work out.

So this may be why this kind of show is no longer such a fixture, but what’s more interesting to me is the change in the way these shows are written. Many years ago on the BBC Doctor Who message board I remember laboriously trying to explain the difference between a plot-driven story and a character-driven story. I think I settled on saying that in a plot-driven story it’s events that dictate the actions of the protagonists, while in a character-driven one it’s the personalities of the protagonists that motivate the events. This probably sounds rather circular – to simplify things still further, I would go on to say that a plot-driven story is primarily about what people do, while a character-driven one is about who they are. This is not to say that plot-driven stories can’t have an interesting cast, or that a character-driven one must be wholly bereft of incident – it’s a question of focus and emphasis.

Looking at The Avengers or Danger Man these days one of the most striking things about them is how little attention is paid to the histories and emotions of the leading characters beyond the strict demands of the plot. The backgrounds of Steed and Drake remain almost entirely vague; we know nothing about their families or any relationships they may have had in the past. None of this matters in an Avengers or Danger Man episode – it’s all about the case or the mission in that particular episode, the leads are there to fulfil a set of plot functions. This is most striking in the case of Mrs Peel (also from The Avengers) – she’s introduced as Mrs Peel in her debut episode, but her exact marital situation is never addressed or even alluded to, until the closing minutes of her final episode in which it is revealed her husband is a test pilot who’s been lost up the Amazon for years.

Stiff upper lips were the order of the day in Ye Good Olde Days.

If The Avengers were being made today, in the modern style, I cannot imagine an episode going by in which Mrs Peel’s angst over her missing spouse is not given a little moment to itself. Whole episodes would no doubt be written wherein she helps to reunite people who have been forcibly separated from their loved ones, concluding with bittersweet moments – no doubt taking place to a piano or power-ballad soundtrack – where she sees the happiness she has brought about but is confronted yet again by her own loneliness. It would, if you ask me, be totally and utterly awful, mawkish, charmless dross – we can perhaps get a slight impression of what it would be like by looking at the New Avengers episode Obsession, a deeply atypical and rather underwhelming outing focussing on Purdey’s unhappy love affair with Martin Shaw’s character.

I can’t begin to imagine how an updated version of Steed would work – but then again, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part a tenth as well as Patrick Macnee, so it’s really an empty question – the same kind of applies to the Prisoner, but it’s interesting how much more conventional and less interesting the central character of the updated version is.

These days it isn’t enough to just be an interesting and engaging screen character who resolves fun and imaginative plots – there seems to be a distinct sense that audiences won’t care about that. Every character these days has to have some kind of emotional baggage, which not only allows us access to their psychological hinterland, but seems to insist we visit it virtually on a weekly basis.

As a case in point let us look at the male leads of Primeval, who have the advantage of being new-minted characters unlike Sherlock Holmes or the Doctor and are thus more amenable to being crafted to fit a specific role. The three guys in question are Nick Cutter, Danny Quinn, and Matt Anderson, and they are the successive male leads in a show which largely revolves around people being chased around by CGI monsters who’ve wandered out of holes in time. They are a scientist, a cop, and a soldier-turned-zookeeper, and yet despite this diversity and the nature of the show they all fit the same template: each of them isn’t just chasing CGI monsters because it’s their job. All of them have Personal Issues involved with loved ones who have got mixed up in the holes-in-time business.

Or, to put it another way, everything these days has a much stronger soap opera element than it did in years gone by. This was one of the main accusations flung at the early Rusty Davies series of Doctor Who, certainly, and while I don’t have a problem with the attention paid to extended family lives of most of the regular characters I do sense and slightly object to an ongoing attempt to load the Doctor down with baggage of various kinds.

Specifically, things which were nicely underplayed and subtextual in the 1963-89 version of the series – the loneliness of the Doctor, the grounding influence of his companions – are dragged out into the centre of episodes. The mostly-implied affection the Doctor shares with his friends is replaced by operatic and overblown excursions into sentimental navel-gazing such as conclude most of the Davies seasons. As you may have sensed, I am not a tremendous fan of this kind of thing – I’m quite capable of having an emotion off my own bat without having it wholly specified by whatever it is I’m reading or watching.

Sherlock Holmes is a character who dates back much further than any other I’ve mentioned so far, hailing from an era when angst was an unknown concept and upper lips remained entirely solid. Presenting him not just in a modern context but in a modern style thus presents a bit of an issue. In my initial discussion on this subject, the point came up that Holmes and the Doctor really do mirror each other – one is a superbeing with human emotions, the other is a normal man with superhuman faculties.

Conan Doyle pays lip service to giving Holmes a few weaknesses – most famously his occasional depressions and his ignorance of many basic facts about astronomy – but most of the time he’s an almost superhumanly accomplished individual – an accomplished musician and highly-skilled martial artist in addition to his prodigious talents as a detective. However this clearly will not do for a modern TV hero and so in Sherlock he is assigned a dreadful personal flaw with which he must contend. It’s interesting that Sherlock has received quite so many plaudits for being utterly faithful to Doyle, when the depiction of Holmes as someone quite so socially incompetent and often downright rude is really not to be found anywhere in the original canon.

Holmes and the Doctor have a number of similarities, to be sure, but these are only emphasised by the fact that both have gone through the modern-genre-TV-baggage-attaching process. Heroes are not allowed to simply be heroes any more, nor are we allowed to work out for ourselves what the deeper elements of their characters might be. It’s not enough for a character to simply be likeable or interesting, we have to be able to Emotionally Invest in them, no matter how absurd that might be in the case of a soldier-turned-zookeeper whose job is to chase prehistoric monsters into holes in time.

Why has this happened? It seems to be a recent phenomenon, though the near-total absence of British action-adventure TV shows between the mid-80s and the mid-00s makes it difficult to be sure. Certainly the leads of Bugs (launched in 1994) are in the old style, as were the central characters in Crime Traveller. This takes us up to 1997, an interesting year inasmuch as the death of Princess Diana provoked scenes of wild emotion on the streets of Britain of an intensity and on a scale which was previously unthinkable.

Certainly in the 15 years since, British culture seems to have become considerably more emotionally articulate, if not in fact emotionally incontinent. Quite outside of the action-adventure TV genre, even the main TV variety shows rely on the ’emotional journey’ of the participants to provide a hook for the audience. Basically, everything has gone very soapy and sentimental at the the expense of reason and wit and restraint.

Once again I suspect my personal preferences may be apparent. I suspect my dislike for the modern Emo-style of genre TV is not solely because I object to cheap and obvious sentimentality but because this has supplanted so many of the elements I really like in the older shows – wit, inventiveness, and so on. Certainly they still exist in the modern shows, which is why Sherlock and Doctor Who remain so watchable for me, but often they seem less important than people’s character arcs and emotional foibles. Maybe the wheel will turn again and they will come back into fashion once more. I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

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So – second series of Sherlock, eh? The obvious thing to say is that Steven Moffat didn’t do himself any favours with a first series that was so unutterably hit-the-ground-running brilliant, and – foolish boy! – has continued to make life difficult for himself by overseeing a just-as-good second run. One could grumble about the fact that, on pretty much any level you care to mention, his second pass at Sherlock totally eclipsed his second full series of Doctor Who (and come to think of it I did) but this would be a bit churlish, and I’m not the kind of person to endlessly draw fatuous parallels between either the series or the characters.

Anyway, as the ongoing adventures of a fiercely intelligent, asexual hero temporarily pause with the central character forced to fake his own death as a consequence of an unexpected rise in his profile, let’s look back at the three episodes.

Thinking about this piece, my initial response to A Scandal in Belgravia was that this was one of those practically perfect pieces of art that are actually quite difficult to review without just gushing. Then I remembered beyond all the usual Moffat verbal and narrative pyrotechnics, to the remarkable plunge into pathos and genuine emotion of the second half of the episode. The bit that sticks with me is of Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Gatiss together outside the morgue, a brilliant written and underplayed scene, with – for me – Gatiss never better: ‘There’s a limit to how much damage you can do.’

I’m not such a dyed-in-the-wool Sherlockian as to venerate Irene Adler as much as some do (much grumbling in some circles, I understand, concerning the handling of the character in Game of Shadows), but I thought the Sherlock version was very engagingly written and played. Some elements of the plot rattled by just a bit too fast to completely keep track of but for me this remains, probably, the best episode of the six so far.

I suspect it was inevitable that Mark Gatiss would demand the rights to the Sherlock version of the most famous Conan Doyle story of them all, and The Hounds of Baskerville turned out to be very characteristic. For the first time, the series had the problem of dealing with a plot which is well known – there are people who haven’t a clue about the plots of any of the short stories in the canon, but who are familiar with the story of Hound from one of the other umpteen versions that have already been made. In some ways this was a more faithful episode than some others, in terms of character names, but more energetically free in many respects, as well as being fun and intelligent. I must confess to guessing a) the nature of the hound’s dreadful influence and b) the identity of the villain, if not his motivation, but these are fairly small quibbles.

And so to The Reichenbach Fall, waltzing delicately through the same narrative territory as Game of Shadows. Certainly Sherlock‘s enthusiastically deranged Moriarty is some considerable distance from Doyle’s character, an interesting choice given that Jared Harris’s very faithful interpretation is, if anything, just as effective. That said, Andrew Scott was terrific in the role, just as good in his own way as Harris.

This is the best thing I’ve seen from the pen of Steve Thompson, but having said that this is the kind of story I can imagine myself returning to in future and going ‘Haaaaang on a minute…’ about. Viewing it the first time, the rush and surprise of it do a very good job of papering over the holes in the narrative, but I don’t think that’ll hold up for subsequent viewings. On the other hand, the handling of Sherlock’s celebrity was intelligent and depressingly believeable.

Looking back, I enjoyed the nod to Moriarty’s stealing-the-crown-jewels caper from the 1939 Basil Rathbone movie. And, on a similar note, I wonder how many non-obsessives spotted the presence of the 92-year-old Douglas Wilmer in a cameo role, Wilmer having played Holmes for the BBC nearly 50 years ago? In itself a sobering reminder of how few notable Sherlocks of years gone by are still with us.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes remains a going concern, of course, but the writers really were in a corner when it came to the climax of the series. The real final problem, of course, is that everyone knows that Holmes dies at the end of the original story – but also that he rises from the dead some time later! How to achieve the proper emotional impact without killing the character off for real?

Well, they managed to come up with a suitably shocking climax, but the jury is surely still out on the manner of Holmes’s resurrection. The danger was that his death wouldn’t convince – the problem turned out to be that it was just too believable! Without even the hint of an explanation (not even the tiniest trace of a miniaturised aqualung or its equivalent), his inexplicable survival looked ominously contrived.

Still, better that than the end of what’s surely a contender for drama series of the year (and January only just half over). Given the rocketing profiles of Cumberbatch and Freeman, it’d take a brave person to predict when the series will be back, but surely no-one would not expect it to be worth the wait.

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Mass-appeal action-adventure heroes all tend to be cut from roughly the same cloth – virile, accessible, and smart without being intellectual – and so the presence in their midst of a non-acquisitive oddball brainbox without much interest in girls would be striking. The fact that two such peculiar figures are currently major presences in UK popular culture would normally, therefore, be highly unusual.

However, I refer (of course) to the Doctor, from Doctor Who, and Sherlock Holmes, currently appearing in Sherlock (both BBC productions), and the two characters share one further similarity: both are currently in the stewardship of Steven Moffat. As a result, it has actually been argued that there’s no significant difference between the two – one early review of the Holmes project actually described it, dismissively, as Sherlock Who – that Moffat and his colleagues are simply writing the same character in different contexts.

Both the hat and its absence are making a point...

I think anyone who paid attention would accept that this is a gross oversimplification and isn’t particularly flattering to either show. Nevertheless, the connections between Who and Holmes run deep and have done so for a long time. As the junior creation, to what extent is the Doctor based on Sherlock Holmes? And can the makers of Doctor Who learn anything from the endless reinventions of Conan Doyle’s characters?

One of the most telling things, when considering the relationship between the characters, is that a lot of Doctor Who fans are also to some extent Sherlockians. Back when I used to go to the Preston Who Group, one of the many peripheral conversations I overheard was between two friends, one of whom had recently got the complete run of Jeremy Brett Holmes adaptations on DVD. Both were clearly enthusiastic and knowledgeably so. Indeed, an early 90s poll asking who should play the Doctor in a revived TV show or a movie was won by Jeremy Brett. (The question, of course, is whether they were attracted to Holmes because of its resemblence to Doctor Who or vice versa.)

Indeed, there is some history of actors being associated with both roles – starting, obviously, with Peter Cushing, who played Holmes numerous times over a quarter of a century and the Doctor in two 60s movies. Moving the other way, one of Tom Baker’s first major TV roles after leaving Doctor Who was the Great Detective, in the BBC’s 1982 classic serial version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. More peripherally, Richard E Grant played a version of Holmes in a BBC play (also playing Mycroft and Stapleton in other venues), and an alternative Doctor in an internet animation (interviewed about this part he announced his take on the character was that he was ‘Sherlock Holmes in space’…), while current Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch claims to have been offered the role of the Doctor (although it’s unclear when this could have happened). Received wisdom (always a dubious messenger) has it that no-one has been successful in both roles: as I’ve said before, I think Cushing gives us a terrific take on the Doctor, while I find his Holmes can be a bit manic, which is the opposite of the acceptable view!

Explicit parallels between the two characters go back a long way – on screen, the most obvious example is in the 1977 story The Talons of Weng Chiang, in which Tom Baker’s Doctor swans about foggy Victorian streets in an ulster and a deerstalker, teams up with a police surgeon, and at one point encounters a giant rat (though, sadly, not from Sumatra). Most of these are visual cues, though, and fairly superficial. In terms of plotting and tone the story – full of sinister orientals and grotesquely disfigured geniuses lurking in cellars – owes considerably more to Gaston Leroux and Sax Rohmer than Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rather more in tune with the canon, though not on screen, is Andy Lane’s novel All-Consuming Fire, in which Holmes and the Doctor actually meet up and have an adventure together. After a very authentic and enjoyable opening, the book rather turns into a fanboy geek-out and Victoriana mash-up rather in the vein of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, but its main flaw – and the novel itself acknowledges this – is that as the story proceeds Holmes gets progressively less and less to do. (The novel also just about qualifies as an entry into the thriving Holmes-meets-Lovecraft subgenre, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The Doctor teams up with a stock photo of Basil Rathbone on the cover of All-Consuming Fire.

However, going all the way back to 1970 and the era of Jon Pertwee, script editor Terrance Dicks has frequently recalled a conversation he had with producer Barry Letts, where they discussed the relationship between the Doctor and the Brigadier, which Dicks likened to that of Holmes and Watson. This parallel seems to have struck creative sparks, leading to the creation of the Master as a Moriarty figure (something we shall return to).

Nevertheless this seems to have been a new idea at the time, made possible by the casting of Pertwee himself – Tom Baker described Pertwee as a ‘Holmesian figure’ and this is broadly speaking true. The third Doctor is a commanding, incisive, physical presence in a way that his predecessors were not. This is the main problem with the ‘Doctor Who is just Sherlock Holmes in space’ accusation – at no point in the series’ origins, or for most of its first six years, does there seem to have been a deliberate attempt to specifically ape Doyle’s style or characters.

The Sherlock Holmes influence on Doctor Who only really becomes noticeable with the arrival on the series of a writer with the apposite (but unfortunate, when it comes to clarity) name of Robert Holmes. From Holmes-R’s first contribution to the series, the Doctor becomes distinctly more like Holmes-S – more of an investigator, more proactive, more dominant. Robert Holmes also wrote The Talons of Weng-Chiang and his love of gothic horror and Victorian pulp fiction have been well-documented.

 

Robert Holmes. Secret plan to destroy Doctor Who not pictured.

 

While Holmes-R did not become the actual script editor on the series for another seven years, it’s his conception of the Doctor – aided by the casting of Pertwee – that becomes central to the series. The cloaks and martial arts and the Moriarty figure are all eventually abandoned, but the Doctor remains the powerful, intellectual adventurer Robert Holmes reimagined him as.

This said, it’s interesting that the Doctor-as-Holmes parallel draws more on the popular conception of Holmes than the Doyle canon: most obviously in the inclusion of the Master as an equivalent to Moriarty. As any self-respecting Sherlockian could tell you, Moriarty barely appears in the Doyle stories, only really existing as a plot device to kill the Great Detective off – at the risk of being overtechnical, in the canon Moriarty is a nemesis, rather than an arch-enemy. The Doctor is also usually a rather more amiable figure than the ‘classic’ Holmes – certainly more Basil Rathbone than Jeremy Brett.

It says something about the power and potential of this vision of the Doctor that even after Holmes’ departure from the series in the late 70s, the Holmesian version was retained as the default. The Davison Doctor is arguably an attempt to move the character on, but Colin Baker surely returns to type. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is another departure, but much has been made of the startling resemblance that Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor bears, not just to the Doctors of the 70s, but Anthony Higgins’ Holmes in 1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns.

When Russell Davies and the other writers of the revived series announced they were going to create a Doctor in the classic mould, this was tantamount to saying they would be creating a Holmesian Doctor (in both senses). There’s a lot to be said for playing the Doctor this way, but other approaches are available.

And, to draw still another British immortal into the discussion, it’s interesting to compare the Cumberbatch take on Holmes with Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Both work inasmuch as they’re exercises in taking the characters back to their essentials, disencumbering them of all the paraphernalia and unhelpful ‘traditions’ they have accumulated over the years (Sherlock riffs on iconography to some extent, but only in passing). It’s interesting to consider whether this approach might be attempted with the Doctor.

One could of course argue that the conclusion of Matt Smith’s second series saw exactly this happening, with the Doctor ‘reset’ as a lone traveller with his box, quietly saving the universe one planet at a time. Except, of course, this isn’t strictly a full reset – it moves the Doctor back to where he was in about 1977, not 1963. The pre-Holmes Doctor of 1963 is a fundamentally different figure, erratic, at times decidedly unsympathetic, shadowy and strange. It would be very difficult to return to this characterisation without creating severe problems in terms of audience expectation.

Sherlock Holmes is still adored because there’s something in the conception of the character that every new generation falls in love with. Holmes is never really reinvented, just rediscovered: in all the most popular adaptations, the core of the character barely alters. The Doctor is different. He can be a gentleman adventurer, like Holmes – but you can tell stories where he takes a wide number of other less easily-defined roles, too. He can be genuinely reimagined in a way that Holmes can’t: and it’s this mutable quality (not just in terms of actor, but in narrative role) that has given the character his longevity.

Sherlock Holmes has endured because he never needs to change. The Doctor has endured because change is fundamental to his nature – he may frequently resemble Holmes, but it’s not essential that he does. And if these occasional convergences between the two form a tacit acknowledgement on the part of the Who writers of the genius of Conan Doyle, I don’t think anyone would take much exception to that.

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Back we go again to that beloved world where old war wounds migrate, snakes are partial to milk, martial arts styles are somewhat fictitious and first names are oddly mutable: yes, it’s time for a look at Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, directed as before by Guy Ritchie. Portraying the immortal characters involved are, once again, Robert Downey Jr as Holmes, and Jude Law as Doctor Watson, while Eddie Marsan, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly and Geraldine James briefly reprise their roles from the first film as Lestrade, Irene Adler, Mary Morstan and Mrs Hudson respectively. New to proceedings this time around are Stephen Fry as Mycroft, Paul Anderson as Sebastian Moran, and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty.

Only very loosely following on from the previous movie, this film finds Moriarty behind a Machiavellian plot to start the First World War twenty years early (pretty much the same plan he had when he appeared in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie, but I am in no position to criticise his lack of imagination as I used the same joke on that occasion too). Holmes and Watson are, of course, on the case, only mildly distracted by Watson’s looming nuptials. Their pursuit of the master criminal leads them across Europe, from Paris into Germany, and beyond, to a final confrontation high in the Swiss Alps.

The story is a very, very, very loose adaptation of The Final Problem, but you have to be on the ball to really spot this, as the signs are mostly hidden beneath many layers of comedy squabbling between Downey and Law, and also spectacular action set-pieces. Nevertheless this is still an improvement on the wholly original and somehow slightly unsatisfying story from Sherlock Holmes. And it’s very apparent that the writers have done their research and really delved deep into Conan Doyle’s works – there are so many little details in this film which add nothing to the story, but will mean the world to Sherlockians (Holmes’ birth year is got right, as is the name of Moriarty’s most famous work), that it would be very difficult to give this film a completely hard time.

Nevertheless, I still don’t think either of the Ritchie films are really premium Holmes, though for a while I struggled to settle on why. I don’t think it’s entirely down to the presentation of the two leads (though I do find Downey’s Holmes to be a bit too mad and dishevelled, and Law’s Watson a bit too irascible, for either to really convince), but more the way that the scripts of these films cheerfully detonate the structure of the original stories. You know – Holmes and Watson are enjoying breakfast in Baker Street, someone arrives with a seemingly-inexplicable problem, Holmes springs into action, etc, etc. Holmes as a martial artist and self-employed gentleman adventurer is by no means utterly inconsistent with Conan Doyle, but the very texture of the stories in these films is not recognisable as that of the classic Holmes canon.

Indeed, in this film there’s a sequence where Holmes and Watson have to machine-gun their way out of an enemy base which is much more like a Bond film than anything else. The action in this movie is well-mounted and the whole thing has been lavishly put together, with sumptuous production values and cinematography. And the movie is stuffed with moments verging on the brilliant – every time Holmes and Moriarty have a scene together, for example – even if things do occasionally get a bit silly (some of Holmes’ disguises stretch credulity to its utmost limits).

And whatever you may make of the two lead roles, there is some fantastic acting going on here – Noomi Rapace is a bit underused as the female lead, but Stephen Fry is terrific as Mycroft (revealing yet another new side to his talents), and Jared Harris is even better as Moriarty.

Our time is curiously blessed – received wisdom has it that in years gone by, every generation had one and only one Sherlock Holmes worthy of consideration, whether that be William Gillette, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing or Jeremy Brett. And yet we are lucky enough to have both Downey’s version of the character and Benedict Cumberbatch’s to enjoy, the latter in Sherlock.

Sherlock comes back on TV in a few weeks, promising its own take on The Final Problem, and it will no doubt be interesting to compare the two. Sherlock may not have the big Hollywood money behind it, with the associated production values, but in terms of wit and intelligence and – above all else – fidelity to the original stories, for me it outguns the Guy Ritchie movies in virtually every department.

But, that said, this movie is an enjoyably frenetic and inventive way of spending a couple of hours, and certainly better than the first one. Is A Game of Shadows a classic interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes mythos? Absolutely not, but then I’m not sure it was ever intended to be. Is it a fun and satisfying piece of blockbuster entertainment? Yeah, pretty much – so I suppose we should settle for that.

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