Anyone who had seen Steven Moffat’s Jekyll, a 21st Century updating of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, knew that when it was announced that he and Mark Gatiss were going to update the Sherlock Holmes stories, something special could be on the cards. Even the most optimistic viewer couldn’t help to be impressed by the wonder that was the first series of Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were simply outstanding as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and the scripts (especially the opening and closing episodes) were magnificent. But after bottling lightening once, could the feat be repeated?
Series Two opened with A Scandal in Belgravia, an updating of the first short story A Scandal in Bohemia which introduced Irene Adler, aka The Woman. I’d better brace myself for the backlash now, but… let me give a bit of background first. Beware – spoilers for the short story will follow, but not for the TV series.
As we established in my review of The Final Problem, for someone who has read what I consider to be a lot of classic crime fiction, I haven’t read much Holmes. I’ve been considering the reason for this and it might be as follows. Two of the short story collections – indeed the two that crossed my path when I was young, namely The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Return of Sherlock Holmes – open with stories that I particularly dislike.
The reason that I’ve put off reviewing The Empty House, the opener of The Return… is that I don’t want to be negative about the source material, but I find it disappointing, most notably in a very casual “and by the way, he’s the murderer as well” line, but the reason I don’t like A Scandal in Bohemia is more basic. If I’m reading about a hero, I expect them to win.
Sorry if that seems a little childish, but I always found that story (and I’ve read it a few times) to be frustrating for this reason and, I suppose, the fact that it all seems a bit inconsequential, as Adler wasn’t a threat in the first place anyway. The confrontation between Holmes and Adler is quite fun, but overall, it’s not my cup of tea, and I think it soured me on the progressing through the collection.
I wonder – if this story was sandwiched in the middle of a collection, rather than as the “first” short story (it was apparently the third to be written) – would it carry such an import?
Anyway, back to Sherlock. I was fairly sure that there would be more to the plot in the update and, of course, there was. I’m not going to spoil the twists and turns in the episode but we pass through a version of the short story in the first half hour and then things spin off in their own direction. I would strongly recommend that you pay attention as otherwise, you might get a little confused at times.
Cumberbatch and Freeman were again on top form, and credit as well to Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, Rupert Graves as Lestrade and, in particular, Mark Gatiss as Mycroft. Lara Pulver, as Adler, had real chemistry with Cumberbatch, and what played out was one of the best 90 minutes of television that I’ve seen in a long while.
It’s so hard to review it in any more detail than that without spoiling things, and that’s not what I do on this blog, so I think I’m going to leave it at that.
Oh, but one thing that astonished me – Moffat seems to have knocked a remake of The Speckled Band on the head for a quick (but funny) joke. Very surprising, given that I’d have thought that was one of the other “classics”.
So, if you haven’t watched it, get on the iPlayer or wait for it to show up in your country, but I recommend that you don’t miss it. Roll on The Hounds of Baskerville and The Reichenbach Fall.
UPDATE: Do check out my post on Recommended Reading for Sherlock fans