Monday, January 30, 2012

A Study in Sherlock

If I say Sherlock Homes what is the first thing that comes to mind? I would be willing to bet it's one of the following: "Elementary, my dear Watson!," a pipe and a deerstalker hat, or Robert Downey Jr. Now what would you say if I told you that none of these things are canon when it comes to the infamous sleuth. I'm sure there are those of you that are still giving me a disbelieving shake of the head, but I can promise that the line between what was and was not included in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories has gotten a little blurred over the years, especially as his discerning detective and sidekick have once again become part of popular culture.

Lets get our basics straight; I know it's been a long time since you were forced to read The Hound of the Baskervilles (middle school was only a bajillion years ago). In straight-up Holmesian style, the facts are these:
  • Est. Birth Year: 1854/1861
  • Employment: Consulting Detective
  • Graduate Institution: Cambridge
  • Address: 221 B Baker Street
  • Relatives: Parents: country squires; Brother: Mycroft, government informant
  • Friends: Dr. John Watson: Afghan War Vet, Surgeon, Crack-shot, and Holmes biographer
  • "Other" Friends: Mrs. Hudson: Landlady; G. Lestrade: Inspector; The Baker Street Irregulars: street ruffian "informants"
  • Years in the Field: 23
  • Years with Watson: 17
  • Vices: cocaine, occasionally morphine, the violin
  • Mortal Enemies: Prof. Moriarty
  • Potential Love Interests: Irene Adler
  • Skills: Martial Arts, Boxer, Swordsman, Crack-shot, and Disguise Expert
  • Areas of Knowledge: Literature, Philosophy, Astronomy, Politics, Botany, Geology, Chemistry, Anatomy
  • Number of Fake Deaths: One
  • Literary Accounts: 4 novels; 56 short stories
  • Number of times Sherlock says "Elementary, my dear Watson!": NEVER
So now that we're a little more informed, we're going to take a look at two very different portrayals of Sherlock and his world: the BBC's television series and Guy Ritchie's film adaptation. (Although, for future trivia night bonus points, Hugh Laurie's Dr. House character, in fact the entire show, is based on Conan Doyle's Sherlock.)

It's hard to be totally objective in my Sherlockian observations when you've got Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, respectively, cast as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. This BBC series is titled, easily enough, Sherlock, and was created by Steven Moffat of Doctor Who fame (major bonus points for that!). The biggest difference between this adaptation and the original Doyle pieces is that it's set in the present day. I'm getting ready to shock everyone once again, because I actually want to give this series BONUS POINTS for originality. I'm normally such a stickler when it comes to messing with major plot points, but Moffat's series JUST WORKS, okay? 

More than any other Homes adaptation I've seen, Mr. Cumberbatch (swoon) has perfected Sherlock's detected analysis of the world around him. He can look at a person's shirt, see a stain on the right sleeve cuff, and determine that the person is right handed and was in a hurry this morning, otherwise there wouldn't be a stain on their usually impeccable clothing. Perfection! He's always socially awkward, saying things to people that aren't appropriate for the situation, and his nicotine addiction conjures up images of a detective with a more hardcore drug problem. Did I mention he always plays the violin when he's thinking? Now, Watson. Would you look at that face. Martin Freeman just looks so trustworthy and sweet, and he is, until Sherlock starts going a little crazy, at which point he tells him to bugger off. That's what I love about this version of Watson. He's not afraid of Sherlock and doesn't act like a complete blundering idiot. He's not obese and old and stupid- he's a recently returned soldier with PTSD who knows how to take care of himself and Sherlock (he certainly needs taking care of, otherwise he'd never eat or function as a normal person). 

Our present-day Watson runs a blog where he talks about his exploits with Sherlock, they also live in a flat at 221B Baker Street where the loving, slightly batty Mrs. Hudson "looks out" for them (more often than not they end up looking out for her.) All of the pair's exploits are named after their literary counterparts: E.g.- A Study in Pink, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and A Scandal in Belgravia. One other important aspect of the Moffat adaptation is the "relationship" between Holmes and Watson. I will say that it seems fans and the creators are attempting to make it into more than a "just friends" scenario, but I actually think that their relationship is very close to what Conan Doyle intended it to be. Watson says this (in one of the original stories) of the one time he gets a glimpse at Sherlock's feelings: "It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation." 

I'm just going to get this out of the way. These Sherlock movies are a guilty pleasure, and I do love them, I DO, but I'm pretty sure Sire Arthur Conan Doyle would roll over in his grave if he saw Guy Ritchie's film adaptations of his beloved Sherlock and Watson. They're a little snarky, act like they want to be more than just friends, and Holmes is just way too comfortable around people to be anything like the original. But I suppose it's these things that make me love the films.

RDJ's Sherlock is an excellent boxer and martial artist, he also likes to spend his free time shooting Queen Victoria's initials into the walls of 221B Baker Street, striking fear into the heart of Mrs. Hudson. He's very just so about his appearance, unless he's pouting over a lack of cases to solve, and he's incredibly dependant on Jude Law's Watson as his only contact with the normal world.

Watson is a handsome war vet with a knack for taking people down with his walking stick. Most of his time is spent in frustration with Sherlock, but you can tell that they have a close camraderie. Like the books, he marries a governess and moves out, but Sherlock has a hard time accepting that his friend is gone.

I think one of my biggest problems with these films is Irene Adler. She and Sherlock have a very flirtatous relationship and hint at past affairs, but in the books, Sherlock is merely interested in what she represents. She is, in fact, the only woman he ever shows interest in, but not in a romantic way. He's impressed that she uses the same "deductive reasoning" that he uses, and that she's one of the only people who can actually outwit him.

But, as I said, I really do have LOTS OF FEELINGS about this adaptation. The mood is just so deliciously perfect and Victorian, sort of dreary and grimy. The score is perfection itself. And those slo-mo scenes where we see our protagonist planning out his moves and what effects they're going to have on the individual- ALL THE POINTS!

Now that I've fangirled a little bit, WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?! Which adaptation is better? That's personal preference. Which Sherlock is more like Conan Doyle's original creation? Hands down Steven Moffat's BBC show. 

Obviously you have to make your own decisions about your personal Sherlock preferences, and I hope that if you've never taken the time to watch the new Sherlock or see the movies, this will inspire you. But most of all, I hope you'll forget your tragic middle school readings of Hound of the Baskervilles and give Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fabulous stories a try. 


  1. I LOVE Sherlock. It just keeps you on your toes, makes you laugh out loud, stumps you, and if any show is the definition of FLAWLESS, it's that show. There are no words except flawless.

    I've always enjoyed all things Sherlock Holmes and was really looking forward to the movie... I know you love it, Mariah, but I HATE it! I was so disappointed! I hate the slow mo, I hate how flashy it is (and yet somehow I was bored the entire time)... I mean, it's me! I should be in love with a Victorian era action film! But it didn't do anything for me and for that I loathe it.

    Sherlock's the adaptation for me! It just gives me ALL THE FEELINGS!

  2. Truer words have no been spoken... Sherlock is FLAWLESS. I was trying to be unbiased in this post because the show is by far my favorite Sherlock adaptation OF ALL TIME.

    I am sad, though that you don't like the movie. Because it's true that it isn't my favorite, but it's kind of like the Percy Jackson film, I love it as a separate entity from the books. I just think they totally made Sherlock way too mainstream if that makes sense... He would never act the way they portray him in the movie. Although I was glad to see that they finally let him kick some butt, because that is accurate.

    le sigh. MY ONE TRUE LOVE. I just don't see how people can't love everything Sherlock Holmes. It's aces.

  3. I love them both! But, if I had to choose, I would totally go with the BBC version. It's perfection!

  4. Great post - and I have to say I LOVE Sherlock. IT'S AWESOME SAUCE. I actually find it to be more accurate than the RDJ adaptations despite it being in the 20th century.

    The only thing the movies got right was the setting and the costume (and even with that, they didn't do well for Holmes - but loved Miss Adler's dresses *drool*)
    I've only read the first two stories, but I've been a Sherlockian for a long time. Can't even remember how it all started really...