Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Scandal In Belgravia: Recreational Scolding!

'For Sherlock Holmes, she was always The Woman.' And, it would seem, she pretty much still is. 'We are in Buckingham Palace, the very heart of the British nation. Sherlock Holmes, put your trousers on!' After eighteen months of never-ending anticipation, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's Sherlock returned to BBC1 with the first of three new movie-length adventures, A Scandal in Bohemia. And about bloody time.
'People do come to you for help don't they, Mr Holmes?' 'Not, to date, anyone with a navy!' A case of blackmail threatens to topple the very monarchy itself. (Or, at least, expose the doings of one particularly naughty member thereof. And considering that when this episode was made several months ago the Scum of the World was still a functioning tabloid that probably amounted to the same thing back then.) But, soon Sherlock and John Watson discover that there is even more to the latest game which is a-foot than just that malarkey. They find themselves battling international terrorism, rogue CIA agents, and a secret conspiracy involving the British government. Although, since the latter is, effectively, Sherlock's big brother, that's just a minor domestic matter to be honest. But this case will cast a longer shadow on their lives than they could ever imagine, as the great detective begins a long duel of wits with an antagonist as cold and ruthless and brilliant as himself: Irene Adler.
'He's Sherlock. How will we ever know what goes on in that funny old head?' A Scandal in Belgravia begins with a resolution to the cliffhanger from the end of The Great Game, with Jim Moriarty's cunning plan to rid himself of his nemesis (and chum) thwarted by, of all things, a phone call. It's, actually, hilariously funny ('Stayin' Alive' as the ring-tone on Andrew Scott's phone in particular). 'Sorry. Wrong day to die!' Then, at just after 8:10pm on New Year's Day evening, we have a dominatrix revealed to be disciplining a (female) member of the royal family with a riding crop. ('Well, now. Have you been wicked, your highness?') What a very elegant start to 2012 that was! Thereafter we're into a new title sequence followed by a quite dazzling fifteen minute scatter-gun of scenes depicting several weeks in the lives of Sherlock and John. Full of verbal wit and cleverness, really funny visual conceits (the Deerstalker!), smart little in-jokes for the fans in the names of some of the stories on John's blog (The Geek Interpreter, The Speckled Blonde!), even sound-gags (the orgasmic text alert Irene leaves on Sherlock's phone which he, seemingly, can't delete). There are also some cunning textual juxtapositions like John talking about Mycroft's 'bloody stupid power complex' just as he and Not-Andrea arrive at Battersea Power Station. Even Lestrade gets one of the best lines of the episode: 'Exactly how many times did he fall out of the window?' Despite the teasing (and the spanking), it's very notable just how closely Steven Moffat's reworking of A Scandal in Bohemia follows Conan Doyle's original story. We have, here, just as there, the clergyman disguise, the ruse of a potential fire, the use of Irene's 'goodnight, Mr Sherlock Holmes' and a keepsake by which the detective could remember the one adversary who ever really got under his skin. Here, it's a mobile phone rather than a photograph, but still ... There's even a - tiny - glimpse of Sherlock's emerging humanity (his apology to Molly after yet another horrid put-down.) All this, plus plenty of nudity! 'I'll be mother.' 'And there is a whole childhood in a nutshell.'
'As Ms Adler notes in her masthead "Know when you are beaten"!' In an episode about games within games within games, there's also a labyrinthine structure to the plot. A veritable house of cards which occasionally threatens to fall in on itself but, which thankfully never quite does. An added element is the possibility of Sherlock actually sublimating his desire for The Woman. In Conan Doyle's words, Adler is to Holmes the one woman who 'eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex,' but this is mainly due to her powers of deduction rather than seduction. In Moffat's script, Irene's charms are presented a little more overtly, most notably in her naked entrance and the orgasmic sounds of her text alerts. All of which is helped, considerably, by Lara Pulver's wonderfully robust, deliciously physical performance. 'Brainy is the new sexy,' indeed. And then there's the dialogue which, as you'd expect with Moffat, is just outstanding. When Sherlock and John arrive at Buckingham Palace, John speculates they're 'here to see The Queen' just as Mycroft walks in. 'Oh. Apparently, yes,' says Sherlock with the trace of a smile playing on Benny Cumberbatch's lips. There's: 'People don't really go to Heaven when they die. They're taken into a special room. And burned.' And: 'Give me a moment, I've only been on the case for eight seconds!' And: 'John Hamish Watson. Just in case you're thinking of baby names.' And: 'This is your living, Sherlock. Not two hundred and forty different types of tobacco ash.' 'Two hundred and forty three!' Martin Freeman reminds us, again, of just what a great deliverer of pithy one-liners he is. Particularly when he says: 'I always hear "Punch me in the face" when you're speaking. But it's usually subtext!'
'I'm a private detective, the last thing I need is a public image.' The acting is, of course, top rate and matches the quality of the script and direction perfectly. There's a death-by-boomerang, action movie scenes, dream sequences and Sherlock sticking the nut on a nasty CIA agent! 'The big problem with a disguise, it's always a self portrait.' Mycroft's key line of the episode is: 'Caring isn't an advantage.' (And, once again, Mark Gatiss threatens to steal the show at various points with a deliciously nuanced performance.) Benny Cumberbatch's ability with physical comedy, hinted at in the first series, is taken to its logical extreme here. There are brilliant subtextual moments (Sherlock and John snapping angrily at Mycroft when he shouts at Mrs Hudson). There's the revelation that Moriarty refers to Mycroft as The Ice Man and Sherlock as The Virgin. There's warmth and tenderness amid the lies: 'Everything I said was not real. I was just playing the game.' 'I know. And this is just losing.' And a little coda which simply can't help but put a smile on the viewer's face unless they're a professional misanthrope ('when I say run, run!') 'I imagine John Watson thinks love is a mystery to me but the chemistry is incredibly simple and very destructive ... I've always assumed love was a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof.' Sherlock is back, dear blog reader, and it has lost nothing - not one single thing - in the eighteen months it's been away. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping, like Irene Adler before him, has been SHERlocked all over again. 'Mrs Hudson leave Baker Street? England would fall!'
There's a very good piece by Steven Moffat on how Conan Doyle's work influenced and inspired his own writing over at the Radio Times website. Check it out.