Review: Study in Pink
A number of classics have been revisited of late with the supposed arrogance of remaking the classics in a modern light versus the old idiom of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. Avant-Garde Theatre is a noble aspiration but Homer and Virgil were plumbing epics and reflecting the human psyche thousands of years in our past and a truly original idea was probably even beyond their talented authorial grasp.
I wondered what Arthur Conan Doyle would make of this latest glimpse into the science of deduction of one, Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion, Dr. John Watson behind the brick façade of 221B Baker Street?
Following on the Hollywood toes of the tantric tongue of, Robert Downey Junior and his penchant to wit and cryptic, high speed intellectual dialogue, the BBC hosted this new/old drama based on one of the most prolific and ageless sleuths, Sherlock, portrayed here as the one and only employable ‘police consultant’ with an almost supernatural tenacity and gift of deduction.
Watching the film I felt that the style and discourse was familiar and complimented the again recent reworking of a classic, the reinvention of the long running British sci-fi series, Doctor Who, re-energised by Russell T. Davies. I could easily slot the incomparable abilities of, David Tennant into the role and therefore was pleased to hear that the current writer/director at the helm of the newest foray into Doctor Who lore, Stephen Moffat, would be heading up the revamped, Sherlock project.
Sherlock hit our screens with, ‘A Study in Pink’ and definitely hit the ground running. To me this adoption brought that height of intellect and enigma back to a new, enchanted audience. Surprisingly I found that the modern period and technology only served to prove that such a well conceived character could hold his own in any element.
The episode begins with a brief exposition into the character and circumstance of Dr. John Watson. The casting of Martin Freeman was pure genius. Previously associated purely with comedy, playing the straight man aside more egregious, flamboyant characters such as Ricky Gervais’ managerial ‘Office’ boss.
Many actors become trapped in a type cast to the point that watching them out of this mask is virtually impossible, for example, it’s very difficult to watch, John Cleese in anything and not laugh and expect a crazy skit no where how incongruous it would be to the plot or emotion of the production.
However, Martin Freeman committed so thoroughly to the level headed, socially inapt war veteran in every way including body language, sardonic humour, his gait, his tempered facial expression that the transformation was so complete and convincing.
There was an immediate chemistry and camaraderie between Freeman and Cumberbatch (Sherlock) that stimulated affection and interest in these two socially unacceptable miscreants. Holmes first appearance, which was expertly delayed for dramatic irony and audience anticipation, showed a stellar commitment and performance. Cumberbatch played the role as an exuberant but emotional challenged and socially disassociated ‘freak’ (as he is repeatedly referred to). His scary ability to deduce the most seemingly insignificant of personal mores and background setting most company on edge and aligning him to an almost mythical magician of old. During the Salem with hunts, Holmes would have been immediately denounced as a heretic for his ‘devil may care’ attitude and misunderstood ‘psychic’ knowledge of the human mind.
Akin to Hugh Laurie’s, House, Sherlock doesn’t waste his precious time and intellect on anything but the most intriguing and baffling of cases. His rewards seem to come solely from solving the mystery and not based on human collateral or conscience.
In ‘A Study in Pink’ the police are clueless in their investigations of a recent spate of presumed suicides that are impossibly linked by the strange location of the deaths, outside the victims normal environment and in the choice of poison self administered in each case.
The writer and director (Stephen Moffat) does not shy away from the modernity of the setting but using it to further the abilities of the protagonist leading to humorous scenes of quick fire deduction by smart phone, mobile internet browsers holding a wealth of information and using it as a plot devise to show the authorities frustration for example:
During a press conference lead by the lead investigator into these deaths, the recurrence of the character of, Lestrade, somehow everyone in the room receives a message alert simply saying ‘wrong!’ when the D.I. says something, Sherlock disagrees with. You can see how such a pompous ass could form enemies.
The introduction of Sherlock’s ‘arch-enemy’ is unexpected at frankly hilarious as, Mark Gatis, producer and writer for the show, appears as, Mycroft the equality intellectually superior brother of Sherlock.
The modern setting and technology and even the run of homosexual assumptions and humour was fitting as a man such as Conan Doyle’s, Sherlock, if he did exist today would certainly have mastered surveillance and the internet. Holmes, after all, was always represented as a ground breaking scientist, ahead in his field and would make good use of any tools available to him. Similarly two young, handsome men living together and working together in modern society would have different, sexual, connotations that weren’t present in Sherlock’s original period.
We are introduced very quickly to the mind of Holmes as he applies his deductive reasoning to his new acquaintance, Watson. The fast paced diatribe where Sherlock immediately picks up on John’s background and history is fantastic. His attire, the limp, the phone with scratchings at the charger port all unnoticed by most but having a deeper meaning to the observant man. It is Watson’s reaction that first cements the friendship. Whereas most would find Holmes’ probing to be a violation or insult, John is supremely impressed and curious about his new found friend.
I loved that the whole of this plot, including the psychotic madman responsible and his motivations only further highlighted Holmes’ character. A sociopath, potentially dangerous in his thirst for cranial stimulation and development and the priority of finding the answer and his pride in his own abilities that he would wager even above a human life, even if that life was his own.
Also the stoic loyalty and integrity of Watson is a facet not often seen in modern man and is inspirational and compelling. The audience immediately relates to the social isolation and likes the characters played out before them, the underdog who is anything but even if he is treated as the runt of the litter.
Direction and script are both impressive as is the energy levels of the leading cast as we get a glimpse of free running and manic personalities that thrive on risk and danger. It seems both these men were looking for something and found it in each other, even if for Holmes it was a skull replacement! The stark contrast in their natures gives the audience a more rounded view of the proceedings. In a way Watson acts as narrator, or the old fashioned Grecian chorus to ask the questions of Sherlock that may confuse viewers.
The relationship between these two men is the crux of the emotional connection with the audience. Holmes has the smarts and Watson the street sense. Sherlock would be almost incapable of functioning as an ordinary human being. Cooking, cleaning, paying rent and generally surviving in the world are just inconveniences that slow him down.
The only point of contention for this viewer is the role of Watson. I would like to see this develop for although he is a qualified Doctor, his services are rarely required and he acts more like a servant to the spoilt brat within Sherlock although this ingratiates him to the audience and Holmes as he alone, possibly in the world, could put up with sharing a flat with a violin playing, mess making, revolver firing, continuously insulting and degrading Holmes.
In conclusion the dialogue is amazing and stimulating, the casting seems perfect and even the wardrobe is appropriate and clever in its nuances! Arthur Conan Doyle would surely have written such investigations if he was alive and well and living in our ever changing times.