Were I to ever confess to being a fan of anything, I’d have to say I was a fan of Sherlock Holmes, in almost every incarnation imaginable. His Victorian persona has been done well – I still remember the 80’s series with Jeremy Brett and howling for the next one. Brett died tragically in 1995 when only a year older than me suffering from manic depression – quite an irony. His portrayal was breathtakingly analytical, he was given to outrageous disguises and the blackest of moods and he was relentless in his enthusiasm for solving the most intricate, well-concealed crimes, which has been a hallmark of the character in his various flavours and disguises ever since ‘A Study in Scarlet’ first appeared in print in 1887 .
I imagined that anything other than the undiluted smog of Victorian London would be a betrayal, so watched the updated, iPhone-ready series ‘Sherlock’ with a good deal of skepticism, at least initially.
Yet, the ‘game is afoot’ even with a modern incarnation in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch was as captivating as one might wish. 221B Baker Street was as untidy as in the original. Watson describes Holmes’ habits in ‘The Musgrave Ritual’:
“Although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind … [he] keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece … He had a horror of destroying documents…. Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner…”
It was surely a bridge too far, however, to transport Holmes, lock, stock and habitual user of Class A drugs to New York, with Inspector being replaced with a Captain Gregson and, of all horrors, a female Dr Watson (Lucy Liu) as a paid minder to ensure Holmes does not slip into his old, drug-sodden habits.
Such is the power of the character, however, that the transition worked beautifully and a transatlantic contemporary to Benedict Cumberbatch is created, in the form of Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes. The pilot of ‘Elementary’ was released a few days ago online. No Conan Doyle plotlines – just nodding references here and there. For example, Holmes is brooding on the rooftop of his apartment when Watson notices honey dripping through the ceiling. She goes up to the roof to find Holmes gazing at a beehive, remarking that he is writing a paper entitled “Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen” which Holmes was supposed to have done on his retirement to the Sussex Downs. The series premiere contains familiar Sherlock Holmes clichés: He shows up the police, pointing out a clue they overlooked, tosses out an uncannily accurate description of someone he’s just met, and has a general lack of interest in conforming to social norms. The American press thinks that this wears out the welcome mat a little too much – I am inclined to the reverse since Holmes is primarily idiosyncratic, antisocial and therefore charming by default.
Miller, tattooed, broodingly unshaven and manically energetic was once considered for the part of James Bond (which ultimately went to Daniel Craig). Ironically, he and Cumberbatch starred together in a stage adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’.
It’s going to be interesting to see if people think the parallels close enough to warrant legal action. The producers of the British ‘Sherlock’ commented “We understand that CBS are doing their own version of an updated Sherlock Holmes. It’s interesting, as they approached us a while back about remaking our show. At the time, they made great assurances about their integrity, so we have to assume that their modernized Sherlock Holmes doesn’t resemble ours in any way, as that would be extremely worrying”.
Holmes himself would describe the parallels, with his usual understatement, as ‘most singular’, since the resemblances are very obvious indeed, which accounted for the resonant charm of the New York pilot (series televised every Thursday hereafter on CBS) and my impatience for series 3 of the London version.