Thursday, 5 January 2012

Sherlock: A Scandal In Belgravia

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This review contains spoilers. If you dislike spoilers bookmark this page and watch the episode here.

“Brainy is the new sexy”

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's creations; Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson have long captured the hearts and minds of many. It has inspired hit shows and films such as: House, Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2010) and the focus of my review the excellent Sherlock (BBC).

For those unfamiliar with Sherlock, the first series was first aired on BBC One on July 2010 starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson respectively. Sherlock is directed by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss known in particular for their contributions to Doctor Who. The first series garnered positive critical reception and won the 2011 BAFTA Television Award for Best Drama Series.

Sherlock is a slick stylistic and smooth modern adaptation of the classic Sherlock Holmes novels and is set in modern day London. The shows most unique aspect; the breaking of the fourth wall with the use of quick camera work, close ups, slow motion, and floating text are used  to great effect.

Sherlock returned to our screens with the second series on New Year's Day and at the time of writing can be caught on BBC iPlayer and what a magnificent return it was. Sherlock set the standard for some of the best TV to hit out screens in 2010 and storytelling masters Moffat and Gatiss do it again.

The episode picks up immediately with a recap from the ending of the "The Great Game" with Sherlock, Watson and Moriarty (Andrew Scott) engaged in mid Mexican standoff. We have our first comedic moment with the thick tension broken by the clearly intentionally ironic and camp ringtone 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees. Andrew Scott does an amazing job at portraying Arch nemesis and rival Moriarty -flustered one moment and pyschotic the next; I haven't seen such an intriguing and compelling portrayal of a villain since the Joker by the late Heath Ledger. The call which interrupts the proceedings introduces us to the main antagonist of the episode; Miss Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) professionally known as "The Woman".

The episode is based upon the novel "A Scandal in Bohemia" and isn't the last homage paid to Conan Doyle's works. The first minutes allude to other works such as "The Geek Interpreter", "The Speckled Blonde" and "The Illustrious Client".

All Sherlock episodes weigh in at an hour and half and each series will have three episodes. For many viewers ninety minutes is a long time for a TV show; however I am glad that Sherlock has taken this decision to give Conan Doyle's novels the time and space to shine and breathe. Sherlock very rarely drags, the pacing is handled superbly and each episode is action packed. An understated but vibrant soundtrack coupled with spectacular camera work and perfect storytelling make for such high production values that Sherlock puts many films with bigger budgets to shame.

Miss Irene Adler is in actual fact a lesbian/bisexual dominatrix (yes you read it right!) infamous for her skills to manipulate events as she sees fit by obtaining information from important people and institutions by 'misbehaving'. She has managed to come into possession of some very sensitive and compromising photographs that threaten the monarchy. A very unwilling and unclothed Sherlock is shuffled to Buckingham Palace to solve this conundrum. Sherlock at first dismissive is hooked as he discovers that Miss Adler has asked for no ransom 'a power play!' an enthused Sherlock announces. The very first adventure of 2012 begins and Miss Adler proves to be both equally as compelling and cunning as Sherlock himself.

Irene Adler is played with sexiness and pizazz and much credit must be given to Lara Pulver for creating a multi dimensional character. Her first interaction with Sherlock sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Not for the first time Sherlock uncharacteristically loses his focus as he is faced with a fully nude Miss Adler. Adler's interest are twofold; his intelligence and Sherlock himself. There is a running gag where a particularly rude text message tone results in hilarity and a charming series of text messages between Adler and Sherlock throughout which gave me a sense of a deeper connection between Adler and Sherlock which went beyond the case. A puzzle presented to Sherlock via a locked phone which contains enough secrets to bring down a nation is a fantastic plot device as it symbolises Adler's continuing dominance over Sherlock and presents itself as a fantastic 'A-Ha!' moment when the answer is finally revealed.  The mystery and allure creates an interesting paradigm in their relationship in the episode and creates main poignant moments. Without a doubt Adler creates an impression on Sherlock and that is no small feat.

Sherlock's character has long been a subject of fascination for many fans. Sherlock is highly intelligent and logical (solving crime mysteries with only a glance) but socially awkward and dispassionate and in effect a sociopath. The episode aims to explore his character in a deeper way and particular Sherlock's interaction with sexual intimacy and to a greater extent intimacy itself. Mycroft his older brother in a seething scene mocks Sherlock's lack of experience in this field. In fact no one really knows Sherlock that well; his closest friends Watson and Mrs Hudson tellingly reveal that they really don't know what happens in Sherlock's head and Mycroft in a rare act of compassion regrets sending Sherlock to deal with the dangerous Adler after discovering that his brother has a weakness he never believed the logical Sherlock could ever possess. Benedict Cumberbatch really makes the character of Sherlock Holmes his own playing Sherlock with an abundance of charisma and charm. His efficacious dialogue and witty rebuttals instantly makes Cumberbatch's Sherlock likeable. However Cumberbatch plays the darker and mysterious side of Sherlock with gravitas -you can't help but wonder what he could possible be thinking as he plays a perfect rendition of Auld Lang Syne on the violin. For traditionalists Cumberbatch may be an odd choice, he is neither traditionally handsome, his style of speech may be too fast and furious to follow but without a doubt Sherlock Holmes has become the new sexy with Cumberbatch at the helm.

It would be a terrible disservice not to mention one of my favourite actors Martin Freeman playing Dr Watson. Watson is seen as the very loyal, straight talking and dependable companion and foil that Sherlock needs and Freeman is perfectly cast here. Some of the most memorable moments come from the interactions between Watson and Sherlock. Freeman possesses some of the funnier lines in the episode 'I always hear punch me in the face when you talk, but normally its just subtext' delivered with Freemans trademark look. I love the budding bromance between Freeman and Cumberbatch and as far as I'm concerned is a much better pairing that the Hollywood equivalent of Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.

Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) makes a triumphant return and has a delicate scene with Sherlock, where Sherlock shows his loving and cold side all in one go. Mrs Hudson isn't the only character to make a welcome return from the first series. Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) has some touching moments and arguably some of the most memorable interactions with Sherlock in the episodes outside of Irene Adler. Molly Hooper for those joining us from Series Two has a massive crush on Sherlock and is portrayed as a demure humble girl. Sherlock is never fully aware that Molly Hooper has feelings for him and although the relationship is often used as a device for comedic relief, I would love to see her more involved in future episodes. She has a few scenes which are of note. The first is at Christmas Day where Sherlock unwittingly hurts her feelings and as a really well deliver scene kisses her on the cheek and apologises, you realise that there is hope for the sociopathic Sherlock. The second is a brilliant line as a bewildered Molly asks in equal part confusion and jealousy 'Who is she? How did Sherlock recognise her from... not her face?'

The ending is another emotional scene as Sherlock deceivingly is given the late Miss Adler's phone from evidence. I really enjoyed this scene as Sherlock reminisces over all their text messages that have interwoven the story thus far. It is a lovely touch for the keen eyed viewer to be able to see the texts in their entirety and continues to elevate Sherlock to a different calibre of storytelling. The very last part of the ending is a little disappointing in that Sherlock has always managed to remain as smart and realistic as its namesake. I find it difficult to believe that Sherlock has managed to infiltrate a terrorist cell, remain in disguise and rescue Miss Adler with a sword. I have to wonder, wouldn't a terrorist cell have guns? Perhaps Sherlock has caught some of the Hollywood fever. Despite the ending, I am happy that Miss Adler survives, she is a fun and worthy adversary for Sherlock, and I don't believe that a dark ending would have been suitable for this story considering its light and merry elements.

A Scandal in Belgravia then is a perfect example of substance and style. This is genuinely good TV and despite a far fetched ending, there is very little wrong to be found and is a fun adventure. The dialogue and story telling is top notch and supported by a wonderful cast. Sherlock is the most stylistic modern adaptation around and if Moffat and Gatiss can keep up the standards exhibited here, the next few episodes will be a pleasure to watch and review. The next episode can be seen on BBC 1 on January 8th featuring the excellent Russell Tovey (Being Human) based on the classic novel 'The Hounds of Baskerville'. It looks to be a stunning adventure. 


  1. the ending is a great one. my reading is instead of what happened, it is symbolic: when everyone thought adler was killed following retro scenes, only sherlock knows she fooled the world.... with a nation at stake, "Ahhhh...." it's a lighthearted mental games for adler and sherlock.

  2. Nice review of the episode.

    For a different look at this episode, check out my review .


  3. I am a huge Sherlock fan and watch and enjoy pretty much every attempt to portray Doyle's stories. However, this BBC version is almost perfect, with Belgravia the absolute best so far...except for the aforementioned far-fetched ending. I sincerely hope the series will continue -- thank you BBC!