Sunday, 3 January 2016

Review: Sherlock - The Abominable Bride

Sherlock is back - back 120 years in fact. For one night only, Sherlock Holmes goes Victorian...

"Nothing made me. I made me."

As a hardcore Holmesian (Oh yeah, I know my 'Three Garridebs' from my 'Three Gables'), upon learning that the Sherlock special would relocate to Victorian times I thought all my New Years had come at once. Finally, a chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the proper period! However, despite my excitement I worried that resetting the, er, setting would strip away everything that makes Sherlock so vibrant and different. Thankfully, though I still fear that it was as impenetrable as a London peasouper to a casual viewer, I found it to be a furiously entertaining ride. Sure, it was self-indulgent but Moffat and Gatiss have never been shy about the fact that the show was a passion project for two Sherlock Holmes fanboys from the very start.

Creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss - this is the first episode they've written together - deserve a lot of credit for delivering such a sharp, subversive script. The mystery is as full-blooded a piece of Victorian gothic as you would hope and, for the most part, it follows that more Series One and Two sensibility of clever crime drama rather than Series Three’s character comedy with a side order of mystery. The character moments and humour are absolutely still present and correct, however, and the writing is uniformly quiptastic and quotable - with the funniest scene coming from the unlikely source of some comedy sign language. 

There is also some amazing direction by Douglas Mackinnon, who ensures Sherlock‘s signature visual vitality and inventiveness is present despite not being in the present. And congratulations to the production amd costume designers Arwel Jones and Sarah Arthur for the gorgeous rendering of Victorian London and the sartorial elegance of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman who look as if they have stepped straight out of the Sidney Paget illustrations of the original stories. Make no mistake, this is the most faithful adaptation of Conan Doyle’s world since the Jeremy Brett Granada series. Well, it would be if it wasn't for the drug-induced dream states. 

Yes, the final third of the episode throws out the cosy trappings of the previous hour and reveals that it has all been in Sherlock's Mind Palace, which might seem like a cop-out at first but is really a natural progression since Series Three increasingly delved into his imagination. The climax will also prove controversial for the reveal of its villains - feminists in KKK outfits is an incredibly inflammatory image that will no doubt rile many but the episode probably gets away with it through its satirical look at Victorian sexism. Likewise, it seems that Moriarty really is dead, despite the implicit promise of 'His Last Vow''s cliffhanger that he wasn't. Presumably then Series Four will deal with his legacy, perhaps a plan he set in motion before his death - or does he have his own Kylo Ren who is finishing what he started? Let the theorising begin!

So which is it - a dream of Victorian Sherlock or Modern Sherlock? Either way it highlights a very key fact about the character of Sherlock Holmes – that he is always a man out of time. Let’s just hope that he returns in a shorter amount of it for Series Four.

Shotgun Wedding - The Abominable Bride wreaks havoc in ye olde London town.

 Easter Egg-amentary, my dear reader:
  • The main story is inspired by one of the many unrecorded adventures discussed in the canon. In 'The Musgrave Ritual', Holmes mentions 'the case of Ricoletti of the club foot and his abominable wife.' The portion of the tale involving Lord and Lady Carmichael is adapted from the short story 'The Five Orange Pips.' 
  • Did anyone notice the fact that Holmes' study is decked out in a bright crimson? This is a clever nod to the very first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet. 
  • Unlike regular Sherlock which adapts the canon for a modern setting, 'The Abominable Bride' lifts whole passages of dialogue from Doyle e.g. Holmes and Watson's meeting and most of Moriarty's visit to Baker Street (minus blowing his head off). 
  • Mycroft being "increased" is of course a reference to Doyle's own version of the character. In 'The Greek Interpreter', Watson describes him as such: "His body was absolutely corpulent, but his face, though massive, had preserved something of the sharpness of expression which was so remarkable in that of his brother." 
  • There were lots of cameos for lesser known Sherlock original characters in the special too. Apart from obvious ones like Molly and Janine, the boy who helps out Mrs Hudson is the page boy from John's wedding - a reference to Billy the page boy from the canon.  

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