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09 January 2012 @ 01:06 am
Sherlocks to the left of me, Sherlocks to the right ...  
I'd not describe myself as an old-school Holmesian, mostly because I have enjoyed so many Holmeses, starting with the books and moving onto the films with Basil Rathbone and TV series with Jeremy Brett (neither of which are actually true to the books, despite what some people my age and older will tell you). Holmes, Watson and their mysteries are strong enough characters and vibrant enough stories to remain open to endless interpretations without suffering (caveat: I say this as someone who has never watched that one with the chap from Torchwood, which I am informed may actually involve a wee bit of suffering.)

So, despite having a perfectly good post of news and thanks underway, this will instead be a quick though not as brief as it ought to be reaction to this week's Holmesarama.

To begin with, the Ritchie film, A Game of Shadows. And it is naturally cut for spoilers, since it's still rolling its way out around the world (quite new here).

There was a surprising amount to love. Let me start with the thing I loved most, which is the character of Sim.

You might be looking at me askance now. After all, we don't get to learn a lot about her. She's Romani, her brother is missing and in trouble, and Moriarty wants her dead. A cynic might say that she is only there so there can be a female lead once Irene Adler is bumped off. However, she has extremely good reason to tag along on the adventure of the film. Holmes is after her brother, and she is determined to do what she can to find and save him, too. Since Holmes shows himself to be a man of great resource from the moment they meet, it makes perfect sense for her to throw her lot in with him when he asks for her help. As to why she doesn't act alone beforehand, she's a woman without papers in a world that is suspicious of her people. Alone, her options are very limited. With two slightly mad Englishmen, the field opens.

What I loved about her was that she never becomes a love interest. She's not a secret ninja. She's bright, adaptable, capable, a good scrapper in a fight, and exactly as she would be if she was a real person. She's scared and brave, kind and uncertain, and at Holmes's memorial, she is loyal enough to play tribute to a man who did what he could to help her without any romantic overtones. She seems to count him and Watson friends by the end, and is grateful for what help they managed.

I loved all of this, because Arthur Conan Doyle is, on the whole, much better with women than he is given credit for. Despite the now-sometimes dodgy set of Victorian and Edwardian views espoused both by the narrator/Watson and by Holmes, women in his stories are generally credible, moral, believable witnesses and plucky participants in the books. They fill many positions in society and are on the whole quite individuated between stories. As I said to raitala and to treacle_tartlet, it's a sad thing when this is more matter-of-fact in Victorian fiction than in many contemporary books and films. And feminism aside, she is a resourceful and capable character who is a neat addition to the film!

I also loved the friendship between Holmes and Watson. Just as in the books, Holmes sees no reason for Watson to be married and believes it to be an enormous inconvenience. But at the same time, given that his friend loves Mary, this Holmes is going to do what he can to make sure that Watson both gets to the church on time and survives his honeymoon, avec wife. Although Holmes sometimes drives Watson to distraction, Watson knows that he is valued by his friend and that he is often a necessary part of the partnership. Again, this is very canonical and it resonates because it is right. The look on Watson's face as Sherlock takes that step off the railing made me remember again the deep sorrow that the written word conveys at a similar moment.

Guy Ritchie is not my favourite director, and when he made a point of having Watson hand over the wedding ring before gambling, I feared Foreshadowing 101, but he pleasantly surprised me by that scene being exactly what it said it was: Holmes safeguarding the one thing that his friend would not forgive himself for losing. And although Watson was a shambles on their arrival at the church, he was clean and neatly dressed by the time Mary walked him down the aisle. I feel there may be a bit on the cutting room floor in which Holmes spits into a handkerchief and mops up the last of the mess.

The later scene on the train with Watson between Holmes's silk bloomer-clad legs was tremendously silly, and obvious fanservice. I laughed shamelessly. And wondered if I would feel it necessary to carry a costume down to the scanties in the same position, or if I would stick to my normal set. Mr Brammers and I debated whether the gunmen should have stopped for a moment to wonder just what the hell was going on when they burst through the door, or if the fact they weren't startled actually showed their professionalism as assassins. Or that they were very used to crossdressing.

As for the varied assassins and bad guys, they were on the whole cheerfully ept, if nowhere near as good at shooting as they ought to be. I did like Jared Harris's Moriarty, he portrayed a blinkered focus that worked just as well for egocentric academic as for amoral crime boss. His head looked a bit odd for a gentleman of his time and place to my eye, but I read that as a legacy of his earlier boxing days. The curl on his lip when he saw himself finally defeating Holmes was actually quite scary. And the scope of his perfidious plan was suitably awe-inspiring and awful -- he genuinely was an arch-villain, rather than someone who was scheming for 'a million pounds, bwahahahaha!'

Stephen Fry was entirely delightful, and we saw almost the entire Stephen Fry. I had forgotten that very silly late-Victorian Victory Roll for Men hairstyle until he wore it (ON HIS HEAD, people!), and now I shall do my very best to forget it again so that I can look at him without disturbance.

I need to go back and reread the books again, because after a year of regular Agatha Christies I have forgotten the details of Mary Mottram's first appearance in the ACD canon. But I remember thinking that the first film had wasted a good character introduction by not using her original story. That said, both films have been faithful to the idea that she was clever, reliable and a good match for Watson as a person, rather than just a pretty wife. I liked the fact that she did things in the background, and that she was seen by Holmes (both Holmeses) as being perfectly up to whatever task she was handed. I liked that Watson took this for granted, too. You can be capable in a bustle and corset, it just takes a little longer getting dressed of a morning.

On a more pedantic note, I liked the fact that Ritchie made a stab at some sense of historical realism amid all the postmodern edits and metawhatsies. The dirty cities were again a delight. Years before the Clean Air Act facades were soot-streaked and streets were nasty. Interestingly, there is a neat historical note in the ballroom scene where Holmes takes a turn with Watson and there is minimal response from the onlookers. The film is set in 1891, and if you read letters and books from most of the Victorian era, there is an easy non-sexual romance to the friendships of many men, where one could walk arm in arm quite freely, or even take a turn around the dance floor and have it clearly assumed to be just a jolly little jape, not a declaration of Revolutionary Brotherhood. Or, given it's an international gathering, they could be Greek, or Italian, where it would be culturally appropriate, if the wrong dance. It's at the very end of the time for that to be 'allowable' conduct for a good 80 years – Stephen Fry on QI attributed the change in attitude to the Oscar Wilde trial, but it was also a response to the ending of the aesthetic movement and the start of a more military century. All that aside, it's right, and nicely done! Perhaps Fry had a word with Ritchie?

Everything I didn't like came down to the script. 

There was a plot lurking inside that film, but as Mr Brammers said when we were walking home, 'If it calls itself Sherlock Holmes, I expect there to be some deducing and a mystery!' In fact, the biggest Game of Shadows in the film was the story line. One saw glimpses of it, and could rebuild it later from the traces that remained, but as the film happened, it was sacrificed again and again for spectacle. Although Ritchie has a point when he says that the physicality of the books has been largely drowned in intellectual posturing in later interpretations, the truth of the matter is that BOTH exist in the source material. Chapters of careful reasoning are interspersed with ones of racing through London or chasing shooters across moors. The first Ritchie Holmes film managed this balance better, and the BBC series has managed it better still, allowing for a lot of action and movement while at the same time keeping a complex story going.

Ritchie's insistence on telescoping his action scenes did not help here (and if he must do that, do they really need to be shown in full immediately afterwards every time?) Though this was used nicely in the climax, if I am being fair. But at other points, his directorial tricks took on the air of a singer who uses flourishes and big hair and tight skirts to disguise the fact they are rampantly autotuned, and I am afraid that there was no real disguise possible for this reedy script.

Which is a shame, because in the hands of a more competent writer, the rather fine cast and set design and occasionally surprisingly effective direction would have soared. As it was, I did not count it as time poorly spent, but just kept wishing that it could have been that little bit more that you can see lurking within what is.

Which leads me to Season 2 of BBC Sherlock.

This occupies a strange place in my mental roll of Sherlock adaptations. It's wavering on an edge and may very well end up being filed under 'good professional fanfic', rather than under 'actual adaptation'. The reasons for this are mostly the insistence on quite a lot of clever clever (The Speckled Blonde. Really, Moffatt? Really?) and the fact that I am not yet sure whether the stories will end up being Holmes stories, or investigation of the Holmes canon stories. Both make for perfectly fine and enjoyable television, but the latter is a job for fanfic (NB quite a few films, books and TV shows are basically fanfiction of source material, it's in no way a pejorative term to my mind, just different to the purpose of an adaptation.)

Again, there were things I loved, and things that made me go ARGH!

To begin with the love. Moffatt and Gatiss clearly have a deep affection for the canon material and reference it in a lot of nice little ways. John's migrating wound in the first episode had me laughing out loud as a perfect example of this, and the inconsistencies of Sherlock being represented as someone entirely exasperating and as someone who has a group of loyal friends who care for him despite himself are very Conan Doyle. There need to be more Irregulars for me to be truly happy, but since they randomly appear and disappear in canon, I'll cope.

Moving on, MRS HUDSON! Una Stubbs is a very fine character actress and in making her a more active collaborator rather than just the longsuffering housekeeper who can be relied on, the show has cleverly extended the focus of life at Baker Street as well as giving opportunities for the Holmes/Watson dynamic to be less insular and more something like that of the later books, where Holmes is part of a family of sorts – all of whom treat him like the rather odd cousin who needs to be explained but is much loved, really. Sherlock's response to her being abused, first by Mycroft's rudeness and later by the Americans was dramatically satisfying because Mrs Hudson is a colleague, not just a damsel who needs protecting. And her confidence that he will come through for her was gratifying.

Again, the Holmes/Watson relationship was enjoyable. Gatiss and Moffat emphasise the teasing and domestic side of their relationship over than the physical excitement of the film's interpretation. The ACD stories do contain a lot of comedy, sometimes Watson scoring points at Holmes's expense, which both Martin Freeman and Jude Law do very well (as an aside, Mr B is firmly of the opinion that Gladstone the dog should have a major credit in the Ritchie films), so this all worked for me. In some of their cases, Holmes and Watson think the whole situation is ridiculous and possibly beneath their dignity, so the bit in the Palace made me smile (it would have been a different story if HM had been there, and almost worth seeing Holmes trying to explain why he thought it hilarious to appear in a bed sheet. And if the camera had followed HM out of the room afterwards and had her moving swiftly to a private place where she stopped for a quick laugh, I would have been very happy indeed.)

The look of the BBC series is splendid, and I genuinely like their tricks of superimposed text and split scenes, both of which help in the story-telling as well as providing a medium for extra jokes, layers and data.

And if we were talking about the first or third episodes of the first series, I would have a lot more to add to this list of loves. But it seems that I am doomed to find every second episode of this series disappointing. So let's move onto the Argh list.

To start with, WHY IS EVERYONE SUDDENLY DUMB???? Of COURSE the password was SHER, what other possible reason was there for the way that phone screen was set up? (Obviously, if there had been five spaces rather than four, it would have been COCKB, but since it was four, we were fine.)

Irene travels the world with her phone that contains explosives. Now I might believe that she could get through LAX, and possibly a couple of Italian airports, but Kennedy and Heathrow? Otto Lilienthal? I think not.

As to Irene herself, she was a damsel! Boo hiss! The original and still the best Irene Adler never was. She was described as an adventuress by her ex-lover, but she was also an opera singer with an international career, one built on her own skill and determination. Yes she held onto a spot of blackmail material to guarantee her safety when it came to the King of Bohemia's retribution, but it was only held onto as security, not as a weapon of extortion, unlike this Irene. And she BEAT Holmes, utterly unlike this Irene. There were things I liked about this version, her beauty and wit were charming, but charm never counts for as much as power, and the 2011 version had less than the 1888 version.

And as for Mycroft's acceptance that he is beaten near the end? I call bullshit. This is a man happy to fill a plane with corpses. He would throw Irene into a cell and find out the information he needs another way, rather than leave her cashed up and working with a known enemy.

The whole episode was filled with dumb bits like this, including Irene's fingernails, which, as vaysh described at length, are not the nails of a sexually active lesbian. It's as though they spent so much effort being clever clever, they forgot that the show was meant to be intelligent.

OH! And I was really miffed that Moriarty just walked away in the first scene! I had all sorts of hopes for resolutions involving explosions and the shielding properties of pools and water, and ... meh.

Obviously I will be watching this week's episode despite my complaints. The cast make up for stupid writing, but again, I really wish they didn't have to!

Now to try and catch up on that personal post. Apologies in advance if it takes a day or two, this took a day and a half more than it was meant to as I have injured myself in a mild and deeply silly fashion that makes typing a bit painful. The embarrassing tale will form a part of that post, do feel free to make mock when you hear it.
κάτι τρέχει στα γύφτικα: rosnguil_confuseyou_inbetween_ on January 8th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
My brain seems to malfunction again. What Holmes with which guy from Torchwood?
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC)
This one: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1522835/ but for the love of tiny bunnies, don't go there!
κάτι τρέχει στα γύφτικα_inbetween_ on January 8th, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
You link, I go! Hah, that is one I didn't watch. Sadly the one with your Rich Rox was also pretty shite, but at least the actors where <333
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
Haven't seen that one, either, though he is always nice to look at ;-)
Dedicated Escape Artist: Coffee Timejadzialove on January 8th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
I saw a part of this by accident, and you're not joking. It was on TV and I stopped, because it was Sherlock Holmes, and stayed for a moment because I couldn't believe how bad it was, then I shook myself out of my dumbfounded stupor and changed the channel immediately.
Vaysh Swiftstormvaysh on January 8th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
I totally adored the entire Mrs. Hudson episode. I may have squeed when she took the phone out from under her blouse. :)

... and the 2011 version had less than the 1888 version.
*nods emphatically*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
Yes! She was marvellous! (And I quite like her outfits, on a shallower note ...)

I laughed so much at your post, but have done my neck and shoulders a damage, so this is my first chance to type it :-)
(Deleted comment)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, GOOD analogy! Yeah, I was saddened by the fact that she was mostly wasted, because she has such potential. I thought it very strange that Moffatt wasted her to just rabbit on about sex for a bit, but then, he does seem to Have Issues in his scripts.
(Deleted comment)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
YES! AND she could have swanned about in silk breeches ;-)

They will be fine in a few days, it's just muscle damage. Stretches, Voltaren and muscle salts in the bath are doing the trick!
Vaysh Swiftstorm: Holmes/Watson canonvaysh on January 8th, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
At least lesbian mezzo sopranos are a recognisable cliche.
Yes. Yes. Yes!
Shivshiv5468 on January 8th, 2012 03:07 pm (UTC)
I agree so much about Irene.

I've been enjoying rewatching the Brett Holmes whilst building book cases and seeing who made what choices where about portrayals.

I hated Sherlock last series but I think the writing is improved this time. But its intermittent flashes of brilliance are undermined by these occasions of fail like Irene.

It is like fanfic, and every once in a while they just keep saying gotten. I wish I liked it more
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 8th, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
I have to buy the Brett Holmes so that I can watch it all again. He was the actor who came closest to conveying the complexity of the character, though the overall episodes were a little lacking in energy for me, thanks to directorial choices.

And yes, I WANT to like it, and there are parts of it that I do like very much. But the writing is a real curate's egg. Still, it's an odd-numbered episode this week, and I have liked all of them more!

How go the bookshelves, BTW? Expedits are a right bugger to manage as a one-woman job!
Shivshiv5468 on January 8th, 2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about lacking in energy because I did think the Adler episode - the first one I started watching - was a bit slow to start, and then I got caught up in the rhythm of them again, and of course the subtleties of Brett's portrayal.

They're up. A friend came round and helped me erect it, and now they're waiting to be sullied with boxes of Stuffs.
silent hallucinationalex_s9 on January 8th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC)
@as an aside, Mr B is firmly of the opinion that Gladstone the dog should have a major credit in the Ritchie films

Oh, but he was played by three different people, if ending credits are to be believed. :>
snottygrrl on January 8th, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
your thoughts re: game of shadows? yes. absolutely, yes. ::nods::
snottygrrl on January 28th, 2012 10:24 pm (UTC)
also, hope your bday is going absolutely smashing!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 29th, 2012 12:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you, darling! I am still consumed with guilt for missing yours, especially since I had A Cunning Plan, which went to poo. Expect strangeness in the post at a random time! XXX
acromantularacromantular on January 9th, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
I had a fabulous time watching both, though am glad to have watched the Ritchie film first as it's nowhere near as good as BBC.

Downey chews scenery in fine style, and so long as one enjoys a bit of slapstick and doesn't expect anything like a proper Holmes. Moriarty was much more of a Bond-style villain in this adaptation; all he needed was a complicated secret lair.

BBC Sherlock is far more convincing to me in terms of characterizations. All four episodes have been excellent, barring some annoying bits. (Orientalism, really?) Agree with you totally on this version of Irene. Made for a fun story, but she's not a patch on the REAL Irene - I'd have expected better than backsliding after 120 years. But others have ranted sufficiently on this topic.

I was mostly annoyed by the deus ex machina ending - really, nobody would have noticed that Sherlock popped off to Pakistan for a few days? I imagine Mycroft has his passport flagged, at a minimum (yes of course he was disguised and traveling under someone else's papers, but still) and that Watson would have something to say about mysterious disappearances. Not to mention the way Sherlock can just hop into the inner circle of a terrorist cell with no warning. Yeeeees.

And Moriarty walking off felt an awful lot like a Mr. Burns "I'm having one of my trademark changes of heart!" cop out plot twists. Maybe they'd already spent their explosion budget, or were saving it for the end of S2? One can hope.
jolinar_rosha: holmes and addlerjolinar_rosha on January 9th, 2012 11:25 am (UTC)
I only read the part about the film I'm afraid, because I've yet to get my hands on the BBC one (mostly because I can't handle two different interpretations of characters on the media at the same time, and right now I exist for Ritchie's Holmes :P).But I've got to say, I agree with pretty much everything you've said (plus I didn't know that bit about the dancing scene, I was expecting people to react, considering what I've been led to expect from that era). My only complaint with the film was that there were too-many shoot-outs and explosions.
Don't get me wrong, I *love* action, but this being Holmes, I expected there to be more detective work in there as well. As you say, the first film managed that better.

I'd never even attempted to read any of the Holmes books, because my impression of the character had always been that he was... well... stuffy and boring. I started on them after seeing the first film - and though, perhaps, the film has more overt action, I was very surprised to see that there *is* action in the books, and plenty of it (especially in A Study in Scarlet - that scene on the river...! It had me on the edge of my seat!). Because people were complaining that the first film had *nothing* to do with the books, and after I read a couple - I'm still working my way through them - I was like 'what the hell are they talking about? The film is just much more overt with it!'
Glad to see others agree with me. :) :)
Hot Wheels Hannahhmufson on January 9th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
I just watched the first Ritchie film (yeah, yeah, I haven't left the house since my child was born, mock all you want) and was a little disappointed. True, it's been 25 years since I read the originals, but I remember a lot more intellectual work (but perhaps I'm conflating Holmes with Poirot) and a lot less running around and blowing stuff up. But what most irked me was the Scooby Doo ending - oh, look! Let's get everyone together and do an expository scene! Yay! Blargh.

On the other hand, bear in mind that this is being written by someone who was taken in by the ending of a Kung Fu Panda - Legends of Awesomeness cartoon (oh! It was a TRICK knife!), so that should probably inform how seriously you want to take it.
spirillen: Tim Minchinspirillen on January 9th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
I saw Sherlock Holmes as the film I had originally intended to see wasn't on and coming without any expectations I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, it's not a film I'll give many thoughts once it was was over but I did find it hugely entertaining. I loved the visuals and didn't mind the slow-motion too much. The running through the forest bit did go on for far too long but then that just seems to be endemic of movies today - I always get bored during the final climax. I might actually to and read the books now - I've only ever read the Mary Russell books (Laurie King made up a wife for an ageing Sherlock?), no idea how the compare against the original.
nahimana: sherlock - opinionsemerald_dragon8 on January 14th, 2012 07:53 am (UTC)
Okay, I think I completely agree with almost everything here - particularly your analysis of Irene in Sherlock. I so wanted to love that episode - and there was much to love. But my problem with it was sheer disappointment in such a massive waste of potential. I had hoped - so dearly hoped that with Gatiss and Moffat being such massive fanboys, and the modern setting of the show, that I would finally get an Irene that lived up to ACD's - the only one I have actually liked. So upsetting to have her so weak!

I also felt the first scene was very "meh" - I thought fandom managed to come up with some endings that would have suited the show better!

I much preferred Hounds of Baskerville, though it had some stupid plot holes in it too - I swear, does anyone read these properly before they shoot them? I don't understand, sometimes. They try far too hard to be clever and lose the realism (which is particularly noticeable in a modern setting).

Ritchie's was what I expected, basically, except for the added bonus of Sim - I adored her! I definitely didn't think I would, but oh, she was fantastic!

...apologies for the massive comment, in the lead up to episode 3 of Sherlock I have a lot of thoughts, none of them coherent...