Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Dumbfounded Detective

Contain SPOILERS for the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but not too bad for the full script!


“If my little creation of Sherlock Holmes has survived longer than it deserved, than I consider it’s very largely due to those gentlemen who have associated themselves with him.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  

When Robert Stephens asked Billy Wilder how he would like him to play Sherlock Holmes in Wilder’s brilliant screen rendering of the world’s greatest consulting detective, Wilder replied that he should play it as if he was playing Hamlet. For Billy Wilder, and as it happens for me too, the Sherlock Holmes stories are as significant and as precious as the works of William Shakespeare. 

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes brings new adventures to the screen, previously unpublished for reasons of delicacies and reputation keeping, discovered in Dr Watson’s safe in Cox & Co, and just as the title of the film promises, the new stories introduce a different Sherlock Holmes, a private Sherlock Holmes, away from Strand reading public.

Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond, the original script was composed of four such private stories and was set to be a three and a half hours film. It was suppose to be Billy Wilder’s grand epic and Robert Stephens’ big break into the big screen. But while all the material was shot, United Artists, who suffered quite a few failures with big epics the year before, decided to cut the film into two stories making it a 125 minutes film. Sadly Wilder was busy with another project and had left the film in the hands of Editor Ernest Walter, and since the butchered film didn't do very well and didn’t bring Stephens the coveted screen success, he too has lost interest in the film.

However, even with only two beautiful stories The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is not only an outstanding pinnacle of Sherlock Holmes screen adaptations, it is also a classic in its own right. It is such a sad and beautiful film that sometimes, as Mark Gatiss pointed out in his Screen Epiphany at the BFI, it is easy to forget how incredibly funny it is.

Wilder has passed on Peter O’Toole and Peter Sellers for the roles of Sherlock and Watson, in favour of the lesser known Robert Stephens as Sherlock and Colin Blakely as Watson. Stephens is an unusual casting for Sherlock Holmes and his portrayal of the sleuth is quite unlike anyone before or after him. Together Stephens and Wilder shine a light on sides of Sherlock Holmes that exist in the books, but are rarely shown in the screen adaptations. Stephens' Sherlock is a gentleman, with a sense of humour, compelling and indeed private. Whenever I watch The Private Life of Sherlock HolmesI am filled with great hankerings for Robert Stephens, it is a real loss that he hasn’t become the great actor that this film should have made him. Colin Blakely’s Dr Watson is wonderfully enthusiastic, caring and silly but not a buffoon as he was often portrayed in other adaptations. He is almost the perfect Dr Watson. (Martin Freeman’s Watson is in a way the truest to Doyle’s Watson and is still my favourite Watson, but only by a tiny bit more than Colin Blakely’s Watson).

The biggest name in The Private Life is Christopher Lee, who plays Mycroft Holmes. Mark Gatiss has often said that his portrayal of Mycroft in BBC's Sherlock is directly extrapolated from Lee’s Mycroft in The Private Life. Wilder told Christopher Lee, that he wanted his Mycroft to be unlike any character he played before. By then Lee had already played Sir Henry in Peter Cushing’s The Hound of the Baskervilles as well as Sherlock Holmes himself in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, but he was mostly known for his roles as Count Dracula and as the creature in The Curse of Frankenstein. His Mycroft is indeed unique, he is much colder than Sherlock, almost cruel, he is smarter, secretive and possibly dangerous. But then the whole relationship between the Holmes brothers is different. Unlike in the books, here there is rivalry and mistrust between Sherlock and Mycroft, but at the same time it is clear that Mycroft worries and cares for Sherlock and at the end of the day The Private Life’s Sherlock respects Mycroft. It is a beautifully subtle relationship.

It is also suggested in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that Mycroft’s Diogenes Club is in fact the secret service. Since in the books Mycroft is described as practically being the British government and his hand is in everything everywhere, it is not unlikely that the Diogenes Club will be some kind of secret organisation, a no talking policy helps with keeping secrets. 

It is clear that other than Gatiss' portrayal of Mycroft, the sibling's relationship and the idea that Mycroft is a sinister character who control everything in the Sherlock, is influenced by The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

The two stories that made it to the finished film, are stories of romance and sexuality. In the first story, involving a Russian Prima Ballerina who wants Sherlock to father her child, Sherlock's sexuality is in question and remains ambiguous to the end. Stephens walk the line of ambiguity with great flair and class. Wilder has admitted that he regreted not making Sherlock Holmes more obviously gay, but while that would have been quite exciting, I find the ambiguity more appealing, and even with the heterosexual romance of the second story, Sherlock’s sexuality remains wonderfully blurred. Always ahead of his time, intelligent, critical and a cynic, this was not the first time that Billy Wilder has cleverly blurred the lines of relationships between men.

Usually I am not a fan of adaptations that give Sherlock Holmes a love interest, particularly when the love interest is Irene Adler. Not only is it not true and not even within the spirit of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but it seems like the only way to humanise Sherlock Holmes and make him more compelling for the movie going people is to give him a love Interest. This is something I could never understand as there are so many qualities that make the Sherlock Holmes of the books so human, compelling and wonderful, why is it that in adaptations love is the only answer is beyond me. 

That said, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is one of the exceptions. (The other exception is Christopher Columbus and Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes). To begin with in The Private Life the love interest is NOT Irene Adler and so the film does not try to retell and undermine the perfectly wonderful A Scandal in Bohemia story by inventing hidden meanings to it, The Private Life leaves Irene Adler happily married to someone else as she was in the story, and by doing so also remains true to the promise of stories that were never told before. Moreover, the romance is not exactly a romance and yet it is very romantic. It remains in the almost area of romance and it is so beautiful and so sad that despite my instinctive objection, I can’t help but fall in love with it. And finally, The Private Life’s romance, is not an attempt to humanise Sherlock Holmes, it is once again a story about a private Sherlock Holmes, a vulnerable Sherlock Holmes, one who failed and one that takes his drugs in an even more privacy than a film about his private life.

Even in its viciously shortened version, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is and always has been my favourite Sherlock Holmes and one of my all time favourite films. It is astonishing how by inventing completely new stories, with only a minor reference to the Doyle story The Adventure of the Bruce Partington Plan, and with an actor who looks nothing like Sherlock Holmes, Wilder's private Sherlock Holmes is surprisingly loyal to the character Arthur Conan Doyle created. 

Recently I discovered the complete script, my happiness reached a ridiculous levels of joy and silly. It is still inconceivable to me that this treasure is available here, online, just like that, for everyone to read and I did. Hungry for more of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes I devoured every precious word. 

What struck me most when reading, is how incomplete The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes suddenly felt, which made me even sadder than the ending of the film. The two missing stories, The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room, which exists in sound only, and The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners, which exists in visuals without sound, are stories that put the emphasis on the private relationship of Sherlock Holmes and his best friend Dr John Watson and it is sublime! Another wonderful piece of the picture of Sherlock’s private life.

But it isn't only two stories that are missing, but several crucial scenes, like the opening scene in which the Dr Watson comes to Cox & Co to collect what his grandfather THE Watson left for him. It is a scene that conveys Wilder's view that Sherlock Holmes is as important as Shakespeare. The first Sherlock and Watson scene, which exists only in the script felt so true to Sherlock Holmes it is as if Doyle himself imagined it. Even the two stories in the film have been cut short, taking out an all important flashback of Sherlock Holmes in his Oxford days.

As I was reading I kept imagining Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in those missing scene and realised what a crime it was to cut the film and what a complete picture of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes it should have been! 



      

Thursday, 6 March 2014

300 Rise of an Empire - Review





Before watching 300 Rise of an Empire, which by the way I still object to the 300 in the title, being the story of the Athenians battle exactly at the same time, the similar visual style and the similar structure are all enough to associate the film with its predecessor, this 300 attachment gives the impression of desperation of Rise of an Empire to buddy itself with 300, but I digress. I decided to re-watch 300, because when I first watched it I didn’t quite remember whether I liked the film or not, it all became a blur of naked men fighting and Michael Fassbender, who frankly if not going full frontal can remain clothed for all I care, which perhaps distracted me from having an opinion about the film. I rather enjoyed my re-watch of 300 and this time not just because of all the nakedness of men. But it was watching Rise of the Empire that made me really appreciate 300.  

In addition to its jaw-dropping visual triumph of 300, the thing that comes to mind is its brilliant battles, beautifully choreography, brilliantly paced and blood-pumpingly exhilarating and wonderful. The Spartans were famous for being a warriors’ society, in which fighting is in its men and women’s blood. 300 truly celebrates this disturbing and yet quite extraordinary people. The emphasis is not just on the violence of this battle, but also on the tactics of Spartan fighting method, in which unlike any other society I am aware of, there’s not hero and hardly any kind of individual fighting, the Spartan fight as a collective in an awe inspiring unity and with great harmony and flow. Or at least that’s how they fight in Zack Snyder’s film. And so 300 is a spectacle dedicated wonderful fluidity of the Spartan people.  

Independent to its forerunner, 300 Rise of an Empire turns to Athens, where the men have a little bit more clothes and unlike the Spartans, they are thinkers, diplomats and of course democrats. Instead of the almighty Spartan king Leonidas, the Athenians have a more diplomatic leader of battle, Themistokles, played quite unremarkably by new Aussie export Sullivan Stapleton, whose talent sadly is closer to Russell Crowe than to that of Hugh Jackman, in short, not great. And instead of loyal Spartans who follow the king, ready to die for freedom, the Athenians need some convincing and there are discussions and politics and stuff. The story happens in concomitant with the battle of the 300 and tells of the Athenian battle against the Persian naval army commanded by Artemisia, a Greek woman who allied herself with the Persian and was one of the very few if any women that reached a command position in the Persian army.   

With so much fascinating material and the visual talent of Zack Snyder, who wrote and produced, 300 Rise of an Empire should have been a brilliant film, but at the hands of Noam Murro the film sadly becomes average at best and 300 more interesting to write about as you may have noticed.

To be able to get the Athenians to follow him, Themistokles should probably be a great demagogue and an excellent public speaker with at least some charisma, which Stapleton seem to lack, his speeches are boring and unconvincing, why anyone would follow him is beyond me. In comparison 300’s Leonidas, played by Gerrard Butler who doesn’t do it for me but still, with fewer words he wins the crowd and a simple collective “Ahua!” goes further toward sweeping the people than any of Themistokles’ words which left no mark.  

Rodrigo Santoro reprises his role as Xerxes the Persian god-king from 300. Here we get an origin story for Xerxes, after all the Frank Miller comic book the film is based on is called Xerxes and not Themistokles and unfortunately not Artemisia either. Santoro is excellent as the power thirsty god-king and his relationship with Artemisia is especially interesting, but sadly it gets pushed into the background and left unexplored.

However, the crux for me was Artemisia and her relationship with Themistokles, which took precedence, but is less interesting than the relationship with Xerxes mentioned above. The historical Artemisia is a fascinating character and potentially an amazing female character, but Rise of the Empire reduces her to a male cliché of a female warrior. Why is it that strong women in Hollywood are so often sexually driven and mentally unstable? Because all women with sexual drives are mentally unstable or vice versa?  Have we learned nothing from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer? It was especially infuriating that the negotiation scene between Artemisia and Themistokles turns into an aggressive sex session, because mutual appreciation between two adversaries warriors of opposite sexes is always expressed with violent sex, especially when it comes to the “boy loving Athenian” as Leonidas refers to them in 300. It is infuriating because Eva Green is actually very good and unlike Stapleton, oozes charisma, but instead of using her talent to create what could have been a wonderful woman, we’re left with a very disappointing yet sexy warrior. Luckily queen Gorgo, Lena Headey reprising her role and now Leonidas’ widow, brings some respect back to the ladies of the 300 universe, but she is not in the film enough.

When all is said and done the biggest problem of Rise of an Empire is that it is the same film as 300, down to the voice over of queen Gorgo, who like Dilios in the previous film, but a bit more annoyingly, tells the story to inspire the Spartan to join the war right at the end. But just as the Athenians were entirely different people to the Spartan so should the film have been completely different to 300 and not poorly recreate it with a different cast. And so, even the visuallity, which is very good, is not as exciting as that of 300 and Rise of the Empire remains dull and unexciting and it’s sad to see it happening to what could have been a brilliant second part to this Greek saga/trilogy/series, which would have complimented 300.

300 Rise of an Empire opens in UK cinemas on Friday 7, March.         

Monday, 17 February 2014

Mutual Indemnification





What’s in a kiss? You might ask, when it comes to Sheldon Cooper, as much as in a napkin and perhaps a little bit more, my answer will be. Undeniably the kiss between the most non-sexual power couple on television is a game changer, but it is also a brilliant demonstration of how beautiful, romantic, emotional and incredibly exciting subtlety can be, a rare thing on television these days.  
 
Admittedly, when Amy Farrah Fowler, played by the wonderful Mayim Bialik, first joined The Big Bang Theory as the potential love interest of Sheldon Cooper, played by equally wonderful Jim Parsons, I had my doubts about her. Writing a relationship for Sheldon seemed quite out of character and felt like it mostly catered to the mainstream American TV's need to couple its characters, because love is the answer to everything and everyone, even those who don’t particularly want it like Sheldon, must be coupled. Moreover, Amy was too much like a female version of Sheldon, which made this coupling problematic and Amy's character less likeable because there can only be one Sheldon! Resonating the qualms about Amy, the rest of The Big Bang Theory gang were quick to express their dislike of Amy, for which Sheldon reprimanded them and us. The way the Sheldon and Amy's relationship, Shamy (!), developed made it one of the most exciting in the show and quite possibly on television. 

Creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady with their team of writers have decided to take their time with the Shamy, but not in the Ross and Rachel on again off again kinda way that Penny and Leonard went through for four and a half seasons, but more in a way which gives this relationship room to develop and the awkward Amy and Sheldon to grow. In the fourth season, Amy and Sheldon weren’t even officially a couple, theirs was a relationship of the mind. However, already at that point Sheldon feels relatively comfortable around Amy more so than he did around Penny when she became a part of his and Leonard’s lives and there is a brilliant non-sexual, but rare kind of intimacy between them. 

With Amy Sheldon can have the kind of conversations he cannot have with his best friends,  not only does she has the intellectual capacity, but she also enjoys conversations like the Counter Factuals game or later Fun with Flags. Moreover, Sheldon is almost comfortable with a little bit of physicality, he lets her hold his hand when she tries to check if it has the same effect as Penny’s ex Zack had on her, he even remains calm when she kisses him after she gets drunk with the girls, though he does express his disapproval of her change in behaviour, “Really, Amy? Tobacco and alcohol? Need I remind you not a lot of scientific discoveries were made by people having a good time?” “What happened to you?” etc. and the next morning they restore their relationship to when it was working.

Indeed Amy is the one who changes the most in the course of season four following her friendship with Penny and Bernadette and her evolving social life. It starts with her involuntary reaction, “who…” when she first meets Zack and from then on she develops romantic and sexual feelings. Sheldon's change, however, takes longer and it’s not until she decides to go out on a date with Stuart that Sheldon finally asks her to be his girlfriend and in his most romantic gesture devises the Relationship Agreement. 

The lack of sex between Shamy and Sheldon’s difficulty with physical intimacy, is what makes everything that does happen between Shamy, no matter how small, go up to eleven on the emotional scale and reaching the occasional fifteen, Sheldon holding Amy’s hand when Howard goes into space, quoting Spiderman to Amy, from the heart, in their anniversary and one of my personal favourite is from The Cooper/Kripke Inversion episode in season six, when Sheldon reveals to Penny in a rare moment of openness, that there is a chance that at some point, in the far future, he and Amy will do the bad thing (!), Penny’s face at that moment reflected mine and most likely anyone’s who was watching. 

Slowly and with great patience Amy educates Sheldon about being in a relationship and he evolves, in his own pace. their unique intimacy gets stronger and more special and it's a joy to watch. 

The first mutual kiss between Sheldon and Amy, since their Relationship Agreement, came in the recent valentine day episode, The Locomotive Manipulation, in season seven, and took everyone, including Sheldon and Amy by surprise. The kiss comes out of anger, Sheldon accuses Amy, after she gets angry with him for ignoring her the whole day, of tricking him into a romance when she promised a day that both of them would enjoy. In the heat of the moment and with anger, Sheldon plants his lips on hers to a point and suddenly, with one body movement Jim Parsons changed a world.

What’s in this kiss is that by moving closer, for a moment Sheldon turned from a boy to a man, from being chased by Amy to the one taking control and dominating and from the most a-sexual TV character to the sexiest devil that I know Jim Parsons can be and he swept my heart. What happens between Sheldon and Amy next matters less to me, I doubt a sitcom coitus can be as HOT as this kiss, but when it comes to these two I'm not ruling it out. What really matters is that with one prime time television family comedy kiss a whole story is told and subtlety wins! 


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Mr Sherlock Holmes

HERE BE SPOILERS!!!!

An important quality of any adaptation of a book to films or TV is the presence of the original work within it. A truly great adaptation would not only be loyal to the ideas and spirit of the source material, but would take another step and plant the desire to discover or re-discover the work that it is based on. Simply retelling a story or replacing it can deem the book it is based on unnecessary. Of course reading books is never unnecessary in my view, but sadly not everyone think so. As good as an adaptation may be it will always be better if it makes you want to discover the source material. Judging by what I read about Sherlock’s influence as well as my own silly cravings to re-read Sherlock Holmes books every time a series of Sherlock ends, I think Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have already been gloriously triumphant. This is why when I say that Sherlock is an excellent TV series, but if you know the Arthur Conan Doyle books it becomes even better, it is not a fault, it is exactly what makes this adaptation shine and turns it from a good adaptation to a brilliant one. Don’t tell me the story, capture its spirit and inspire me to look for it.

Like the Moriarty arc that accompanied series one and two, series three of Sherlock had its own master criminal that shadowed each film, but series three was quite different from those that preceded it. This time there was another, more subtle, but intrinsic thread running gently through its films which added an extra layer that made each film, or an episode (I prefer to call them films) into three parts of a bigger whole, not just the The Adventure of Charles Augustus Magnussen (The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton is the original Doyle title), but also The Case of Mr Sherlock Holmes.

Things are never simple when it comes to the character of Sherlock Holmes or the character of Dr Watson, not in the canon and not outside it. While Sherlock Holmes is quite different in each story, Dr Watson seemingly stays the same, which some might mistake for stupidity. Watson may be a simpler man and possibly naive, but he is always curious and never stupid. More importantly, since most of the stories are narrated by Dr John Watson, perhaps what really changes is the way Watson sees and understands Sherlock Holmes and that's part of his development.

The first chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the first book Arthur Conan Doyle wrote after but is set before The Final Problem, the story in which Holmes plunges into his death, is called Mr Sherlock Holmes, exactly like the first chapter of A Study in Scarlet, and yet these are very different opening chapters and quite different Sherlock Holmes (or Holmeses, what ever the plural of Sherlock Holmes my be). It is as if Dr Watson reintroduces Sherlock Holmes after living with him and sharing adventures with him for a while, before Mary probably, but it is also as if Arthur Conan Doyle reintroduces Sherlock Holmes after he has been presumed dead for three years.

Similarly and with great dexterity, Gatiss and Moffat develop and reintroduce Sherlock Holmes, and he seems different to the Sherlock Holmes of series one and two. Or perhaps what Moffat and Gatiss actually do is develop and reintroduce the viewers’ viewpoint of Sherlock Holmes and by doing quite beautifully and accurately conveying the changes in Dr Watson introductions of Mr Sherlock Holmes.

And so I write my individual reviews in one article, in an attempt to look at the bigger picture.

The Empty Hearse

Ahhh the Watson ‘tache, I love the Watson ‘tache! Just like canonical Watson would have had and like Arthur Conan Doyle actually had. I do subscribe to the school of thoughts that sees Arthur Conan Doyle in Watson. 

Like always with Moffat and Gatiss, The Empty Hearse is seething with references, recreations and general nods to the canon and outside it, forever propagating it with great ingenuity and love. Amongst my favourites in this film are, of course the deduction game between Sherlock and Mycroft (“Brilliant”, “Elementary” how can I not melt with joy?), which is a recreation of the beginning of The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, “Monkey glands!”, a reference to The Adventure of the Creeping Man, the scene in which Sherlock and Molly work together on a case of a stepfather posing as his stepdaughter’s boyfriend, a reference to A Case of Identity, a story which showcases Sherlock Holmes’ strong sense of justice and chivalry, and while modern day Sherlock’s empathy, holding the stepdaughter’s hand, was probably an act in order to get her to tell the story, his anger at the stepfather was genuine. Finally my favourite nod to the books was the old blind man selling DVDs in Watson’s clinic, who was NOT Sherlock Holmes! A reference to The Empty House, the story of Sherlock Holmes’ return from the dead. Even the DVDs had the same titles as the books Sherlock Holmes was pretending to sell Watson when he came into the clinic disguised as an old man selling books. Glorious! 

For an excellent and thorough list of canonical references in The Empty Hearse check this article. 

Just like in the books Sherlock doesn’t waste time being dead and goes underground to infiltrate secret groups to dissolve Moriarty’s network all over the world. In The Empty House Holmes’ explanation of how he faked his own death, is swift, on the way to another adventure and perhaps quite unconvincing, though like modern day Sherlock’s attempted explanation of the second scenario, it involved a system of Japanese wrestling. However, like I wrote in my review for The ReichenbachFall, the how doesn’t really matter. That said of course I had my own theory and it was a fairly close to Anderson’s theory at the beginning of the episode, minus Darren Brown and Sherlock kissing Molly. 

Funnily enough no one, not even guilt-ridden, obsessive Anderson, has considered asking Molly, Mycroft or the homeless network how Sherlock did it. Maybe because the theories would always be better than reality (“Everyone’s a critic!”), or maybe Watson, Anderson and everyone else don’t really want to know, because the answer might not conform to the image they have of Sherlock Holmes. Then again, like Anderson, I too wonder why Sherlock would give him of all people a possible solution, in a bizarrely placed scene within the episode. Another mystery that will hopefully unfold in the future.

What really matters is that Sherlock is back! Also what matters are Sherlock’s efforts to give Watson an explanation, thirteen scenarios once he got on the roof he says both to Watson and Anderson which personally I would love to try and theorise about, and finally what matters is that Watson doesn’t let him explain and just beats him up! Wonderful!

But the Sherlock that returns is not the same Sherlock. He is a little bit naughty, full of pranks and humour, like he is often in the books, a little bit more emotional, he recruits Molly to replace Watson and work cases with him and is kind to her as a thank you, and so it would seem, he is a little bit more human. Or is he? I was never convinced that Sherlock has actually changed. He learned how to pretend better and behave in public better maybe, but did he really change? Then again I never actually thought he lacked humanity in the past. Recruiting Molly to help is as much for him as it is an act of kindness to her, because Sherlock needs Watson, he is lost without him. Eventually he lets Molly go because, as the excellent skeleton mystery scene in which Sherlock keep hearing Watson’s voice in his head shows, he needs THE Watson, not a replacement.

The changes are in both directions, Watson has someone new in his life, he is about to get engaged to Mary Morstan, the lovely Amanda Abbington, so when the dynamic eventually returns, surely it is going to be different. Furthermore, Watson isn’t easy to forgive and Sherlock must work on his own, or with a Watson replacement, for a short while at least.

Oh yes, there’s a mystery too, London’s terror alert goes up to critical doesn't it? A mystery in the London Underground and quite within the spirit of the Doyle stories, a bomb with an off switch! But when all is said and done, the mystery plot is there to serve the story of Sherlock’s return. He has to trick Watson into a life threatening situation so he can give Watson the heartfelt sincere apology Watson needs from him, and to get Watson, who repeats the emotional original Watson’s elegy from The Final Problem, “you are the best and the wisest man that I have ever known…” and truly forgive him. Mischievous Sherlock!
“You’d have to be an Idiot not to see it, you love it!” says Watson to Sherlock at the end of The Empty Hearse, similar to what Sherlock said earlier to his brother in the deduction game, “Love What?” Sherlock asks. “Being Sherlock Holmes” Watson answers to which Sherlock replies “I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean!”

The 'tache!

The Sign of Three 
Definitely my favourite film of series three and quite possibly my favourite of the whole series. For detailed canonical references in The Sign of Three check this article. 

In the Sherlock Holmes canon there are two stories, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier and The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane, both referenced in The Sign of Three, which are narrated by Sherlock Holmes, who often blames Watson of romanticising the cases and not giving priority to his methods. These two stories are superb demonstrations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s incredible talent. In addition to these stories being completely different in tone, writing style and drama to the Watson narrated stories, and yet completely Sherlockian in nature, when these stories were written, Doyle was a different man (I know I say that a lot about people in this article, but people change nothing I can do about it). Following tragic deaths in his family, Arthur Conan Doyle got deeply involved in spiritualism and practically abandoned the Holmesian way. Not only was he already fed up with Sherlock Holmes after failing to get rid of him once, at this point he no longer saw eye to eye with him. Yet he not only continued writing Sherlock Holmes stories and remained loyal to both Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson’s characters, never forcing his views and opinion on either, he goes on to write two Sherlock Holmes narrated stories. I said that before and I will say it again, that kind of talent and discipline is awe inspiring and something I could only hope for.

In a stroke of genius, through the best man’s speech, The Sign of Three, written by the three Sherlock writers, becomes unique film that stands out, just like the Sherlock Holmes narrated stories were. This story has so many layers that tell several different stories, showing off writing skills and craftiness worthy of Doyle’s, and the result is so beautiful it took my breath away. Centred around the best man’s speech, The Sign of Three skips the wedding’s story of course, this is not a story Sherlock Holmes is likely to tell, and puts Sherlock on the centre stage and make him the storyteller, and amongst other things he tells the story of Watson “the best and bravest man I know and on top of that he actually knows how to do stuff […] I will solve your murder, but it takes John Watson to save your life”.

The story of The Sign of Three is in effect is the story surrounds the best man's speech. In addition to marvellous off screen stories in the best Doyle writing tradition, a combination of canon references, The Blog of DrJohn H Watson references and I think a Basil Rathbone New Adventures reference (that might be a stretch though I had to really look for it), there were two major mysteries turned out to be connected to each other and to the wedding of John and Mary. This film bravely takes a deep breath and steps back to look at the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson from Sherlock’s point of view. There are glimpses of Sherlock and Watson’s lives together before Mary, possibly before Sherlock’s fake death, glimpses of Mary becoming a part of both their lives and the preparations for the wedding and of course a look at drunk Sherlock and drunk Watson. Hurrah!

For the first time Sherlock is the storyteller and so for the first time we get an inside look into his mind palace. The mind palace is Gatiss’ re-imagining Sherlock’s description of the mind in A Study in Scarlet, as an attic where there’s only so much you can store before certain things get pushed out, which explains why Sherlock can be ignorant about things like the earth revolving around the sun and the current England monarch. Inside Sherlock’s mind palace we witness the process of elimination, an investigation and thought process and finally brain storming that leads to a conclusion. It is shown in this film for the first time because we finally get to see what Sherlock sees. A beautiful insight to the working of this brilliant mind, the thing that fascinates Doyle’s Watson the most and the reason why he never stops asking Sherlock to explain his methods.

Of course a story which Sherlock Holmes tells is going to be completely different in nature than all the stories before it, as was Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing in those stories, and it happens on the day after which everything, as Mrs Hudson say, is yet again going change completely, and while on TV John promises nothing will change and they will still be doing all this, in the books everything did change and Watson did not see Sherlock as much as he used to and lost track of his cases. One of the many reasons I loved Mary’s character development is that because of it she becomes an integral part of the series. She has a character arc and a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes, therefore it is easier to believe that Sherlock and Watson will continue solving crimes together, with the help of Mary. I will discuss Mary in more depth in my review of His Last Vow.

When the mystery is solved, the crisis is dealt with and after Sherlock’s love of dancing is revealed (I too live in hope a case would come that requires his dancing skills!) it is time for Sherlock to make his first and last vow, a vow he will keep in the next episode. When he finished his vow and made one final deduction, one more than he was expecting, his story comes to an end, and with a tribute to the farewell of the Jo Grant from the third Doctor, in the Classic Doctor Who series and painfully reflecting Mrs Hudson’s story at the beginning of the film, Sherlock leaves the party early. This is no longer his story to tell.


His Last Vow 

WIGGINS! HUZZAH FOR BILLY WIGGINS! Sorry, over excitement for it is the little things the delight me, like the combination of names, Billy the canonical page boy of Sherlock and Watson and Wiggins head of the Baker Street Irregular, to create Bill Wiggins (Tom Brook) the intelligent junkie. Nerdgazm! For a detailed canonical references of His Last Vow check out this very good article.

Although, like all other Sherlock films, His Last Vow is jam-packed with references from many stories, the main plot of this film is based on one story in particular, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, “the king of blackmailers”, who evokes a strangely strong hatred in Sherlock Holmes. Like in the episode, Sherlock Holmes woos and gets engaged to Milverton housemaid in order to get information about him. ORIGINAL STORY SPOILER ALERT – Milverton is shot by a woman who he blackmailed and whose husband died as a result, and Sherlock Holmes stops Watson from interfering with and lets the woman kill Milverton. Furthermore, when Lastrade asks Sherlock to help in investigating who murdered Milverton, Sherlock refuses, saying his heart is with the criminals in this case.

Modern day Milverton, here called Charles Augustus Magnussen, an excellent performance from Lars Mikkelsen, is a menacing Rupert Murdoch type, who is so revolting that I was almost happy that a scene of him swimming in a speedos was cut from the aired episode, though I would have loved to see Watson and Sherlock’s expressions at that. Sherlock’s war against Magnussen turns personal when he realises he can hurt Mary, but what’s really frightening about Charles Augustus Magnussen is that he uses Sherlock’s methods for evil, thus resonating Doyle’s Watson’s observation in The Sign of Four that had Holmes not been working on the side of justice he would have made a great criminal.

This is the story that reveals Mary’s secret or some of it, and why Sherlock deduced she is a liar is revealed. The original Mary Morstan first appears in The Sign of Four, when she asks Sherlock to help her with a case. It is in this story that Watson falls in love with her and at the end of the story they get engage. Mary is a wonderful character, smart, assertive and confident. Alas, being Victorian and also probably because of Doyle’s notorious lack of continuity, Mary quickly disappears and rarely pops up and when she does it is mainly as an enabler to Watson’s adventures seeking. The Victorian Watsons never had children and Mary eventually dies in unclear circumstances. Fortunately, modern day Mary Morstan has a lot more to offer and apart from having her own story, she is smart enough to get to Magnussen before Sherlock, she surgically shoots him, which leads to an excellent mind palace scene and shows how Sherlock’s methods can save his life, then Mary saves his life (“mixed messages”, a bit like River in Doctor Who), but in the end Mary remains Watson’s wife and a part of the team.  The decision to bring Mary in during the the "Great Hiatus" and have Watson and her relationship already established, making Sherlock the "new comer" also helps the new dynamic.

Mycroft also has a delightfully different presence in His Last Vow and the abundantly talented Mark Gatiss is particularly magnificent as Mycroft in this story. In a moment of weakness Mycroft says so sincerely “also, your loss will break my heart” and reveals the soft spot, we always knew existed, he has for Sherlock. While Moffat and Gatiss deny a conscious Bond reference in The Empty Hearse, when Sherlock overlooks London, they insist that “blunt instrument” as Mycroft’s colleague says, is a deliberate Bond (Casino Royale) reference and this mysterious colleague Mycroft mentions is clearly M! Also in this scene Mycroft mentions another brother, could he be referring to Sigerson Holmes, Gene Wilder, in Wilder’s film The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother? The silly joy this possible reference give me is difficult to explain.   

Getting back to the thread of Sherlock Holmes’ character development/reintroduction, here, after allegedly being built as more human, Sherlock once again has no problem using Janine to get information about Magnussen and even propose just so she would let him in to his office. That Janine gets back at Sherlock (Sherl!) by going to the tabloids, doesn’t make the morality of his actions any less problematic. When Sherlock and Watson get into Magnussen’s office and see Janine of the floor Sherlock says “did she faint? Do they really do that?” he goes on to dismiss the security guard who’s lying face down on the floor, “ex-con, white supremacist by the tattoo so who cares”. He drugs his family and friend, getting a junkie (WIGGINS!) to mix the drugs and monitor them, and finally when he realises all the incriminating data Magnussen has is stored in his mind palace there's no other way, he shoots him in cold blood and without hesitation. Did Moffat and Gatiss build Sherlock’s humanity only to destroy it in the last episode? I don’t think so. Sherlock passionately despises Magnussen, “because he attacks people who are different and then preys on their secrets” he tells Mycroft and he is genuinely upset about it. Killing Magnussen was not only a way to rid the world of such terrible evil, but it was also the only way for Sherlock to keep his vow to protect Mary and John and he’s willing to take the punishment that comes with slaying that particular dragon.

Finally, to answer Moriarty’s question, yes, I totally missed you! And I always want to see Andrew Scott on television, but I’m also a little bit scared, which I guess one should be with Moriarty.


Another glorious series of Sherlock, truly the best thing on television any day, has been and gone and once again I am left with the desire to go back and re-read and re-discover Sherlock Holmes. Just for a moment it seems Gatiss and Moffat have built a different Sherlock Holmes, but in the end they just painted another picture of the same Mr Sherlock Holmes.