Although I, uh, obtained the first episode of Sherlock ("A Study in Pink") on Tuesday, I decided to save it for a treat and watch it tonight. Well, it was definitely worth the wait! It was delicious! It was sublime! I loved it, loved it, LOVED it!
For years, I've been wanting to see a decent adaptation of A Study in Scarlet. Okay, this obviously isn't it an adaptation of A Study in Scarlet, but it may be the closest thing I'm going to get. This first episode of Sherlock contained so many wonderful elements from the first Holmes novel. Watson arrives in London after having returned from Afghanistan. He's still recovering after being injured and finds he's having trouble making ends meet. As in A Study in Scarlet, Watson bumps into Stamford, though their reunion occurs in a park rather than the Criterion Bar. However, the famous introduction still takes place at Bart's. Holmes even appears to be conducting an experiment involving haemoglobin when Watson and Stamford enter the lab. [And before that he was testing to see the extent to which a body could be bruised after death, which is something Stamford refers to in A Study in Scarlet when he's describing some of Holmes's stranger habits to Watson.] Holmes doesn't utter the line: "You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive." But he does say, "Afghanistan or Iraq?" There's even the reference to Watson's brother being an alcoholic, though Holmes gains his information from a mobile rather than a pocket watch. We also learn later on that he isn't 100% correct about his deductions regarding Watson's brother. *g*
There were a number of other references to A Study in Scarlet, some of which I've no doubt missed or have forgotten. A few were fairly subtle, such as the use of "Lauriston Gardens". One of my absolute favourite references is the scene in which they find the word "Rache". Holmes's brain provides the information that "rache" is the German word for "revenge," but then he immediately dismisses the idea and points out that the murder victim was writing the name "Rachel". I thought this was a delightful twist on the novel, given that Lestrade suggests the name "Rachel" in A Study in Scarlet, but Holmes deduces that the murderer had written the German word for "revenge".
One of the strengths of this production is the incredible dialogue. Many of the lines just sparkle, they're so intensely smart and funny. I found myself laughing out loud at least a few times. One such instance was when Holmes was telling Watson that Mrs. Hudson was letting them have the rooms at a really good rate because she owed him a favour. He then goes on to explain that Mr. Hudson was facing the death penalty in Florida. When Watson naturally assumes that Holmes got Mr. Hudson off, Holmes says that he got Mr. Hudson executed.
There may be people who disagree with me, but I think the characters of Sherlock and John were spot on, especially in a contemporary context. Holmes is just as brilliant, infuriating and misunderstood as ever. Benedict Cumberbatch holds nothing back and just totally goes for it, which is wonderful. I love the way that bitch, Donovan, calls him "Freak," while Lestrade tells Watson that he's a "great man" and, one day, might even become a "good man". I thought it was hilarious that Holmes practically became gleeful at the thought of a serial killer on the loose and that his uncanny abilities have made him the prime suspect in more than one murder investigation. With Watson, you get another interesting twist on the original novel. It would seem that he doesn't suffer because of what happened to him in Afghanistan: he suffers because he's no longer in Afghanistan. As Mycroft observes, his hand doesn't tremble when he's stressed but when he's bored and inactive. Of course, in canon, Watson actually does seem to thrive on the excitement he derives from Holmes's cases. We can see this in Martin Freeman's performance. Also present are many of the characteristics that seem to define Watson, such as loyalty, kindness, intelligence, and courage.
The mystery itself bears little resemblance to A Study in Scarlet. In fact, as a friend of mine argued, it might be one of the weaker aspects of this film. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed following it. This may be due in part to Philip Davis, who made a rather creepy psychopath, in my opinion. And I'm not just saying that because he played King John in Robin of Sherwood. And, speaking of villains, it was kind of thrilling seeing Holmes go dark side and basically torture the cabbie psychopath until he gave him the name of the man who hired him. Of course, the criminal mastermind's identity wasn't a huge surprise, but the reveal was still satisfying, especially when Holmes mouthed the name to himself, as if he wanted to taste it. What was a pleasant surprise was Mycroft, as portrayed by Mark Gatiss. When he first appears, we're meant to assume it's Moriarty. However, I also wondered if he could be Mycroft. I ended up dismissing the idea when the man tells Watson that he's Holmes's arch enemy. However, when he showed up again at the end, I knew he had to be Mycroft, especially when Holmes had this long-suffering look on his face as soon as he spotted him.
Although Sherlock Holmes has been thrown into 21st century London, the formula still works. There are still criminals in the city, the police can still run into dead ends even with modern day forensics, and a mystery is still a mystery no matter what era you're dealing with. Most importantly, Moffat and Gatiss have managed to tap into the true spirit of a good Sherlock Holmes story. There's adventure, baffling puzzles, touches of humour and pathos, and characters that are genuinely interesting and engaging.