Well, it had to come up sooner or later. You cannot discuss fantastical takes on the victorian era without sooner or later bring up the most recognized character in literature of ANY era.
However, i wish to concentrate on great contemporary versions of the character. Sherlock Holmes is particularly impressive because he continues to be successfully interpreted over a century after his appearance. Tarzan, for instance, another old and well known character (who we’ll also get to) continues to be in the public consciousness, but doesn’t really have any great contemporary versions to make him exciting and fresh. (A disney movie and Broadway show based on said Disney movie BARELY count. And they’ve gutted the character of interest.)
Sherlock Holmes however is consistently interpreted well and a very recent version of him is extremely notable.
The BBC series Sherlock. Personally, i flat-out love it. REALLY love it. It gets everything exactly right.
It’s take on the detective is to place him and Watson squarely in modern day London. A completely contemporary update. This idea in itself is neither good nor bad. The victorian setting of the stories are an enormous part of the draw, but there’s nothing wrong with dropping that if you can pull it off. So how do they pull it off? What is so right?
Two things. THE two things that are the main appeal of Sherlock Holmes stories.
1. We want to see Sherlock be really, really brilliant. We want to see him walk into a room and come up with jaw dropping explanations of what’s going on by glancing at the tiny mundane details. Steve Moffat (also the man behind the current and AWESOME incarnation of Dr. Who) and the writers know this and they deliver this aplenty with a loving bow wrapped around it.
2. Sherlock Holmes is eccentric. Abnormal. Not quite right. Naturally, this has allowed actors across the years a great deal of luxury with the character, which is a large part of his staying power. Many older version however do not capitalize on this and play Sherlock very straight. Which is a wasted opportunity.
The BBC series chooses to focus on his inherent abnormality by making him almost creepy. A little on the sociopathic side. Pure logic at the cost of human emotive abilities. It’s a very interesting take and they pull if off wonderfully. Because of this Sherlock NEEDS Watson. Watson is not simply a hanger-on, he is the link to the empathic side of humanity that Sherlock desperately needs.
It is very reminiscent of another great Sherlock Holmes incarnation, which is Dr. House. Say what you will, Dr. House IS Sherlock Holmes, set in America, and as a Doctor. Even down to his musical hobby he is an exact take on Holmes, so much so that i am convinced it is not coincidence. (Holmes and Watson, House and Wilson?)
In addition, the recent Hollywood movie with Robert Downey Jr, directed by Guy Ritchie (for Gd sakes, you cannot make a real Sherlock Holmes story without a Brit in charge) is actually quite good and a few more films in the series would be very pleasurable. It’s a very unclassic take on the character, very action oriented and being sure to make Sherlock into a fighting badass, but it does so well, and uses his mental powers to justify it neatly. It was not a perfect film, but hell, i’d sit through a few more sequels.
One pet peeve. Moriarty. It is this unspoken rule, every version has to bring Moriarty in. Holmes’ great nemesis. Except he wasn’t. Now with all this talk of how updating and interpreting the character is a wonderful thing, clearly, despite that fact that i do adore the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories (and yes, i’ve read them all) i’m all for going off book whenever necessary to keep a character fresh and creative. Allow me to now be a hypocrite.
Moriarty was NEVER a particular presence in the stories. He was in one story. Period. And he was invented in order to kill off Sherlock Holmes because Sir Doyle was insanely tired of writing Sherlock Holmes stories. (Didn’t work. A few years later, after incredible popular demand Doyle started up again) Now it makes sense that one would grab on to Moriarty and run with him, but when EVERYBODY does, you could actually just leave him alone.
With that said, it’s not a dealbreaker for me. It’s just… predictable.