Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Sherlock: The Empty Hearse: BBC One TV review

Sherlock returned tonight with The Empty Hearse, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were in fine form, consolidating their joint reputation as one of the best, (and, many would argue, the very best), Holmes-Watson duos we have seen..The very title of this episode, The Empty Hearse, is a nice example of the wit that abounds in this series - in the canon, Holmes returns from the dead in a story called "The Empty House".

We were offered multiple solutions for Sherlock's escape from death - the kind of trickery that Anthony Berkeley, rather than Arthur Conan Doyle, delighted in. There was also, almost as a throwaway, an "impossible mystery" - how can a man disappear while travelling on a journey between two Tube stations? The ingenuity and playfulness of this episode were absolutely delightful. Mark Gatiss not only wrote the excellent script, but did his usual imperious job as Mycroft Holmes. All told, it made for a striking example of how detective fiction, old and new, can be both entertaining and enthralling when done well.

One of the highlights of the Crimefest week-end last May was a fascinating on-stage conversation led by Nev Fountain, with the creators of Sherlock, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and producer Sue Vertue. I've mentioned my admiration for Gatiss more than once on this blog, and what struck me about the conversation as a whole was the respect that Gatiss and his colleagues showed for Arthur Conan Doyle's creation.

I do not believe that Sherlock would have been half as successful if it had been written by people who did not have a genuine affection for the character and the stories. Despite updating the basic premise to the 21st century, they have stayed true, by and large, to the spirit of the originals, and when I met members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in the autumn, it was clear that they approve of the show. Rightly so, because if you are going to reinvent fiction's greatest character, this is the way to do it.

7 comments:

lyn said...

I agree. This new Sherlock is truer to the spirit of the original than some of the period versions. I can't wait to see this new series. I've ordered the DVD as I don't know when it will be shown here in Australia. Thank you for your enticing but spoiler-free review!

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Martin. The love and affection for the original is so evident, I just cannot understand how some people can be at all negative about it. It is a joy to watch for so many qualities - script, acting (especially Martin Freeman, whose inner workings are astonishing)photography, edit, that the beauty of it is toe curlingly excellent and even pleases an old drama critic like me.
My admiration for Mark Gatiss has no bounds - how does the man produce so much varied quality work? The rest of us need to know! Plus - the little scene with the elderly couple described by Sherlock as 'my parents' indeed are his parents; Ben Cumberbatch's, that is. A nice touch! And two more episodes, she exulted, curling her toes in glee.......Liz Gilbey

Anonymous said...

This episode was a bit of a let down. I enjoyed the reunion scene, and some of the other scenes, but I felt that a) Mary was far too in the know for a normal person, solving codes, b) she was vvv insensitive to johns emotional plight, c) a large part of the episode made no sense and largely reflected typical american humour - action and no plot, with a bit of british wit thrown in.i love this series tho, so I hope it gets better...

Frances Brody said...

Yes, mesmerizing viewing. There are echoes of Conan Doyle's story, 'The Lost Special,' which I saw dramatized by Jonathan Hall last year.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - It's good to hear that this one has kept up to the high standards of some of the earlier episodes. And I agree with you that it's very clear that the writers have a thorough knowledge of and liking for the original stories and characters. That's come through in all of the episodes I've seen.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Lyn, Liz and Frances, good to hear from you as ever.
Yes, I was fascinated to realise that BC's parents featurd as Sherlock's mum and dad. And I hadn't known that his mother was an actor I remember vividly from the 60s and 70s!
Anon, I'm sorry you were disappointed by aspects of this story, and yes, I hope you enjoy the next one.

seana graham said...

I only got around to this one last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciated the added info here, as I had no idea that "Mycroft" was one of the writers as well. I think the series actually has built upon its strengths, including the intelligence of the actors and the way their experience of working together helps them play off each other even more. And the confidence which the writers must have in order to play with the whole Reichenbach Falls episode and make it new is terrific, especially the enactment of the fans' theories.