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Sherlock Holmes And The Curious Case Of The Princess Bride

Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 10:10 by Helen O'Hara in Small Screen
Sherlock Holmes And The Curious Case Of The Princess Bride

So I rather enjoyed the first episode of Sherlock last night on BBC1, the Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman-starring update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective stories. And that, for those of you who didn't see it, doesn't mean a Guy Ritchie-style all-boxing, all-running about style take on the 19th century. It means that this Sherlock comes all the way forward to the 21st, with a Dr Watson who was wounded in Afghanistan and a Sherlock who's an expert phone hacker.

Let's start with the non-spoilerific stuff: returning veteran John Watson (Freeman) is wounded in body and mind and less than convinced that writing a blog about his experiences, as his therapist suggests, is the way to get his life back on track. Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch) is a flamboyant criminal expert, developer of the "science of deduction" who is never happier than when called in by the police to solve the cases that they can't. In the words of one policewoman, he's a sociopath - and one day, just solving the crimes won't be enough for him. OoooOOoh, ominous! The two meet almost by chance, and Watson finds himself swept along by Holmes' high-handed charisma and impressively spot-on deductions about Watson's own life.

The strange case that confronts the new buddies involves three apparent suicides by poison, with the police finally calling Holmes in when a fourth woman is found having scratched out a note as she goes. Cue brilliant deductions, the discovery of clues and a bit of male bonding / accidental (we think) flirting between the pair.

It's all written by Steven "Doctor Who" Moffat and Mark "League of Gentlemen" Gatiss, who also appears here as - well, that's arguably a spoiler. Paul McGuigan, the affable director of films like Push, Lucky Number Slevin and Wicker Park, directed this first episode and the third that's still to come (only three ninety-minute episodes have been made, and Euros Lyn takes the middle one). So there's no question about the pedigree of this mini-series, and indeed the dialogue and the pacing are rather good. Cumberbatch is a natural as Holmes, playing up the detective's unlikeable side as well as his endless charisma in a nicely contradictory mix, and Freeman for once gets to play something a little more complicated than an Everyman, getting to grips with both Watson's own intellect and his man-of-action side. The two spark off each other well, and this does look like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

My only slight problem came towards the second half, so let us now trip across the border into spoiler territory. First of all, and bearing in mind that never in my life have I guessed whodunnit in so much as an Agatha Christie novel, it was pretty clear from about halfway through that the baddie was a cabbie, wasn't it? I mean, if even I figured that out, it's darn simple and well within Holmes' powers. This is a guy who, when glancing at your phone, can tell if you're an alcoholic - and despite talking about cabs and thinking about cabs and chasing a cab, he never suspects the cabbie. Either he never read any of those rape prevention posters on the underground or he's a bigger snob than even Conan Doyle's original and genuinely doesn't even register the presence of the working class (a strange flaw for a master of observation).

Secondly, wasn't the dilemma at the end a little, well, Princess Bride? Our cabbie presents Holmes with the choice between two apparently identical pills, one of which brings certain death while the other will have no effect (presumably).  In the words of the Man In Black, "The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right... and who is dead. " Holmes, like Vizzini, can't resist the challenge to his intellect and agrees to choose. Charitably, let's call it an homage to one of cinema's great stand-offs.

Rather frustratingly here, however, we don't get to find out which pill was which - or, indeed, if there was any difference between the pills. Having learned that our baddie cabbie was terminally ill, it might have made sense if both pills were some sort of high-dose medication to which he was immune but which would kill a normal person (say, iocane powder that he'd built up a tolerance to) but the point simply wasn't explained on the show. Perhaps episode two will open with a forensic note explaining the question, but it was an irritating loose end on which to end an otherwise promising first episode.

So what did you think? A worthy challenger to Downey Jr et al? A worthy successor to Holmes of days gone by? Or someone who should never have gone against a London cab driver when death was on the line?

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Comments

1 Timon
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 11:10
I really enjoyed it. A great Sunday night drama with the leads filling their roles out excellently.

Cumberbatch had a bit of the TimeLord swagger about him and it was good to see Watson being both a foil and a man of action at the same time.

Roll on next week

2 kingol
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 11:36
There's a peculiar mixed feeling of vindication and disappointment I feel when someone (possibly) qualified writes down exactly what I was thinking about a film/show/book.

I'm feeling some strong vindipointment right now...

3 Jayseph
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 11:36
Agreed. I went into it with low expectations but was very pleasantly surprised.

Cumberbatch was an inspired piece of casting and I thought the whole thing worked very well.

I actually quite like that Holmes never got to find out if he made the right choice of pill. You could sense his frustration and anger at not being able to prove he was right.

4 lee_montgomery
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 11:37
I loved every minute of this program and am a little saddend to find out via this blog that there will only be three episodes. A funny and well paced script and some good turns by the leading actors was very refreshing for a british made TV show of late. Hope the other two episodes are as entertaining as this one.

5 supermaddy
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 12:16


I completely agree!!!! Thank goodness someone else though the same- I was worried I was the only one...

The whole cabbie set-up was fairly obvious from the beginning. And not telling which pill was which was annoying, but the characters were fun and cool and the two mains really bounced off each other very well. With the cabbie thing being so drawn out, perhaps it was because they expected yunger Who fans to be tuning on, rather than turning Sherlock into a more sexy sophisticated piece. If that's the case than they really missed a trick- rather than have action, with some romance, in the same vein as the Ritchie movie, they could have taken a slightly more True Blood turn (without the sex thank you, it is after all the BBC and they are after all not a couple), making it darker somehow...

Another thing that bugged me was the whole Moriarty business- because although they had the Mycroft bit, which presumably the audience were supposed to guess was a tool of Moriarty's, it was very clear from the moment we met the cabbie in the shadows that he was Moriarty's tool too...

Having said that, Sherlock and Watson were all kinds of awesome, the detective's warning about Holmes was suitably creepy, introducing Mycroft was funny and hilarious... it was very very good...

6 MajinPaul
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 12:18
I thought it was a pleasant surprise, I didn't plan on watching but when I saw it I enjoyed it. I would have liked to have the pill situation explained, but for me, it didn't make me think any less of the program.

7 Sgt_Hilko
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 12:25
Absolutely agree, the cabbie bit was obvious and the only really annoying thing in the episode.

The Princess Bride connection was awesome though and I'm so glad they didn't tell you the answer to that riddle... it was satisfying to have worked out the answer and not have it spelled out...

I also liked the Gatiss "which is he, Moriarty or Mycroft?" poser... I'd have been disappointed if he was Moriarty as he isn't nearly scary enough for that.

Holmes and Watson were electric though. A refreshingly adult and thoroughly modern take on the story. Well done Beeb!

Fingers crossed for more than 3 episodes. (Of course there's the inevitable Christmas special too, but a longer series would be most welcome.)

8 col210373
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 12:32
I thought the show was excellent. Very good chemistry between the leads and directed with fast pace and humour.
As for the comment about the end being a bit "Princess Bride", is the ending not taken directly from the original story by Conan Doyle, the first story involving Holmes which was written some considerable time before that (very enjoyable) film was even dreamt up?

9 Paddy Kieran
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 12:39
Let's face it, we all thought it was going to be crap....but they've pulled it off brilliantly....can't wait for the next installment.

10 Burglarman
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 13:07
A welcome surprise.

It was far closer to Conan Doyle's original than anything I've seen on TV or film. It had shades of Whitechapel about it (which also featured Philip Davis), another TV mini series that had the hallmarks of pulp disaster, but that turned out to be top notch telly.

It was interesting to see the nods to A Study in Scarlet updated, particularly the whole 'Rache' strand.

Here's hoping they can keep up the good work.

11 Cat5
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 13:20
I was another sceptic who wondered what the update to a modern Sherlock would do to the memories of classic Victorian crime drama but the outcome was a pleasant surprise. Good chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch as the leads, and I for one was happy to see Rupert Graves as Lestrange as well. The Princess Bride homage worked and I don't think it lessened it by not revealing the good/bad pill - some shows overanalyse thing too much with hours on explanation and you don't always need that. Keep people guessing and credit the audience with some intelligence - more of that on TV these days is needed! A strong start to what will hopefully be a decent opening series.

12 guydl1987
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 13:32
As a huge fan of the original Conan Doyle stories I was pretty sceptical about this, especially as I'm not that big a fan of the Davies/Moffat Dr Who (don't hate it, just feel like it's a poor man's Buffy sometimes), although I was somewhat reassured by the presence of Martin Freeman, but in the end I really enjoyed it.

Have to agree though that the killer being a cabby was painfully obvious - especially if you've read the original Study in Scarlet - and I too am someone who's usually really slow to work these things out in murder mysteries. The whole point is that you're supposed to look on in slack-jawed amazement at Holmes' powers of deduction, so it's not a good sign when you solve the mystery halfway through. I think someone's already pointed out that the thing about choosing between the two pills was in the original, though more as a device of divine judgement in the mind of the righteous killer than as a battle of wits, but I liked the fact that Holmes couldn't resist the challenge - very much in keeping with the "real" Holmes, I would say.

Also on the plus side, Cumberbatch and Freeman were excellent together, and the various nods to the original were pretty cool; reversing the whole "Rache" thing at Lauriston Gardens was a particularly nice touch.

13 Dr Science
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 14:27
re: kingol

"Vindipointment" - loving that - stealing that - thank you very much.

Generally I loved it - I'm in full agreement with Helen's review and most other respondents - however, I thought the direction was actually a bit clunky - it seems to be the area where most modern british TV dramas fail - I can't watch Doctor Who for instance - itt makes me want to claw out my eyeballs - it only really stands comparison to high-grade children's dramas - in comparison to the best US TV dramas it all looks decidely amateurish.

One thing really niggled me though: "The game, Mrs Hudson, is ON!" - it's AFOOT - it's always a-bloody-foot - it always bloody should be and there was no need to update this.

14 marlowe9
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 14:34
Episode one was a clever updating of A Study In Scarlet (which is where the posion pills come from, although the face-off is a little Princess Bride-ish), and I enjoyed it. But it was also disappointing, because it did nothing that surprised me - even the homoeroticism was quite obvious, and what they did to Mycroft was too obvious, though well-written and performed.

The rant begins:

McGuigan's style annoyed me, but he did bring a cinematic stamp of quality to it.

Cumberbatch was enteraining, but his fast-talkingly obnoxious persona was too similar to a certain Timelord to feel fresh, and the script's characterisation of Holmes wasn't really true to the original. I liked Freeman as Watson, but wish he'd been given a little more to do than looking confused and reacting to other characters. Gatiss was unnecessarily weird, but fun nonetheless, and Rupert Graves is a great modern-day Lestrade. The villain was brilliantly normal but completely unconvincing as a sadistic killer. Overall I wouldn't say the casting was inspired, but it was right.

The programme thankfully shied away from too much running about and action, keeping true to the spirit of the book.

Generally I enjoyed Sherlock, but it doesn't really challenge any existing interpretations or adaptations of the character. Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, and Peter Cushing (heck, and Robert Stephens and John Neville) still rule the roost as far as I'm concerned.

It doesn't compel me, but I will probably watch the remaining episodes.

15 TheColumnist
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 15:31
An excellent addition to the BBC's list of works. Not only is Sherlock Holmes a suitably popular story right now, what with Ritchie's recent rendition of the great detective, but also very fitting with the popular surge in investigative crime drama both here (Luther, Wallander) and across the pond (The Wire et al).
It was a riveting first episode, jam-packed with sheer genius and witty banter, although I'd have to agree with Helen that it was rather irritating not to have some kind of twist or explanation about the pills during the final stand-off. The cast were fantastic, especially the rhetoric between the leads and a superbly creepy performance from Philip Davis, and the script was tight enough to leave the viewer craving the next dose of the formidable duo. The game is indeed afoot!

16 shinysavage
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 15:38
I really enjoyed it, but yes, it was obvious that it was a cabbie. I actually didn't realise that there were two people in the cab they were chasing (until they caught up with it, obviously), and I thought that Holmes was chasing the taxi, not the passenger. I missed the first ten minutes or so, coming in when Watson was talking to that guy in the park, so I don't know whether the opening montage would have tipped me off to whodunnit, but it wasn't the greatest twist.

So yes, that was a bit dodgy, but I liked the rest - and yes, I was thinking "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect" throughout that scene. Cumberbatch and Freeman were very good, and the updates worked well. I'm looking forward to seeing where they take it in the next installments.

17 combourg
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 17:29
Sorry guys, but it must be me but I thought it was weak at best!
And all other misgivings aside the most annoying thing was the silly sub titles/script that kept appeareing on the screen!
Agree totally about the Dr Who influence (just as much running!) I half expected the TARDIS to turn up!

18 clarkkent
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 17:54
This DEFINITLEY beat the crap out of the recent Downey Jr flick. I actually prefered this guy to Jr, just seemed better. Enjoyed the heck out of the show, yeah the cabbie thing wasn't all that surprising, which is weird considering its captain twisty turney script.

But it was FUN, and that is missing from TV these days, the relationship was spot on and i for one can't wait for next week.

19 Old_Pyrate
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 18:23
I was reasonably entertained. One day though somebody will be brave enough to do a proper adaptation of "A Study in Scarlet". Despite being one of the strongest stories, it has never, ever been filmed. There are probably two reasons for this... 1) It really comes down hard on the Mormons and 2) Holmes and Watson disappear from the action for a good third of the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it provides an excellent in depth look at the motive behind the murders.

20 kisswithatear
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 23:28
I really enjoyed it, Moffat is always brilliant at dialogue and Helen, you should know it's not the destination that matters normally but how you get there, and although the culprit was a tiny bit obvious we had all that psuedo flirting and running and making fun of Lestrade in between.Ok that stuff didn't matter... but the interesting story telling and enthralling execution (not to mention pretty direction) was all there to feast our eyes upon

Also, although the glaring loose end annoyed me too, it made much more sense than Ritchie's attempt and with less silliness

21 Concise_Statement
Posted on Monday July 26, 2010, 23:56
Well I liked it. I mean, Cumberbatch and Freeman seem to be performing on two different levels of reality, but all in all they balance each other out. And seeing TIm Canterbury firing a gun is awesome! (Still thought it was a bit soon to have a psycho cab driver though.)

22 Julmis
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 11:29
from "A Study in Scarlet":

"Don't imagine that I intended to kill him in cold blood. It would only
have been rigid justice if I had done so, but I could not bring myself
to do it. I had long determined that he should have a show for his life
if he chose to take advantage of it. Among the many billets which I
have filled in America during my wandering life, I was once janitor and
sweeper out of the laboratory at York College. One day the professor was
lecturing on poisions, [25] and he showed his students some alkaloid,
as he called it, which he had extracted from some South American arrow
poison, and which was so powerful that the least grain meant instant
death. I spotted the bottle in which this preparation was kept, and when
they were all gone, I helped myself to a little of it. I was a fairly
good dispenser, so I worked this alkaloid into small, soluble pills, and
each pill I put in a box with a similar pill made without the poison.
I determined at the time that when I had my chance, my gentlemen should
each have a draw out of one of these boxes, while I ate the pill that
remained. It would be quite as deadly, and a good deal less noisy than
firing across a handkerchief. From that day I had always my pill boxes
about with me, and the time had now come when I was to use them.

23 morpheusman
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 11:43
It was a great first episode.
What took me by surprise was the fact the idea for the music score seemed to have been lifted from the Guy Ritchie movie.

24 easytigeruk
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 12:03
Doctor Who-lmes? It was very Doctor Who but just as enjoyable which I agree with a previous poster is missing from a lot of TV these days. The taxi twist was obvious as was the Mycroft thing but the leads carried off a weak story, Cumberbatch was particular intriguing. It's nice to watch a programme and not be treated like an idiot for a change. Thanks Auntie Beeb, more please.

25 65stanley
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 13:15
In what has been a bleak landscape for prime time tv in recent months this show cheered me up no end. Considering this was a first episode the writers dealt well with the complications of squeezing in charater intro, series set up and murder to investigate. Even if the latter felt slightly rushed and underwhelming i'll forgive as the whole was pacey and smart. Particulary liked the use of London's Victorian streets and buildings. Three episodes only though is a disappointment, I was hoping this would get me through the remainder of the Summer. There seems enough scope for multiple, perhaps shorter, episodes here.

26 Dr Science
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 14:06
I can understand why the Dr Who comparisons are being drawn - but a little perspective is needed - yes they've taken a lot of the recent Who TV formula and applied it to this dramatisation, but in terms of who influenced whom, The Doctor has always owed a huge debt to Holmes - there is a clear line from the enigmatic eccentric genius that is Holmes, to the enigmatic eccentric genius that is Who

27 scifi
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 16:38
I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was much better than I had anticipated it would be. My only concern is if they can keep it up. I think the novelty of updating Sherlock Holmes and having fun with the Holmes/Watson relationship was an easier task in the initial episode; I hope they can sustain the wit and lightness of touch in the succeeding installments!

28 MisterP68
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 19:34
Is it just me or does anyone else feel like this might be a show built around the next doctor?

29 raclements
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 20:22
"Secondly, wasn't the dilemma at the end a little, well, Princess Bride?"

Oh dear...
Perhaps it was... if you didn't know that it comes from the Sherlock Holmes story 'A Study in Scarlet'... y'know, the story that this was a version of..?

30 Guinevere
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 21:23
not very well researched guys. The pill scene was in the original 'A Study in Scarlet' story, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to label the brilliant Princess Bride scene an homage to Conan Doyle. Definitely enjoyed this episode and looking forward to the others! I'm a little surprised that there are only going to be three episodes though. I'd have thought that if they're going to feature Moriarty in this run he'd have a much bigger role already

31 arastrider
Posted on Tuesday July 27, 2010, 21:37
so this was inspired on the back of Guy Ritchie's version, the Sherlock was imitating the fabulous mr Downey, and the music was also a copy, so i was not to impressed but would give it a 7 for effort but nothing for originality

32 chocolategoat
Posted on Wednesday July 28, 2010, 11:47
I absolutely loved it, although the textmessages floating about on the screen were a bit unnecessary, the casting is inspired and all the performances were wonderful. I planned to reread "A study in scarlet" after seeing Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, but haven't gotten round to it yet. Here is another incentive to do it.
Apart from the textmessages, my only gripe is the aforementioned similarity of the music to the soundtrack of the film.
By the way, John Watson was wounded in Afghanistan in the Conan Doyle version.
How ironic that a periodical titled Empire should have such a faint grasp of British colonial history

33 The Voice of Fate
Posted on Wednesday July 28, 2010, 13:27
I enjoyed it a lot and particulalry Martin Freeman's Watson. I thought the updating worked well, but agree that the text messages could get a bit annoying in future.

Very nice nods to the original whilst making a new piece. Full marks to and proof again, if proof were needed, what a damned good writer Steven Moffat is!

My only quibble is that Holmes is a tad too young and, therefore the actor needs to raise his game and increase his gravitas to compensate. If he does this, then he even stands a sporting chance of filling the master's shoes. Forget Downey - I mean Jeremy Brett...

34 DSN_1975
Posted on Wednesday July 28, 2010, 13:47
I really enjoyed it, more dramas like this please.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel that Mycroft’s sinister appearance was a deliberate attempt to divert our attention away from the appearance of the real arch villain. Yep, I think we met Moriarty.

Several people on here found it odd that, whilst it was pretty obvious the killer was a cabbie, Holmes chased after a taxi, wanting the passenger, not the driver. An weird conclusion to come to, because if you deduced a cab was involved, wouldn’t your first suspicions be on the cabbie? Honest Holmes mistake? Possibly, orrrrrr could the American passenger have a lot more significance than first meets the eye? I wonder......

35 Jidai Geki
Posted on Thursday July 29, 2010, 04:14
I for one can't understand why nobody in the show thinks it strange that some lunatic has usurped the name of Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian-era detective and is running around modern-day London copying his techniques.

36 simjamlmx
Posted on Thursday July 29, 2010, 13:06
After the depressing let down of the awful 'luther' i really enjoyed this and am looking forward to the next parts.The first couple of scenes did tell us that sherlock was looking for a taxi cab before he knew he was, so i don't feel there's any problem with that whatsoever, i quickly realised it was about sherlocks case to solve and not mine, which is the same reason i like watching peter falk in the brilliant columbo.

37 Trisanddad
Posted on Thursday July 29, 2010, 13:52
OK I'm a bit late in adding a comment!! I enjoyed it but I found that the music overpowered the diaglogue! Especially in the initial explanation in the cab of how Holmes knew so much about Watson from his phone. It seems to be a common complaint with BBC dramas that the music overpowers dialogue

38 pgmark
Posted on Thursday July 29, 2010, 17:16
I really enjoyed it and thought Martin Freeman was excellent. My one 'Oh that's convienient' moment came with the phone but other than that I thought it was very well put together. I think as it goes on we will be expected to put a lot more faith in the implausible but I hope to be fully sold on the series by then to care too much.

39 pdlewis22
Posted on Thursday July 29, 2010, 19:56
I really enjoyed the show. I must be really thick because i didnt work out it was the cabbie! I was too caught up in the moment! Of course its going to have Doctor Who similarities, its written by Dr who scribes and made by BBC wales who produce Dr Who!

40 jimoakley666
Posted on Friday July 30, 2010, 07:27
I watched it only because it was on but was very pleasantly surprised.

Loved it. I really did. Best version since the Rathbone / Bruce run and I loved them as a kid too.

I'd be interested to see a Hound of the Baskervilles Christmas special. How cool would that be?

41 BethN21286
Posted on Friday July 30, 2010, 11:21
Just reinforces to me that Stephen Moffat is actually a writing God. As with all gods he is flawed and this show explains the somewhat lacklustre Dr Who outings this series.

42 TheMovieAddict101
Posted on Saturday August 7, 2010, 22:28
I actually liked Sherlock Holmes- It gave a fresh perspective to the tweed-suit-like clothes and deerstalker hats that have dominated sherlock holmes remakes. As well as the case, it wasn't the case of an "affair" as a motive, which you often get with US crime shows. Entertaining, fun and fresh, i say roll on next week.

P.S- I've just come back from holiday and seen the first sherlock holmes on the internet, so sorry for the lateness...

43 Walt Flanagan
Posted on Thursday August 12, 2010, 22:08
Isn't the book code of the second episode almost identical to the Clock code that is used in the final season of the wire?
So did Ed Burns steal from Arthur Conan Doyle or did the producers of the new Sherlock homage The Wire like they did The Princess Bride?

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