But I confess I had had this teeny tiny nagging worry for a while. What if after the very long wait, after all the hype, all the excitement, what if (whispers) it wasn’t very good? Perish the thought I know but what if?
Well I need not have worried. Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia is clever, witty, sexy, action packed, thrilling, intelligent, nuanced and just all round bloody brilliant telly. It’s something you’ll immediately want to watch again the second it finishes.
So Moriarty, Sherlock & John, a gun and a bomb? How ever could our intrepid heroes get out of that terrible pickle? Well, the resolution to the cliffhanger is dealt with swiftly and resolved in a fairly jaw dropping, audacious way which made the entire viewing audience burst into spontaneous applause. Witty, darkly funny, terribly clever and the credits hadn’t even rolled yet!
Cliffhanger over and done with the story proper begins with a clever modern re-working of A Scandal in Bohemia. And that of course means Irene Adler. Naughty Irene is in possession of some items the powers that be (represented by the mighty Mycroft) would like back and Sherlock is set the task of their retrieval. I’ll admit I’d been nervous about how Adler would be portrayed. I rather enjoyed Rachel Adams portrayal of Irene in the Sherlock Holmes movie but was less enamoured of RDJ’s Holmes mooning over her and did not much fancy the notion of Sherlock going all gooey eyed over Irene. So I was delighted at how much I absolutely adored the character.
In Lara Pulver’s incredibly capable hands Irene is sexy, fierce as hell, clever, calculating, amoral, flirty and brave. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance. Pulver manages to make Irene both a master of manipulation and yet surprisingly vulnerable all at the same time. She commands every scene she is in and she holds her own against Cumberbatch and Freeman which is not an easy feat. Pulver is also gorgeous and has a wardrobe to die for (I may have audibly sighed with envy at a brief glimpse of Irene’s stunning wardrobe).
Irene’s first scene with Sherlock and John is an absolute delight. Seeing through Sherlock instantly and opting for a brave choice of attire the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Pulver fair crackles as they exchange barbed asides while a world weary John watches on in bafflement. The two actors play off each other beautifully and you can completely see why Sherlock is so utterly fascinated by this woman who is the only one to have bested him. It’s a fantastically complex, layered relationship between two very lonely, damaged people which is beautifully summed up in the best scene in the episode between John and Irene which, with very few words, illustrates how utterly useless labels are when it comes to matters of the heart. In Pulver’s hands Irene Adler is captivating, despite being arguably a truly dreadful character really and she lights up the screen.
Moving away from Irene a surprising delight was how heavily Mycroft was featured. Mark Gatiss is just superb as Mycroft. Fabulously dressed and wonderfully droll his every moment on screen was a joy. His early scene with a petulant (interestingly dressed) Sherlock and amused John is a comedic highlight but his scenes with Sherlock also provide much of the emotion of the episode. Cumberbatch and Gatiss, despite not looking much alike, are truly believable as brothers, you can almost feel the weight of their shared history whenever they are on screen together. There is a wonderfully affecting scene, a Christmas “chat” between the Holmes brothers as they ruminate on how they’re not quite like everyone else. A subsequent, far darker scene between the two brothers rather unsettles as it illustrates how Sherlock’s brilliance can so easily be used against him. Here’s hoping the remaining episodes showcase this awkward brotherly relationship just as strongly.
Other cast favourites also get their moment to shine. Una Stubbs is again magnificent as Mrs. Hudson. She is frankly a goddess and an absolute legend and just so so adorable in the role. She clucks and fusses over her boys something fierce and the mother/son relationship she shares with Sherlock just warms your heart.
Louise Brealey as Molly once again manages to hold your heart in the palm of her hand with very minimal screentime. Your heart breaks for her (oh her pretty dress!) and yet she has a spirit that you just can’t crush. More Molly please – she’s amazing.
Rupert Graves also puts in an entertaining appearance (but my only complaint – more screentime for Lestrade please! The foxy copper who looks like George Clooney definitely needs to be more prominent).
And Moriarty? Well his presence is still very strongly felt and I look forward to seeing how his character develops in subsequent appearances.
The script for the episode is fantastic. Steven Moffat once again proves that he is a writer working at the very top of his game. The episode is hugely funny and witty and you will merrily laugh out loud on many an occasion. It’s action packed and the plot moves along at a rollicking old pace. The dialogue (especially between old married couple Sherlock and John) is instantly quotable and just delightful. But the script doesn’t shy away from emotion be it the difficult sibling relationship between Sherlock and Mycroft or the train wreck that is Sherlock’s interactions with Irene. There are also some quite brilliant nods to canon which the audience at the screening wildly applauded.
The episode is also a visual feast. It’s impossible to single moments out without spoiling but Paul McGuigan directs masterfully coaxing great performances from a cast which doesn’t have a single weak link. With its on screen notes during the deductions Sherlock really does look quite unlike anything else on television. The episode is cinematic in every sense and it looked absolutely glorious on the big screen. Special mention should also go to the jaunty score by Michael Price and David Arnold – soundtrack now please!
But of course any review wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of the stars of the show Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Both, received superb reviews and BAFTA attention for their performances and if anything they’re even better this time around. I loved that you could sense how much time had passed since the pool simply from their interactions. Sherlock and John bicker like a couple married for 20 years and their friendship has visibly deepened into this marvelously twisted co-dependent relationship. They both clearly adore each other and poor John still drops everything to dive into adventure with Sherlock whenever he beckons. Their spats over the popularity of John’s blog are hilarious.
Martin Freeman is just the perfect John Watson. A world weary, man of action who is capable of holding his own against the force of nature that is Sherlock Holmes. Most of John’s lines in this episode are laugh out loud funny and his tolerance for Sherlock’s antics are sorely tested (”You’re a perfect boyfriend John”). However, it’s his gentle understanding of Sherlock’s confusion over Irene and the emotions she evokes that is so brilliant to watch.
And Benedict Cumberbatch is just superb as Sherlock Holmes. It’s no wonder Steven Spielberg recently dubbed him “the best Sherlock Holmes on screen”. His Sherlock is brilliant, haughty, grandiose, arch, witty and eminently punchable (poor Molly!) and yet still it’s impossible to dislike him. In this episode Cumberbatch also gets to showcase his physical comedy skills to great effect as Sherlock is (temporarily) bested by Irene to the clear amusement of John. We also get a brief glimpse of Sherlock’s more vulnerable side – this isn’t an episode of Sherlock in love but an episode about Sherlock wrestling with the concept of love and emotions that are completely foreign to him. There is a stunning scene between Sherlock, Mycroft and Irene at the end of the episode where Cumberbatch flashes through so many different emotions – cold anger, humiliation, betrayal, fascination, longing, desire, that it’s quite breathtaking to watch. It’s exciting to see different facets of the character so early in the new series and Cumberbatch rises beautifully to the challenge.
From a fashion point of view Sherlock is still as beautifully dressed as ever (even more natty dressing gowns) and for those who like such things we also get to see a little skin! We get to see more of 221B than ever before (including Sherlock’s bedroom!) Sherlock also showcases his violin playing during the episode with his music reflecting his mood in several key scenes (and it is indeed Benedict himself playing the violin. I asked him after the Q&A, he was rather bashful about his skills but I was very impressed).
A Scandal in Belgravia is a brilliant start to the new series. Funny, clever, exhilarating and just an absolute joy to watch I simply cannot wait to watch it again!