Thursday, 22 December 2011

Sherlock series 2 A Scandal in Belgravia PREVIEW

Meeting his match? Sherlock and Irene Adler. Pics: BBC
Rating ★★★★★

BBC1 from Sunday, 1 January, 8.10pm

Story: Compromising photographs and blackmail threaten the British establishment, while Sherlock begins a duel of wits with an antagonist who will always be THE Woman.

On the evidence of this first case, one can only deduce that if there is a crime drama in 2012 that fizzes with more wit and panache than Sherlock it's going to be one stonking show.

Series two of the Holmes modern reboot was originally due for autumn 2011 but the lengthy filming schedule pushed it back to the first day of the New Year (going out in the US in May), and it is definitely worth the wait.

Lara Pulver as The Woman
Dominating Sherlock's thoughts – Lara Pulver as The Woman
'A Scandal in Belgravia' again cleverly updates the great sleuth, toys with his legend and is brilliantly entertaining. It is sharp, mysterious and sexy. The latter ingredient arrives in the shape of a thoroughly modern Irene Adler – intellectual rival for Sherlock, erotic foil and dominatrix. Phew…

She is played by Lara Pulver, recently seen in True Blood and Spooks, who makes the acquaintance of Holmes in the most eyebrow-raising scene the great man has ever been in. For once, he doesn't know where to look or what to say.

Her trysting with Holmes via text messages, codes, Twitter (pseudonym: The Whip Hand) and in person exposes a new side of the detective. Is he in love? Is he vulnerable to her? As Watson points out, his partner is composing sad music to scratch out on his violin when he is parted from The Woman, as she must be known.

S&M and Holmes's intellectual fetishes
But this being Holmes, snogging and candle-lit dinners are not the norm. It's a lot more high octane and dangerous than that. And it was a clever stroke, so to speak, to have an S&M specialist crossing paths with Sherlock, a man with intellectual fetishes of his own.

Odd couple, played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
Once Sherlock has dealt (inconclusively) with Moriarty to resolve the poolside cliffhanger from series one, the opening episode's McGuffin is introduced in the form of compromising photos that could bring down the government/monarchy. Rogue CIA agents and terrorists join in the fun, but it is Sherlock getting into some intellectual heavy-breathing with Irene that sweeps events along.

Is Irene, who has the photos, a damsel in distress, or is she playing a double game? You almost don't care, so electric and fun are the scenes between Holmes, Watson and Irene.

Holmes's cruel treatment of Molly
Robert Downey Jr's action-Holmes is deservedly doing great box office right now, but Benedict Cumberbatch's version is better – more arrogant, colder and intimidating.

'Any ideas?' Lestrade asks, confronted by a puzzling murder.

Sherlock replies, 'Eight, so far.'

And as Martin Freeman's Watson says to Irene, 'He will outlive god trying to have the last word.' Though we do see flickers of emotion for once, not just regarding Irene but also when Holmes regrets his cruel treatment of smitten Molly Hooper, who works in the laboratory.

There is so much to enjoy here – Holmes summoned to Buckingham Palace wearing only a blanket, his headbutting a CIA agent, the charged bickering with Mycroft – that huge praise must go to co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (how does Moffat manage to fit in making/writing Doctor Who with making/writing Sherlock?).

The episode also re-uses the text graphics that we saw in the first series' opener, to economically denote what clues Holmes picks up by looking at someone ('no gun', 'office worker', 'three dogs'), mobile messages and blog updates.

'The Hounds of Baskerville' and 'The Reichenbach Fall'
Moffat and Gatiss have chosen the three major Holmes adventures for this second series, with 'The Hounds of Baskerville' and 'The Reichenbach Fall' to come (the titles are all slight adjustments on the originals).

Moffat, a Sherlock Holmes fan since childhood, explains, 'Last time nobody knew about us and there was some scepticism about "modernising" Sherlock Holmes. And now look at Benedict and Martin, they are so famous in those roles! So far the series has sold in over 180 countries worldwide, so it's a very big change.

'Well this year, knowing we were a huge hit, I suppose we felt let's do the three big things, The Woman, the Hound and the Fall. Instead of making people wait years and years, we thought – to hell with deferred pleasure, let's just do it now, more, sooner, faster!'
Deferred pleasure? Not with Irene Adler around.

Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes, Martin Freeman John Watson, Mark Gatiss Mycroft, Rupert Graves Inspector Lestrade, Una Stubbs Mrs Hudson, Andrew Scott Moriarty, Louise Brealey Molly Hooper, Lara Pulver Irene Adler.