It’s been a little over a year since my introduction to BBC miniseries Sherlock, and since then I’ve gone through several re-watches and many blank stares from friends and acquaintances who, alas, don’t share my affinity for English literature and television. In that stretch of time I’ve grown fonder and fonder of the miniseries. While I do frown during certain scenes, or purse my lips at how a certain shot was framed — how snooty of me, I know — overall I continue to like Sherlock because it’s such a well-made miniseries.
For the unfamiliar, Sherlock is the modern reimagining — retelling? — of what is arguably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous literary creation: the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and the faithful Dr. John Watson. Rather than being a straight and literal adaptation, Sherlock is best described as being inspired by the canon stories and fitted with enough creative license to accommodate the series’ contemporary setting, both geographically and culturally — but not so much that the series fails to capture the heart and spirit of the originals.
The first episode called “A Study in Pink” (sound familiar?) possesses, I think, the most balanced blend of textual fidelity and deviation. The episode opens with the introduction of Dr. John Watson, an injured soldier just lately returned to London from Afghanistan, where he had been serving as an army doctor in the present war before a wound to the shoulder shipped him out. (An eerie parallel to the Watson in the books, who served in the same capacity but in a different war in another century.) A chance encounter with a former classmate leads him to the acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant but sociopathic young man who works with Scotland Yard as “the world’s only consulting detective.” Although initially put off by Sherlock’s erratic and seemingly self-absorbed behavior, John is nevertheless intrigued by Sherlock’s almost freakish ability to make accurate deductions about people, especially complete strangers. (Hint: it’s in the details.) And the two soon hit it off when a lead presents itself in a puzzling police case involving linked suicides.
I’ll say no more about the episode, as I don’t want to give away the ending. Instead, I’ll close with remarks concerning my own observations of this episode in my most recent re-watch.
● Color and lighting — I really like the color palette used in this episode. There’s a strong leaning towards cool and neutral tones of the muted variety. No sharp, eye-piercing accents here, the sole exception being the quasi-titular victim dressed in what Sherlock coins a “frankly alarming shade of pink.” The muted colors I think are meant to highlight the urban coldness of characters’ London environment, and by extension heighten the darkening mood and suspense surrounding the central mystery. It could also be an extension of the city itself. I remember writer Steven Moffat — or was it Mark Gatiss? — remarking that production wanted the series to, amongst other things, “fetishize” modern-day London in the same way Doyle did in his books to the London of his day. Granted, I think they were referring to the numerous street-level shots when they said what they said, but I can easily see the cold, skyscrapers of glass and steel mirrored in Sherlock’s grey suit and midnight blue scarf, and damp cobblestone streets in John’s twill jacket and mud-brown jumper.
The lighting — an unusually piercing but burnished variety of white — worked really well with the deep greys and neutrals to elicit a paradoxical mood. On one hand, the lighting is exposing, being so sharp and focused. On the other, it sort of vignetted the night scenes and thereby heightening the shadows already creeping into the frame from all corners. Going along with the fetishizing London idea, the lighting when working with the colors in the characters’ costumes and environ, heightens the already strong presence of a metallic, and very modern feel.
● Little is more — Something that I’ve noticed moreso in British actors than in actors on this side of the Atlantic is the ability to express very clear yet understated emotions in very small movements. Martin Freeman, who plays John, does this very well: a solitary twist of the lips, to express frustration; three strong and rapid blinks, to convey disbelief; and so on. It’s hard to describe in words. One needs to see it to understand. I like this sort of acting. There’s something very pragmatic and very intense about it.
● Watch movies unconventionally — My latest re-watch was hardly a re-watch in the traditional sense. I was screencapping more than watching, so the audio wasn’t turned on and I was jumping from scene to scene, often rewinding and pausing and rewinding and pausing on a single scene just so I could capture a moment just right. In my doing so, I was able to focus more on what was going on visually within the frames of each scene. And by revisiting certain scenes I was able to notice little gestures and prop details that I hadn’t noticed before. Maybe next time, I’ll shut my eyes and listen purely to the audio, and see what things I hadn’t noticed before.
Screencaps by me.