Today is a return to one of our favorite past times: The Weekly Forum. One of our members was kind enough to contact me and anonymously offer a clever topic for us to discuss:
BBC Sherlock & the Victorian Age
Considering the popularity of BBC’s Sherlock…is the historical setting of Watson’s stories necessary? What does the Victorian Age add to them? When they are reset in the present age, is something about these stories lost? Is something gained?
On the BBC website, Steven Moffat (executive producer and head writer of Sherlock) is quoted as saying,
“Conan Doyle’s stories were never about frock coats and gas light; they’re about brilliant detection, dreadful villains and blood-curdling crimes—and frankly, to hell with the crinoline. Other detectives have cases, Sherlock Holmes has adventures, and that’s what matters.”
However, news recently broke that there will be a Sherlock special set in Victorian England, so perhaps, Mr. Moffat has noticed something missing… Thoughts?
6 Replies to “Weekly Forum 2015: #12”
I think the Victorian special isn’t because something is missing–I think it is just because it will be so much fun to do. I’m not exactly sure how all that will work since the characters from that series are so firmly rooted in the present. It will be interesting to see how the actors play the characters differently within the societal confines of the Victorian era–as they must. Much of that, of course, will depend on the writing. Fingers crossed that the writing is wonderful. I haven’t read which of the BBC crew wrote the Victorian episode. I love Cumberbatch and Freeman in the modern setting–however, I’m not sure how they will appeal to me in the Victorian age.
My general rule when it comes to statements from Gatiss or Moffat is that I should not take what they say as definitively set in stone. They are adaptable and creative, so even if they say they don’t think the charm in the Canon had anything to do with the setting, if they suddenly get an idea to write a story set in the Victorian Age, no one would stop them. Indeed, no one would really want to stop them. 🙂
I kinda hope they set out to adapt the Blue Carbuncle as that would be a lovely story to see around Christmas. Knowing them, however, it will more likely be several stories mixed together in an unexpected way. At the very least, I hope there is at least one reference to BLUE in the upcoming special.
I agree with Margie: it will be interesting to see the actors portray their characters in a different time period. As Martin Freeman often insisted, he is not playing a Canonical Watson, he plays the version of Watson as interpreted by the writers for BBC Sherlock. As such, Freeman’s Watson has some notable differences to what we know of the Canonical Watson, aside from being in completely different time periods. So now that the time period is the same, are the two Watsons more comparable by existing in the same setting or are they still as different in those specific deviations as ever.
I think the character I would love to see in this time period the most is Amanda Abbington’s Mary Morstan. I don’t know if she’s in this special, but I would love to see how she will portray Mary in the Victorian Age.
Sherlock Holmes can be — has been — set in times other than the original Victorian and Edwardian Eras, so clearly it can be done. What those antique settings do is add something for those who follow the stories, both the originals and the homages paid to the original.
From where we stand, the world seems to be moving faster and faster. This may, of course, be a function of the Theory of Relativity, or it may be true. Certainly the rate of new inventions, the pace of communication, the speed of travel, and much else all have increased.
The world of the original Sherlock Holmes was very likely much more complicated for those who lived in it than it appears in the Canon, but for those who live in this speeding world, it appears an oasis of calm, where there was time for leisurely conversation and even solving a case might involve nothing more hectic than sitting on cushions all night while smoking a pipe. It’s the apparent calm and relatively orderly society that some of us seek as an extra when we read, or watch, or listen to the Canon. That world where it is always 1895 is not a sine qua non to the enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but surely it is a gift many of us cherish.
I discovered Holmes and Watson in elementary school in the 1950’s. The library book had a map of Victorian London, which I memorized–and visualized on my first visit to the city 25 years later. While I favor the Victorian setting of the Rathbone/Bruce and Brett/Hardwicke films, I’m surprised at how much I enjoy the modern flavor of “Sherlock” (with the exception of its Moriarty character). Maybe it’s because as Sherlockians we can connect those episodes to the original Canon story on which they are not-very-loosely based. The Downey/Law films were highly entertaining action films (Sherlock as Iron Man?), but other than the Victorian setting they bear little resemblance to Doyle. I have no time for “Elementary” and its female Watson. My personal preference, then, is to retain the Victorian ambiance, although I cannot deny the brilliance of the Moffat & Co. productions as fine entertainment.
There’s a big difference between placing stories in a Victorian setting and in the Victorian world. Yes, the Holmes stories were about detection and deduction, and that can be translated to any time period, be it Sherlock’s or Brother Cadfael’s. Successful period productions of the Canon like the Brett series go beyond the props and costumes to emphasize the minutiae of the Victorian world on which many of Holmes’s deductions rested: obvious class differences, the effects of long-gone trades on the body, telltale stains seldom seen in heavily paved modern cities. I am curious to see how the Sherlock crew is going to translate their show to the Victorian era, and whether the special will be a true period piece or just Sherlock in costume.
On of the things that gripped the Strand reader about Holmes was that he was a scientific man who applied those principles to the chaos of crime–that was cutting-edge in both fiction and fact. The world of mystery and real-life forensics lives in the shadow of Holmes and Doyle. While Holmes and Watson are archetypes that can be translated successfully into all sorts of milieux, the lightning-in-a-bottle that Doyle captured with character, place and setting is hard to replicate.
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