The programme's writer, Allan Cubitt, had done a cracking adaptation of Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles in 2002 directed by David Attwood and starring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson. While Roxburgh had his detractors (although I thought he gave a great, coldly cerebral performance) praise for Hart was unanimous, the script and actor taking an approach that emphasised Watson's adaptability, strength of character and military service in Afghanistan rather more than other adaptations. Cubitt also teased out the issues of trust from Conan Doyle's story, giving the relationship between Holmes and Watson an absorbing frisson.
I was hoping for more adaptations, but when the BBC announced that Cubitt was creating a new Holmes story I was curious, but a little disappointed. Upon learning that Roxburgh had been replaced by Rupert Everett, whom I couldn't see working in the role at all, I found my enthusiasm waning.
I shouldn't have been so concerned. Simon Cellan Jones had replaced Attwood at the helm and actually, though the production was a very different experience to The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking was generally highly successful.
Set sometime after the Conan Doyle's stories, the script is lifted out of simple pastiche by the manner in which Cubitt moves the central characters' relationship on. Holmes and Watson are older and while the detective's life has, to some extent, stagnated, the good doctor's has moved on in both professional and personal arenas.
This of course changes when Holmes begins investigating a series of murders, all involving young women with beautiful feet and strangulation via the titular hosiery.
Hart continues to be wonderful as Watson, while Everett makes for a very captivating and atypical Holmes - while the flashes of intellectual brilliance are still there, his Holmes is somewhat more vulnerable and out-of-place or even out-of-time than the character is presented by Conan Doyle.
While perhaps a more modern mystery than some of the much-loved short stories and novels, The Case of the Silk Stocking is nonetheless an exceedingly satisfying mystery. This modernity is excused to an extent by the tale being situated after the Conan Doyle canon and when it works the best it is precisely because the dynamic between the two leads has moved on.
The creators of this tale have taken the legacy of Holmes seriously and have come up with a very worthy and, more importantly, fantastically exciting tale. Although I miss Roxburgh (and nobody in moving image versions of the character stands up to Jeremy Brett) I'd be thrilled to see much more of Everett in the role.
Certainly, the production was stylish and efficient. Rupert Everett's Sherlock was different from Conan Doyle's, but at first this came across more as a different interpretation rather than the shoddy characterisation that became apparent later on. Despite a few irksome character moments, this was quite a handsome and intriguing Holmes, but really. Taking cocaine in the middle of a case, when a life could be at stake? That's not Sherlock Holmes by any stretch of the imagination. Character gripes aside though (and of those I have none with Watson, who was delightful) it was the new case itself that was the greatest let down. It just screamed trashy American crime show. Sherlock Holmes: SVU. Plotless titillation as opposed to a mystery that should have been a challenge Holmes' vast mental capacities - isn't it that element of his personality, coupled with his equally large flaws, the reason why his character still fascinates us after over a century?
Instead, this story was simplistic, predictable, and not quite long enough to last the show's time span. And the twist at the end, on which it seemed hinged the lasting interest and credibility of the show as a whole, was an obvious, almost crude cliché - one that imploded any chances Silk Stocking has of surpassing, or even matching the last adaptation. To make Holmes' intellect to conform to such a weak storyline was ridiculous to the point where it seemed insulting to the original work.
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