2016’s first week of TV.
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, BBC 1 ✰✰✰
Shoot me, but I am not quite as enraptured by the BBC’s darling as every other human on planet Earth seems to be. Through no fault of his own, I can’t accept Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes; his never-ending CV of period drama roles and his singularly distinguished features make it impossible for me to forget his true identity on screen. Still, the idea of ignoring the latest episode of Sherlock somehow felt wrong, so I martyred myself and watched it anyway.
Undoubtedly, the show is a laudable feat of TV adaption and modern-day-ification and I get it, I do – though, somewhere within his sophisticated, modern-man makeover, doesn’t Sherlock lose some of his charm as a sort of old-school miracle worker? I’m sure it is completely intentional, progressive, moralising even … but something about it just jars. It’s too slick.
With this in mind, I expected that the going-back-in-time element might pacify me, and it sort of did. All of the characters’ 19th century alter egos improve them in my mind, perhaps it’s just because the costumes, accents and lack of computers make it more magical and easy to get carried away.
The first third wasn’t holding me, so much that I didn’t actually mind h
aving to absent myself from viewing for a short while to continue the toilet training of my new puppy. It did get better as the delightfully moustachioed Watson and dastardly Moriarty got to establish their Victorian selves and, just before the undead bride story started to feel a bit tiresome, little nuances between past and present, real and mind-palacial started to show.
But then, without much warning, the ante was upped about fifty times more than it needed to be. The tail end of the programme made me feel like I was being flung about on a time limboed, double-meta-fictional concord flight, when seconds before I had been taking a gentle, half-awake gondola ride. While it was SO clever, and it left no annoying non-sensical loose ends, it was just layer upon unnecessary layer of detail – I mean, they managed to cram the Suffragette movement in the final few minutes..?
Maybe it was simply too much for me for 9 o’clock on New Year’s day. Admittedly it was sort of satisfying to reach the eureka moment and make sense of it all, though I’m not sure that should I have had to go through the mental gymkhana to get there.
War and Peace, Episode 1/6, BBC 1 ✰✰✰✰
I doubt that I’m allowed to have an opinion on BBC 1’s War and Peace because I haven’t actually read it. Though I’d tell a jury that I’m writing this illegal review with a purposefully fresh, unadulterated perspective. Ordinarily, I’m embarrassingly protective of the vision I get from reading a great work of literature and have a zero-tolerance policy regarding any redrafting the powers that Beeb make. (The acute pain I felt last year when the ending to J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy was inexplicably ruined by a bizarre plot-change still smarts.) Also, I have always felt that a lot of TV adaptions rely on you having read the book they are based on to be able to keep up with them, so, in a way, I’m able to test just what the War and Peace people are really made of; it all hangs on whether I can grasp what is going on.
First thing’s first, it is distractingly beautiful. Like the 2012 Anna Karenina film, it doesn’t actually need to have any substance because the Russian landscape and architecture do the talking. Which is a good job because I couldn’t really make out what the actors were saying in the opening party scene- it was like being at real party where the background is too loud and you have to grimace your way through inaudible conversations. According to Twitter, I wasn’t alone. Behold, an abundance of passive-aggressive tweets. That said, I definitely don’t think it was all visual braun; there are so many memorable characters – but then it does have a knockout cast- Gillian Anderson and Jim Broadbent, I am looking at you.
It was quite pacey, but not in the rip-roaring way you speed confusedly through a heavily time-budgeted series. There is nothing heavy handed about it, it feels more like you’re travelling along with Pierre on his journey but you have enough time to take in the view.
The way we slip into Pierre’s dream sequences, namely the saucy bit where Miss Hélène strips off all her finery, is very effective at quickly telling us how rapidly Pierre’s life is changing since his inheritance, the slowness and blurriness of the closing shots show his lack of control. (If that is what I’m supposed to be understanding Mr Tolstoy. I wouldn’t know.)
So far, I feel like I have well and truly managed my first chunk of War and Peace. I could be wrong but I think there is something a bit different about this BBC drama. Instead of condensing the novel to an inch of it’s life and putting all the best bits in, this series seems to be offering little appetising tasters of the novel; breaking it down without being disrespectful. A bit like Sparknotes. I think the BBC are on to something, or perhaps they are just well aware that I’m just not the only one who hasn’t read the best piece of literature of all time.
Deutschland 83, Episode 1/8 Channel 4 ✰✰✰✰✰
Schizer! Definitely the number eins of this trio. The advert got to me first and from there I chose to watch it over War and Peace on Sunday’s evening’s TV clash without a second thought. Honestly, there isn’t much I can say about this exquisite tour de force of German TV engineering without sounding like I am under contract to spam the internet about how much I loved it.
It’s a tense, sentimental take on the East and West German divide, shown from the Eastern perspective, or so far at least, from the perspective of one young Eastern soldier, who is pretty much blackmailed into espionage. We look through the boyish eyes of Martin, a twenty-four year old undercover spy for the Stasi and the forth member that A-ha never had. It is his mixture of naivety and military competence which sets the tone of the programme.
The sets are brilliantly authentic and so the programme looks very retro, but it doesn’t feel cliched. There is a purpose to the focus on material things – clothes, food, brands – they act both as time capsules and subtle indicators of the difference between Germany’s sparring sides.
Being so stylish and a thriller, it’s really fun to watch – particularly the part where Martin has to learn Western colloquialisms – which is quite peculiar when you think about the nature of the time. I imagine things will soon get more tense a few episodes down the line as Martin gets put into stickier situations. Naturally, there are many sculptural jawlines to admire too. Don’t even think about it, just watch it.