Steven Moffat has ruined me for Sherlock Holmes media. His TV series Sherlock is the yardstick by which all future exposure to the great detective will be measured. So, digging into these old Christopher Lee miniseries, I couldn’t help but wonder how Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman would handle these cases. Fortunately, the cast here do a remarkable job of embodying these characters, reimagining them and making them their own. Lee’s Sherlock Holmes is probably one of the more human portrayals I’ve seen. Holmes tends to be distant and disconnected, not to mention romantically dense and sexually disinterested. I’m of course ignoring the awful Robert Downey Jr. franchise, where Holmes is presented as a Hollywood action star.
Lee gives his Holmes some classic traits, like his eagerness to take a case simply to alleviate his boredom, and of course the presence of Irene Adler (Morgan Fairchild) is a good way to get under Sherlock’s skin in any incarnation. It’s fascinating for me to see the different versions of Irene Adler. In the Guy Ritchie action fest, she’s cunning and whitty, but unfortunately still a damsel in distress. Moffat makes Adler a dominatrix who first meets Holmes in the nude just to see how he’ll react. Here, Fairchild plays Adler as a very strong and independent woman, but definitely more rooted in realism than other versions I’ve seen. Her wit and charm isn’t over-written to the point of being too good to be true. Great dialogue like that is a lot of fun, but it’s nice to see a more realistic Adler in this series.
Patrick Macnee’s portrayal of Watson is fairly standard issue. Different versions of the good doctor all tend to be somewhat quiet and reserved, but other performances also add something else to the mix. Martin Freeman’s Watson is unconventionally young and is a bit of a womanizer. In the upcoming series Elementary, Watson will be portrayed by a woman (Lucy Liu). Here, Macnee simply represents the audience. He’s there to ask questions and help Holmes develop his theories, but is seriously lacking in a character of his own.
The series tends to celebrate its time period more than I’m comfortable with. In the first series, Holmes and Irene Adler go visit Sigmund Freud, who proceeds to hypnotize and analyze Adler. In Sherlock Holmes & The Incident at Victoria Falls, Holmes meets Teddy Roosevelt. These encounters feel a little inorganic and convenient; almost like winks to the audience to remind us we’re removed from our own time.
No special features on the disc, but there is about an hour of footage between the two series that has never been seen by American audiences.
Available now on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment.