Tag Archives: Victorian London

Sherlock Special…an apology?

17 Mar

I was very interested yesterday to see that Steve Moffat has said that the Sherlock special is set entirely in Victorian London and is not a part of a three episode arc.  It is a stand alone story.

To me this is very interesting.  As I have said before, I am a Sherlock Holmes fan first, and a Sherlock fan second.  With that in mind, I have to tell you that I was deeply disappointed with series 3 of “Sherlock”.  I loved “The Empty Hearse”, but I disliked “The Sign of Three” and “His Last Vow” intensely.  Both episodes went too far off canon for my liking. Mary Morstan was NOT an assassin.  In season 2, Irene Adler as a dominatrix rather than an opera singer was clever.  Both professions are/were a little dodgy in their respective time periods.  But Mary Morstan as a ruthless killer for hire?  No, nay, NEVER!  Holmes disapproved of Watson’s marriage and did not attend the wedding.  He sure as shit didn’t arrange it or was best man.  Too far away from the originals for my comfort.  Way too far.  I am not the only Sherlockian to feel like this.

The only thing that saved “The Sign of Three” and “His Last Vow” was the friendship between Sherlock and John.  That was as strong as ever, and as it is the core of the canon, it went some way to redeeming both episodes in my eyes.  Not enough that I will willing subject myself to watching them again, however.

In my opinion “Sherlock” is starting to head into “Elementary” territory, ie, using the character names, but the characters don’t have the spirit of the originals.  Nothing more than a drama using well known characters, but not respecting the spirit of those characters.

I think Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss are aware that they are now treading in dangerous waters.  Waters that could rise up and swallow them.

Hence the special.  A purely Victorian special. Something to make the hearts of all Sherlockians beat faster with excitement.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bringing their special on screen chemistry as Sherlock and John to the more traditional Holmes and Watson.  From what we have seen from the setlock photographs, it is obvious that the special is something of a tip of the hat to past incarnations of the immortal duo.  Several shots I have seen recreate scenes from Granada Televisions wonderful adaptations staring Jeremy Brett and David Burke/Edward Hardwicke.  Other photos I have seen made me think of “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”, the Billy WIlder film staring Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely that was one of the inspirations for “Sherlock”.  Indeed, the Mycroft of “Sherlock” is lifted lock, stock, and a cellar full of barrels, from the movie.

The special is a return to the roots of “Sherlock”.  To the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that captured the imagination of generations.

In light of this, I am wondering if the special is a form of apology.  An apology to the Sherlockians who came to “Sherlock” looking for a modern take on the icons, and were horrified by the direction season 3 took.

I can honestly say that I am looking forward more to the special than I am to season 4.

Mayhem

16 Nov

“Mayhem” by Sarah Pinborough is a novel that  looks at a little known series of crimes that were being committed in London at the same time as the Ripper murders.  The Thames Torso Murders.

The book starts with the remains of a woman being discovered where Scotland Yard is being built (this really did happen).

At first, the book appears to be a normal crime novel…then things take a twist into the dark and paranormal.

The main character is Dr Thomas Bond, who was a real person.  Considered by many to be the first criminal profiler.  He created the first profile of Jack the Ripper.  He was Police Surgeon for A Division (Westminster) under whose purvey the Thames Torso Killings fell.

Much of what happens in the book, with the exception of the horror elements of the story, did actually occur.  Dr Bond’s autopsy of Mary Jane Kelly is quoted, and his profile of the Ripper is quoted in full in the novel.

Several other characters will be recognizable to those interested in the crimes of Jack the Ripper.

This is, if you’ll excuse the pun, a ripper of a novel.  Fast paced, exciting, with an escalating sense of horror that has you on the edge of your seat.

Ms Pinborough has a dark sense of humour which helps take the edge off the fear factor:

“Found dead.  A verdict as useful as a fucking bible in a Bluegate brothel.”

“Of course she was bloody found dead.” Moore grumbled.  “Some bastard cut off her head and her limbs.  If she’d been found alive I would have been more than bloody surprised.”

I am eagerly awaiting her second book in the series “Murder” which is due for release next year.

Note: Apparently the back of the book was incorrect.  “Murder” was released earlier this year.  Am now awaiting my copy from the library.

Jack the Ripper

23 Feb

When Lewis Collins passed away last year, I was reminded of a mini-series he did in 1988 which was a favourite of mine at the time.  The mini-series was “Jack the Ripper” staring Michael Caine and Lewis Collins.

Recently I was able to find it on dvd and purchased it.  I was a little worried that it wouldn’t have stood the test of time (it was made in 1988), but I need not have worried.  It was brilliant.  The series won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe and 26 years later you can still see why it was a winner.  The script was excellent, the casting fantastic, and the direction awesome.

Michael Caine was brilliantly cast as Detective Inspector Freddie Abberline with Lewis Collins as his assistant, Sgt George Godley.  This combination is really what made the mini-series so damn good.  Michael Caine and Lewis Collins had fantastic chemistry.  Godley is annoyed at Abberline’s drinking, but will protect him with every breath he draws, Abberline on the other hand, tolerates and even appreciates Godley’s mother hen instincts, even if he does tease him about it.  The two men are a damn near unstoppable force.

The other casting was nearly as good.  The Ripper’s victims are shown as human.  Not just ciphers or non-entities, as many other Ripper based productions do, where the killer is more important than the victims.

The careful build of a variety of suspects is excellently done as well.  Armand Assante portrayed American actor Richard Mansfield with an almost perfect arrogance.  Ken Bones role of Queen Victoria’s psychic Robert James Lees was also well done.  It was the sort of role where an actor with a tendency to ham it up could do a lot of damage.  Ken Bones was superb.  Robert Lees is portrayed with fire and verve and disconcerting strength, but Ken Bones never allowed him to descend into the vaudevillian fortune teller stereotype.

Susan George as Catherine Eddowes was excellent, as was Lysette Anthony as Mary Jane Kelly.  Lysette’s soft Irish accent was accurate all the way through.  Lysette Anthony was always underrated as an actress.

The actor who played the pimp, Billy, worried me for a while.  I knew his face but couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before.  A trip to imdb this morning revealed he’s Gary Shail who played Steve in “Metal Mickey”, a kid’s show that I never missed.

The only this I found that irritated me a little with “Jack the Ripper”, was the totally unnecessary inclusion of a rather pathetic love interest for Abberline.  An artist named Emma, who was played by Jane Seymour.  A love interest was pointless and the scenes with her only served to slow the pace down and muddy the waters a bit.

“Jack the Ripper” was packed with violence, darkness, and moments of genuine terror, leavened by the warm humour of Abberline and Godley.

After 26 years, “Jack the Ripper” still stands up with the best.  I am glad I managed to get my hands on a copy.  It will be watched many, many times in the future.

Ripper Street

28 Jul

The much acclaimed BBC series “Ripper Street” started here in Australia last night and after one episode I am already a fan.

Written and created by Richard Warlow, it seamlessly blends historical figures with fictional ones to create a smooth, but gritty, production that doesn’t attempt to whitewash the nasty aspects of Victorian English society.

Matthew MacFadyen plays Inspector Edmund Reid of H Division, which includes Whitechapel.  Edmund Reid was a real person who initially ran the Jack the Ripper case, until Scotland Yard sent Freddie Abberline in to take charge.  Abberline is also a character in Ripper Street.

The show uses actual Ripper victim photos, really blurring the line between fact and fiction.

The other two major characters of fictional.  Reid’s sergeant, Drake, and an extremely annoying American former army surgeon and Pinkterton agent, Homer Jackson.   I took against Jackson when he hit a woman, brothel owner Susan.  I know it’s accurate for the time period, but doesn’t mean I have to like it or the character.  Though it is obvious that Jackson is being set up to be somewhat unlikeable in the viewers eyes.  Inspector Reid (to Sgt Drake): I know it’s tempting, but try not to kill him.

The plot of the first episode involves the possible return of the Ripper and Freddie Abberline’s obsession with catching him, bare knuckled fighting, naughty postcards and the world’s first snuff movie.  Best scene has to be Reid, Drake and Jackson trapped in a burning photographer’s studio.  Drake (about Reid): What’s he doing?  Jackson: Crazy bastard’s making gunpowder!

The use of Victorian street slang or thieves’ cant works.  Quite often attempts at this can come across as pretentious.  In “Ripper Street” it works and works well.

“Ripper Street” is delicious.  Dark, lush, atmospheric, grotesque at times, violent, exciting, and totally compelling viewing.  It actually reminds me on some levels of the “Cribb” series of the 1980s, but much deeper and richer.

As soon as “Ripper Street” is available on dvd here in Australia, I will be buying it.  It is a show that will repay many, many viewings.

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