A Scandal in Belgravia: my views


I AM ARGUABLY the biggest fan of Sherlock Holmes East of the Equator. As a purist, Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes hardly appealed to me: as a fun, entertaining film, definitely, but it could have been anybody in Holmes’ shoes; it was like Holmes was a namesake, a platform on which to launch Ritchie’s own characters which were not all that true to the original save similar characters and mashed up story-lines.

What was startling however, was that BBC’s modern adaptation of Holmes in their terribly successful series, Sherlock, was something I immediately liked; it was like getting to know the real Holmes all over again with a 21st century backdrop, yet staying true to the original. It was a rare case for me, but I soon became as big a fan of Sherlock as I was of Doyle’s timeless character. I might even go so far as to say I think Doyle would have liked Moffat’s new Sherlock just as much.

Although it is pretty late (for the second season, as I could only recently get my hands on the episodes) I think what I do have to say is valid. And here is what I intend to cover in this article:

[item]Sherlock’s violin and Watson’s blog[/item] [item]Irene as a dominatrix?[/item] [item]How on Earth did Sherlock infiltrate a middle-eastern terrorist cell?[/item] [item]Was the title misleading?[/item]
A scandal in belgravia
Poster for “A Scandal in Belgravia” with Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) in the most controversial shot of the episode.

Cumberbatch on the violin

I hate to discourage somebody, so I want to make it clear that I am not discouraging anybody here. Benedict Cumberbatch is a perfectionist: he got Holmes just right, the intensity of his acting is brilliant and his fiddling is commendable although he does falter at certain times.

In the original Holmes books Watson hints that his friend is a terrible player of the violin, and that he grazes the bow on the strings occasionally; that is why it is alright, in my opinion, for Cumberbatch to falter. But we have already been down that road in the first season when he was toying with his instrument soon after the bomb blast (The Great Game.)

In this season, he actually plays it beautifully. (Well she plays it beautifully because the woman who played the violin offscreen (and taught the actor his bow movement) is the one we hear really.) But, while they may have heard it on-set as slightly jarring but not turning-off, to fellows who actually play the violin, like myself, his bow movement immediately looks suspicious. But Sherlock is so great, I am willing to let it go!

And for those who are interested, other songs that Holmes plays (since this episode seems to have a lot of violin) are God save the QueenAuld Lang Syne, and We wish you a merry christmas — all pretty well known, and easy, tunes.

Alongside this is Watson’s blog — perhaps the most symbolic of them all in the 21st century version. Doyle’s Watson chronicled Holme’s select adventures in a book (which really appeared in the Strand) so now Watson blogs his adventures and even has a counter suggesting over 1,800 readers came to his blog in six hours. Brilliant, but I’m not all that comfortable with it.

For starters, blogs gain you global attention if you do it right. My own blog, for instance, sees readers from around the world; needless to say, Watson’s does too. And that means Holmes is gaining a worldwide fan base which is unlike the original Holmes who preferred to work behind the scenes — for the fun of it — and leave the crime scene before it is closed up and announced to the papers, dropping all the credit on one of the Inspectors’ laps (and that was usually Lestrade or Gregson.) So how will Holmes’ cope with it? Will his newly popularised deduction skills (which are really abductive reasoning skills) harm his career by making him a familiar face and putting his enemies on the cover?

The Woman

The episode’s last dialogue is simply (Holmes:) “The Woman… THE Woman.”

It is sufficient to confirm that Irene Adler has cast an impression on Holmes like no other: this is just as in the books. Adler is the only woman Holmes ever favoured — perhaps even liked — although he hated any woman being manhandled. But the bigger catch is in a great little wordplay on the part of Moffat. Doyle’s Adler is known as ‘the woman who beat Sherlock Holmes’ because he is unable to deduce anything from her in the story chronicling her first appearance, A Scandal in Bohemia. In this story too, Adler herself states that Holmes should remember her as the ‘woman who beat [him]’ but the catch is that Moffat’s Adler actually beat Sherlock with her crop. Neat. And acceptable.

But what some did not find all that acceptable was the fact that in the original story, where Irene is a respectable woman– although a subtle con artist with connections to Sherlock’s evil mirror-image, Prof James Moriarty — she is a dominatrix in this version, who ‘knows what a man loves and gives it to them.’ Apparently this caused a little ruckus in strong female-centric circles which the BBC did not bother to comment on, stating they only got congratulations from their viewers and not anything else.

Eos Chater -- violinist
Eos Chater, who was hired to teach Cumberbatch how to play the violin in Sherlock

Added to this what caused a bigger controversy was BBC’s airing of the episode before ‘adult (watershed) hours’ (whatever those are) because it showed a brief shot of a nude Lara Pulver as Irene Adler (see poster above) which was apparently uncalled for before the nine-and-a-half million viewers on New Year’s day. Perhaps not everybody understands the famous French cry of L’art pour l’art.

So in order to say things against the BBC for showing that shot, the Daily Mail carried an article with several picture-screenshots from the film. Ironic? Makes one wonder.

The CIA and Sherlock’s visit to a middle-eastern terrorist cell

Two interesting introductions to the Sherlock series, apart from Adler and Moriarty himself (whose phone starts ringing a Bee Gees’ tune in the middle of a climax!) are the intervention of the CIA and Sherlock’s hinted at visit to a middle-eastern terrorist cell to save his woman, Irene.

Adding to my earlier point of Sherlock’s M.O. being work-beihind-the-scenes, the CIA getting to know so much about Sherlock as is shown in the episode really crosses the line. So Sherlock goes from being a British psychopath of a half-human admirable cold character to just another random talented detective.

Perhas this is Moffat’s biggest, and only, mistake so far; but this is one I just cannot live with — especially if those CIA fellows keep coming repeatedly in further episodes too.

How scandalous is it in Belgravia after all?

Personally, this episode although borrowing its name from a landmark Holmes’ story (A Scandal in Bohemia) seems a little off the actual story line. For Sherlock, this story is important, no doubt, but this is a lot more about getting to know characters; and understanding the new set up of Baker Street and London in general; and exploring Holmes’ (both Sherlock and Mycroft’s) strange human sides — which we soon find, for good, that they do not have. And it is a lot less of major, shocking deductions that Holmes is known for and the scandal itself is not touched upon so intensely.

Again, I can live with it because it really sets a great stage for The Hounds of Baskerville based upon Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Now that we have done A Study in ScarletFive Orange PipsA Scandal in BohemiaThe Hound of the Baskervilles and The Final Problem, I cannot help but excitedly wonder what Moffat, Gatsis and the others have lined up for us next year!

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