A Scandal in Belgravia
by Steven Moffat
reviewed by Eddie McGuigan
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman return as Holmes and Watson in the critically aclaimed updating of the Sherlock Holmes stories, written by Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat and Whovian and Gentleman scribe Mark Gatiss with this disjointed adventure which is very much a pooling together of many threads for things which will, no doubt, pay dividends in future episodes – although I’m thinking that since the series is split into three with the middle one being the iconic Hound of the Baskervilles (an atypical Holmes story in many ways) we may need to wait until Series 3 before many of the threads can be satisfactorily dealt with.
Eventually – after a creepy encounter with Moriarty concludes the cliffhanger from Series 1 and Holmes and Watson go through a number of potential clients – this story is one of (almost) blackmail of the highest level, as future (almost) beau Irene Adler makes her first appearance in the series as a dominitrix with some very surprising and incriminating photographs which could be damning to a “certain” family, and Mycroft enlists – or should that be drafts – Holmes into solving the case. As always, of course, things are not as simple as that, but the oncoming storm thrown up is one more of character than plot and allows Moffat his trademark sparkling dialogue, particularly between Cumberbatch and Spook’s Lara Palver’s Adler to sizzle.
We’ve been sworn to secrecy with this episode, but it does contain many very iconic beats, from a Holmes/Moriarty encounter (more of which will no doubt play out in Episode Three), the violin, Lestrade, Mrs Hudson, Mycroft… and the first outing for a very, very iconic object – the last thing, of course, a private detective needs, Holmes bemoans, is a public image.
So with little I can say about the denouement or the plot, or indeed elements therewithin, I can at least discuss the cast.
They are, to a man, superb. Of course, we know what we’re getting from most of them, but considering this is a contemporary procedural drama, the Victorianness of the cast is amazing. Cumberbatch is just pitch perfect as Holmes, but he is a man very out of his time, and it is Freeman who brings a human, modern take on the partnership along with the wonderfully underplayed Rupert Graves both of whom now just accept Holmes genius, but in a sort of reluctant amazement “Listen to every word he says” Lestrade tells a colleague, “and try not to punch him.”
Supporting are three superb performances from firstly Mark Gatiss’s Mycroft, who’s sibling rivarly with Holmes simply crackles with verbal tennis that this time he almost wins (deuce, I think). This really is a part Gatiss was born to play.
In a neat dovetailing cameo, Andrew Scott is slick and insane and vicious as Moriarty and comes across as bonkers and charming as John Simm’s Master. There’s something very scary about his assured shark eyes. We’ll get more later, of course, but this was a wonderful little canope for episode three.
Pulver has been the face of the moment it seems, showing up in True Blood and more recently as the last section head of Spooks, and her Adler is beautiful, assured, clever and very, very sexy. She is everything you would image from Adler, without compromise, and the twenty first century updating of her profession makes perfect sense. Her immediate fascination with Holmes – and his with her – is scorching hot. She is perfectly cast.
Of course, too, director Paul McGuigan has this series in the palm of his hand, and his visual tricks are fabulous. On the whole, on screen graphics show you exactly what Holmes does, letting us in on his lightning fast deductions and how he sees the world, and it’s a clever conceit that is inverted when he first meets Irene. Slow sweeps and cuts and clever editing pack in lots of information into one scene, and this again probably echoes what Holmes sees.
In all, this episode isn’t the big twisty turny plot heavy procedural that Holmes is known for, and his deductions are actually an aside, but there is some wonderful character development – including Holmes being brought to earth with a bang thanks to Molly – and a nice turn from Cumerbatch and Brealey – which shows colour to Holmes seldom seen and which, (spoilers) may just pay dividends in Ep 3.