A Chat with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (“Sherlock”)

The characters of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty associate Dr. John Watson have been interpreted every which way but loose since their original inception in 1887, courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle, and with Guy Ritchie’s take on the Holmes mythos having only just hit theaters last year, it would seem to be a bit premature to put Baker Street’s most famous detective onto the small screen as well…but, then, “Sherlock” – premiering here in the States as part of PBS’s “Masterpiece” on Sunday, Oct. 24, bears precious little resemblance to Robert Downey, Jr.’s big-screen adventure. This is a modern-day look at the characters and their mythology, and for those who might be skeptical that they can successfully survive such a transformation, I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I’ve only seen a portion of the first episode (“A Study in Pink”) thus far, but it was more than enough to sell me on tuning in on the 24th. Mind you, I also had the advantage of sitting down with the series’ executive producers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis, whose enthusiasm for the project proved decidedly contagious.

Bullz-Eye: Steven, you and I met in passing a few years ago at the “Jekyll” panel…a show which I loved, by the way…

Steven Moffat: Oh, thank you. Oh, good!

BE: …and, Mark, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now know that you made an appearance in that series.

Mark Gatiss: That’s right!

BE: So, Steven, what do you enjoy about the challenge of contemporizing British icons? I mean, you can argue that Dr. Jekyll is an icon of sorts, but then you’ve got Doctor Who, and now Sherlock Holmes.

SM: Well, being honest, for me, there isn’t really…it looks like there’s a narrative through that, that I’m trolling for things, but I’m really, really not. “Jekyll” was a totally different experience to this, the one big difference being that it was a sequel set in the modern day. And, really, it looks as if I’ve just been doing that, but, really, seriously, it wasn’t that. This is a completely different experience, and the challenge of this…well, they’re just joys, aren’t they?

MG: It’s true, yeah.

SM: There are so many things that…well, once having started talking about this, we realized it was going to work, because he can still be coming home from Afghanistan, a flat share is what we now call sharing rooms, we’ve gone back to sending telegrams by sending texts…it’s just perfect.

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Sherlock Holmes’ most terrifying assignment

We’re in the mid-Holiday lull here and I’d rather not bore you me with rehashing the weekend box office or endless lists and Oscar speculation…though here’s a cool compilation of various awards guru’s thoughts, via Anne Thompson who happens to be one of them, for those who can’t get enough of that.

Instead, in recognition of the success of “Sherlock Holmes” over the weekend, I’m going to bore entertain you with a scene from what I think has to be the best of the near sub-genre of off-beat, “non-canonical” Holmes films, Billy Wilder’s 1970 “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.” Below, Robert Stephens as Holmes meets with a genius obsessed Russian ballerina and her manager, who is helping her with a highly personal matter. Can Holmes be of assistance?

Fun fact: that’s real life Russian expat ballerina Tamara Vladimirovna Tumanova playing the dancer, she really was 49 years old in this scene and was married to the great screenwriter Casey Robinson.

So, is Holmes telling the truth re, Tchaikovsky not being an isolated case? About him and Watson — not a chance, not in a mainstream movie in 1970, anyway. But what about himself? Well, for that you’re going to have to watch the whole flick, which is really quite a wonder. Both a darned good Billy Wilder comedy and a great, if episodic, Sherlock Holmes mystery drama.

The reason it remains obscure is that while Stephens is a very good Holmes and Colin Blakely is an entirely solid Watson, they weren’t exactly huge on that indefinable whatsis that makes for star power. If Wilder had gotten his original choices, Peter O’Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson, you likely would have heard of this film by now, I think.

Come to think of it, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law might have worked quite well here also. How sad no one every thinks to reshoot great screenplays since remakes nearly always use entirely new screenplays. In this case, the studio demanded a shorter version of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s original script, forcing Wilder to thoroughly re-edit the film, so it would also be a kind of restoration.

  

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