‘Sherlock’: ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ review

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Writers and producers must be cursing Steven Moffat right now. It’s only day one of 2012, and already Sherlock looks like being the highlight of the TV year.

It’s difficult to describe just how good A Scandal in Belgravia is without descending into gibbering hyperbole. Even trying to view it as the Great Detective himself would, with dispassionate analytical logic, you’re hard pressed to stop breaking into a smile; the kind of knowing ‘well-played…!’ that Sherlock allows himself when thinking of ‘The Woman’.

A cheeky phone call neatly solves last series’ most cliffiest of cliffhangers and also plunges us into the next adventure. No time to ponder Moriarty’s ringtone over a pipe of tobacco. The game’s afoot…

It’s a glorious deconstruction of A Scandal in Bohemia, but one which also manages to poke fun at and pay respectful homage to decades of Holmes lore in the most dexterous ways possible; whether it’s in the wonderful twists on Holmes titles like The Greek Interpreter, the sizzling update of Sherlock and Adler’s first encounter, or Benedict Cumberbatch pulling off the audacious feat of looking sexy in a Deerstalker.

And speaking of sexy, recent Spooks star Lara Pulver is the perfect Irene Adler. She is every perfect inch the match for Holmes, enjoying the perpetual one-upmanship like it’s a sadomasochistic mind-game crossed with a ‘30s screwball comedy. If Moriarty is the anti-matter to Holmes’ matter, Adler is the Higgs-Boson; glitteringly unobtainable but knowingly tied to everything we’ve seen.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are once again faultless as Holmes and Watson, but Cumberbatch especially deserves praise for bringing a new dimension to Holmes without compromising the 21st century character he and Messrs Moffat & Gatiss have already built up.

The emotions of love and loss are all filtered through Sherlock’s crack’d psyche. Watching him process them you can’t help but be reminded of Moffat’s other mad genius, The Doctor. The only difference is that Sherlock has no blue box to run to. He must deal with these alien emotions and his struggle with them, armed with nothing but a cigarette and a phone, is quietly compelling.

The true beauty of A Scandal in Belgravia is in its fiendishly Moffat-y plotting. The boomerang death we’re presented with early on has the sort of ‘of course!’ strangeness that brings to mind David Renwick’s strongest Jonathan Creek episodes and proves to be a lovely bit of misdirection; a sleight of hand while the true prestige of the episode unfolds and then folds together perfectly, like plot origami, into a fascinating new shape that you didn’t realise you were looking at all along.

The jumbo jet filled with corpses is delightfully shocking, not just because it’s a plane full of dead people, or because it reminds you of every Ryanair flight you’ve ever been on, but of what it represents.

Sherlock‘s world is not as black and white as he’d like it to be. Not as black and white as Conan Doyle made it. The 21st century is a dangerous, complex place: kindly landladys get beaten up, Jim Moriarty’s on the loose in a great suit, and even Mycroft Holmes treads a finer moral line than ever before.

So welcome to 2012 Mr. Holmes, for oh so many reasons we’re very, very glad to see you.

Aired at 8.10pm on Sunday 1st January 2012 on BBC One.

> Order the Series 2 DVD on Amazon.

> Buy the Series 1 DVD on Amazon.

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