Le Figaro - Pre-translated/edited questions and answers

On Wednesday July 3rd an article was published in Le Figaro in which I was one of the "experts" interviewed about Sherlock and its impact. I was asked a lot more than was ultimately published so I obtained permission from the journalist to post my original answers to her questions here.

What was your first reaction when you heard about the project ?

As a person who is very open about preferring a Victorian Holmes, I naturally had my concerns. However, knowing that Mark Gatiss was one of the driving forces behind it gave me confidence that it would be handled well. The BBC sent me a copy of the first episode in advance of the original UK broadcast, in preparation for a radio interview, and I was very pleased with what had been achieved.

Do you think the BBC series has managed to stay true to the spirit of Doyle ? Or are some key elements of Holmes mythology missing ?

They have certainly remained true to the spirit and, in some senses, have been more faithful than some Victorian-set adaptations. I regard the Victorian London of the original stories very much as a character so that is unavoidably missing in the update. Aside from that all the key elements of the original stories are there and, I feel, we get an authentic experience - albeit in a contemporary setting.

What do you think of Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock?

Every actor brings something different to the role of Sherlock Holmes and Cumberbatch is no exception. Although his Holmes is more abrupt than the Holmes of the books it is, perhaps, a more apt portrayal for the setting than the original Holmes would be. I think for a contemporary Sherlock he is perfect.

What are your expectations (or fears) concerning the third series of Sherlock ?

I have no fears for the third series. I think the one fear that most fans have is that each series could be the last. However, there has been much talk of a fourth series and I am convinced it will happen. The clues we have been given about the episodes for series three give us some idea of where the writers are going with the characters but I think the one thing we all know with certainty, when it comes to Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, is that we don’t have the remotest chance of knowing what they are really going to do.

Do you have a favorite episode ?

That is a tough question. From across the six episodes to date, the one I find myself watching most is A Scandal in Belgravia. This is partly due to the fact that the first original story I read was A Scandal in Bohemia - on which the episode was based. The episode shows Sherlock at his most vulnerable which was very much in the same spirit as the original story. It is one of the few cases where you see the infallible detective meet his match and be forced to re-evaluate his opinion of women.

What has Sherlock by the BBC brought to the Holmes fan community ?

Firstly – a lot of new fans. In the run up to 2009, when the first Warner Bros film came out, the world of Sherlock Holmes was rather quiet. Robert Downey Jr’s appearance made Holmes part of the mainstream in way that he had not, arguably, been since the late nineteenth century. However, one film every few years was not going to be enough to keep Holmes in the limelight. The BBC Sherlock series, and the quality of its casting, ensured that Sherlock Holmes is probably as popular now (if not more so) as he was to the original Victorian readers of The Strand Magazine. In the process the series has handed to audiences a hero that they can really believe in and, to some extent, relate to. This is only possible because of his contemporary setting. People often forget that the original Holmes was contemporary to his initial readers and part of his attraction to those Victorian readers was that he was of their time. The modern Sherlock gives us a chance to appreciate the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in much the same way as those original Victorian readers.

In America, Elementary, was recently launched and is also a modern reinterpretation of Sherlock. There were also the more traditional movies with Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. How do you explain this Sherlock popularity ? Can we talk about a revival ?

We are certainly looking at a revival. As I've already said, Holmes is arguably more popular now than he has been for over 100 years. It has to be born in mind that this popularity is as much to do with the internet and social media as it is to do with the actors/writing. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are very popular but so were Jeremy Brett/David Burke before them and Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce before them.
What Brett and Rathbone didn't have in their time were platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. These make it much easier for fans worldwide to coordinate with each other to discuss the programmes and celebrate the stories and actors.  It also permits fans to interact with many people connected to the series in a way that fans of Brett and Rathbone could only dream of.

When you write “They have certainly remained true to the spirit and, in some senses, have been more faithful than some Victorian-set adaptations.”, can you give me one or two  examples ?
Are you feeling that some key elements of Holmes’ DNA are missing or been toned down ?

In terms of things that have been toned down there is obviously the drug use. The Holmes of the stories turned to cocaine when bored and that is something missing from the BBC adaptation. It has been tentatively hinted at but it is not portrayed - presumably through a natural desire not to glamorise drug use.

As for being true to the spirit and more faithful - for one example of this we can look no further than John Watson. Martin Freeman gives us very much the intelligent and capable former soldier of the books. He does not present us the bumbling idiot that so many adaptations have given us which started, largely, with Nigel Bruce.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives us a Sherlock tortured by boredom and a Sherlock where there is a balance of the mental and physical. Many other portrayals of Holmes have tended to emphasise the mental or physical at the expense of the other. Robert Downey Jr's Holmes is much more physical than mental whereas the Holmeses of Jeremy Brett, Peter Cushing and Douglas Wilmer were much more mind than body in their approach to Holmes.

Questions from Constance Jamet @constancejamet

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