Monday, December 27, 2004

Sherlock Holmes and the Silk Purse

The problem with national treasure Rupert Everett is that we’re running out of things for him to be bad in. The pampered prince of petulance needs a home, and he’s sulked through enough films, so now, alas, we must try and fit him into television.

Rupert Everett is a character (one shouldn’t say actor) of such pronounced distaste for the world that, when one sees him slouching though London’s gay soho, one doesn’t think “Is that Rupert Everett?” but, instead, “Who is that pissed-off man?”

It’s natural to see him as an ideal TV Sherlock Holmes – isolated, miserable, and as certain of his own brilliance as he is convinced of everyone else’s inadequacy. When I say “it’s natural”, I mean, it’s natural if you’re one of those TV casting types. It’s actually A Very Bad Idea.

The whole of Sherlock Holmes And The Silk Stocking was actually A Very Bad Idea. It is aptly summarised by Nancy Banks-Smith: “it was - just give me a minute to straighten my face – about a footman who has a foot fetish”.

But let’s talk about Rupert Everett – he was the most noticeable thing about it. An acquaintance claims to have sucked him off in Hyde Park: “He looked bored throughout, and came with a sigh.” Whether or not the story’s true, it perfectly describes him.

The art of television is capturing performances in a nicely-shaped bottle. Here, the bottle looked lovely (rolling fog, grand buildings and, as my mum said “lovely staircases”), but it was empty of any acting, bar a residue at the bottom from a couple of child actors who didn’t know better.

This was a prime example of good-looking bad television. No one ever sets out to make a bad programme, but it’s so easy to make a decision, a compromise, or a suggestion that tips it from being Something Good into A Thing Of Hopeful Desperation.

Here, so much effort had gone into nice staircases, plush gowns and lots and lots of smoke that one frequently forgot that there was something wrong with the script. There was music, lighting and atmosphere – proving that, if a script is flawed, everyone can turn up to work except for the poor people charged with delivering the lines.

This was wild, improbable Sexton Blake rather than rational Sherlock Holmes. The great detective should assemble available clues into a solution that startles a satisfied audience, able to tell itself “That makes wonderful sense!” The Silk Stocking did not make sense. Nor was it wonderful - its clues made revealed only as Sherlock Holmes solved them, like ducks in a fog-bound shooting gallery. Rupert would enter a room, Steadycam would wobble, fog would roll and then he’d leap off, eureka through a window.

The myriad historical inaccuracies didn’t help, being little details there for us to scratch irritably at. If we weren’t so bored we wouldn’t question an almost-possible world with phones, but no cars, 1910 clothes for Holmes but Victorian for everyone else. There were servantless houses, a practising female psychologist, widespread fingerprinting, men in lady’s bedrooms without social ruin, and exultant smoking of cigarettes without an ashtray in sight. Yeah – all possible, but not probable.

The biggest anachronism was the plot. Holmes vs a Motiveless Serial Killer just doesn’t work. That’s why Holmes meets Jack the Ripper is such a laughable cliché. The great brain can only solve great problems of logic – not the mystery of a cracked mind. Especially when, in this case, it turned out the villains were identical twins. Neither had a motive, other than that one of them got some form of gratification from touching lady’s tights. Don’t worry - you could tell from the look on Rupert’s face that he hated it too.

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