"He is a Russian. His name I will not tell." [GOLD]
|Igor Petrenko as Sherlock Holmes
Though Sherlock Holmes adaptations have never been lacking in this world, there seems to have been a particularly great upsurge of them in the past handful of years.They need hardly be named - Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, the BBC's Sherlock, and CBS' Elementary are all of recent and not-so-lamented memory. To be added to that list is a new Russian adaptation, titled quite simply and eponymously Sherlock Holmes. The series aired recently; I have so far caught the first couple of episodes (both two-parters that run for 90-minutes). There is hardly the space here for a lengthy review, but, with my ability to watch the series in my native Russian language, I feel that I must be the messenger that provides however short a review.
It is not a surprise to see another adaptation of Holmes in the Russian language: Holmes is a popular figure in Russia and the nations of the former Soviet Union. Along with the characters of Dumas and Stevenson, he is one of those heroic figures whose stories every child has read and whose adventures have been incarnated in excellent film adaptations. Unfortunately, this particular version is below the mark of the greatest adaptations of the Canon, past and present.
Each episode begins with great fidelity to the Canon, in the form of a recitation by Watson of lengthy paragraphs from the relevant stories. As such, the first episode begins with the first few paragraphs of A Study in Scarlet, then throws the viewer straight into the action, with a murder - forcing our noble doctor to meet the great detective over a different kind of corpse than the one Holmes was canonically beating when introduced to Watson by Stamford. The first episode adapts "The Adventure of Black Peter," mixed with a much watered-down case of blackmail a la "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" (though unfortunately without the eponymous character). The second appears to be more original, but contains hints of "The Naval Treaty." Both plots are, unfortunately, rather sub-par.In the first, the mystery ranges from too convoluted to be interesting to too exact an adaptation of the canonical mystery to be interesting; the second is not even a mystery itself but rather a complex political machination of which Holmes is the victim (and in which, to my great disappointment, the great Irene Adler is reduced to a bargaining chip in order to manipulate Holmes).
Here's a trailer of the series:
As for the characters themselves: this version of Holmes seems to have taken after the recent trend of shedding Holmes of his austerity, to portray him as young, frenzied, idiosyncratic, and deeply flawed. However, one gets the sense that, in this version, he is perhaps too flawed. One of the great fascinations of Holmes' character has always been his flaws, but in this case, it is difficult to perceive the venerable figure of the detective through those flaws. He fails to be taken seriously by the police on a number of accounts, gets blackmailed, kidnapped, and buoyed about by political machinations, has no fighting prowess to speak of (one remembers that Holmes is canonically an expert boxer), and requires Watson's constant assistance (and rescue). Certainly, he also has the deductive and analytical qualities of the great detective, but there the similarity seems to end.
In sharp contrast to Holmes, this version of Watson is a magnificent portrayal. No longer does he occupy the backstage: rather than being either chronicler or simple foil for Holmes, he is a character in his own right, and perhaps even a more heroic one than Holmes himself. He is a man of many talents: the expert fighter that Holmes is not (allowing him to come to Holmes' aid on numerous occasions), brave, loyal, resourceful, and also possessing all that worldly skill that Holmes seems to lack. He is the perfect partner to the detective.
The series also possesses a number of other charms. Mostly, they are in the form of the friendship between Holmes and Watson. It is this warm camaraderie that they share from their earliest days that is perhaps one of the greatest draws of the stories, and here the Russian series does not disappoint. Our two protagonists hit off their friendship quickly, with Watson almost instantly willing to plunge into danger for Holmes' sake and serve as his partner in crime (or the hunting down of crime). There's also a few charming references to previous adaptations, from Holmes' decision to use Basil Rathbone as a fake name during an investigation, to Holmes and Watson's friendly "boxing match" at the beginning of their acquaintance (an obvious allusion to the Soviet adaptation). There's the portrayal of Mrs. Hudson - who, rather than an elderly, motherly figure,is a youthful beauty whose relationship with Holmes is more than intriguing. And, finally, there is humor - I often found myself laughing out loud during several well-acted scenes dispersed amid the less-impressive plot.
I have yet to decide whether I will watch the entire series through to its conclusion: there are certainly pros and cons to this adaptation, and the warm connection between Holmes and Watson is certainly a compelling draw. There are, however, adaptations that are much more clever and fresh with what they do than this one.