Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2015)
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Written by: Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs
ON BLU-RAY AND DVD:11th January
RUNNING TIME: 87 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Officla HCF Critic
In Victorian London, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are presented with a puzzling case by Inspector Lestrade. Emelia Ricoletti, a bride gone mad, fired on by-passers in the street, before committing suicide by shooting herself in the head through her mouth. Later that evening, however, while exiting an opium den, her husband was confronted by Emelia, who shot him before disappearing into the fog. Intrigued by the question of how Emelia apparently survived, Sherlock takes the case and at the morgue, he is informed that the woman who killed herself, the woman who murdered Mr Ricoletti, and the body on hand, have all been positively identified as Emelia. When the bride apparently returns to murder other men, he deduces that these must be copycat crimes….
I’m not sure if I’m going to enjoy writing this review, and I wanted to wait until I had properly collected my thoughts, which were very mixed up, about The Abominable Bride before I started typing, but my main emotion right now is sadness, sadness about a once brilliant TV series that has begun to, to use a crude term, disappear up its own arse. The decline began in Season 3 though it was still, on the whole, pretty good and actually improves when you watch the three episodes again, most notably the bizarre The Sign Of Three [that weird wedding one] which has its annoying aspects but is in hindsight an impressively ambitious and experimental piece of television with perhaps Benedict Cumberpatch’s best performance as Sherlock. But The Abominable Bride….well, about half way through it my heart started to feel very heavy because of how great the series used to be, right from the very first few minutes of the first episode where it was immediately evident to this Sherlock Holmes fan, a fan who was very dubious about the modernising of Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal creation, that they had got everything so right, from the tone to the style to the writing to the acting. It just worked, and I fell in love with the series there and then.
Even in those days, it seemed to me that, while the updating was brilliant and convincing, these incarnations of the characters might still work well in their Victorian setting, though I didn’t think that writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat would ever actually try such a thing. Sadly, in retrospect, I wish they hadn’t bothered considering how clumsy, how frustrating, how self indulgent, how lazy [despite the “oh so clever” gimmickry] and how much of a damn cheat the result is, and I say this while also admitting that its first half, while it also has its problems, is rather good and has some very good scenes and moments which seemed to promise a great deal as well as proving once again, as if any further proof was needed, how superb Benedict Cumberpatch and Martin Freeman really are, slightly varying their performances to suit the new setting while still recognisable as the characters we know and love. Looks wise they totally suit the period – Dr Watson’s moustache so suits him that Freeman will seem almost naked when he’s next seen in the role without it – which makes it such a shame that The Abominable Bride, whose title is taken from the quote “Ricoletti of the club foot and his abominable wife” from Doyle’s The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, turned out to be such a misfire.
Rather too much time is wasted at the beginning with scenes which parallel opening scenes in the first episode, though this is admittedly fun to see, Sherlock’s rudeness being as funny as ever, and it’s obvious that already they’ve got the period feel right, while I also really liked the way series music composers David Arnold and Michael Price reworked their familiar themes and motifs in a more traditionally orchestral setting. The mystery is immediately engrossing and director Douglas Mackinnon pulls off some clever stylistic conceits, like the main characters being on a stage, to depict Sherlock picturing what happened, past and present existing side by side for a few moments. As has happened on a few occasions before, the plot stalls a little so it can introduce Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, here closer to the character in the books though Gatiss gives himself lots of pretentious dialogue. Meanwhile Watson’s wife donning a moustache and trousers so she can shadow the duo and even be present at some of their investigating is just a silly plot device rather than a good lead-in to some of the revelations at the end, as well as being the first clue that Gatiss and Moffat are just as interested in being as politically correct as possible as they are anything else [well, it is the BBC]. They also still continue to rehash stuff, like an admittedly pointed conversation between Holmes and Watson when the latter probes the former about his attitude to women. Running out of ideas Gatiss and Moffat are we?
Still, the story maintains great interest and we get a very tense and actually quite frightening set piece when our heroes come face to face with the ghost in a wonderful old mansion, a great reminder of how close the world of Holmes can be to Gothic horror. “God this episode is getting really good indeed” I was saying to myself….and then Moriarty shows up. Now I did have a feeling that the character would appear, even though I hoped he wouldn’t, but I thought that it would be in an incarnation closer to Doyle’s creation. But no, it’s Andrew Scott in even more buffoonish fashion than normal spouting dreadful lines like: “Death is the new sexy”. And then the thing just falls apart as it reveals that, actually, all this Victorian stuff isn’t happening at all and it’s all taking place in Sherlock’s “mind palace” as he investigates and tries to solve an old case as a way to work out if [and I’m not making this up, though I wish I was] Moriarty is still alive or not. Even if the writers had pulled off this Inception-type stuff better [not difficult], it still makes the main story seem unimportant and causes suspense to quickly diminish, while after a while it just doesn’t feel like we’re watching something resembling a Holmes story at all. Even when it recreates [though poorly, with atrocious CG water and a funny but cheap joke ending] the famous Reichenbach Falls confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty, it just feels like we’re watching a bad joke and the writers are laughing at us.
Meanwhile the Victorian story is laughably concluded by Holmes letting a bunch of murderers off. Even if the writers possibly intended us to see it as Sherlock trying to deal with his issues regarding the fairer sex, it just seems dumb. Yes, I know that the original Holmes stories often dealt with social issues including the plight of many women in that time, and yes, I know that he often let murderers off, but The Abominable Bride ends up venturing too far into Suffragette waters and ends up feeling preachy, with Sherlock delivering some lines near the end [“this is a war that we can’t win”] that are just too on the nose. It also seems that the makers tricked us by using the same face for every bride murderer despite the fact that they were supposed to be women taking it in turn and we could see later on that they had very different faces. More successful is Sherlock finally being portrayed as the drug user of the books, though of course it contradicts the portrayal of the character in the previous instalments of the series as he never used drugs before, but then Gatiss and Moffat don’t really care about consistency or indeed sense very much in The Abominable Bride. They fall so hard here, pretending to be smart but actually revealing that they have very few new ideas left. I think that the series badly needs some new writers to have a go at it, and to maybe delve deeper into the Doyle stories in which there it still so much un-mined gold.
The Abominable Bride looks great, Mackinnon and cinematographer Suzy Lavelle making strong use of certain colours especially in some hazy shots of Holmes and Watson travelling in their carriage, and giving all the Victorian scenes a lush sheen. Thinking about it, there is still great potential for a ‘proper’ Victorian episode of Sherlock, and the good things about The Abominable Bride give an indication of what have been if Gatiss and Moffat had just decided to give us what they seemed to promise, but instead they ended up creating an annoying viewing experience which gives the impression that it’s very clever but ends up being rather stupid and, if put into the great scheme of things, somewhat pointless. Oh well, the first two seasons were great, the third season was decent, and there is a chance that Sherlock may recover. At least the [admittedly far less ambitious and far more restricted] Elementary is still good.