I was thinking…
…how the line between television and movies is becoming more blurred every year. Some films are now being made and released for instant streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon; meanwhile, some television shows have the production values of big-budget theater-released films.
Although Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock on BBC television is a modern retelling of the Victorian-era sleuth, the writers and producers of the series decided to put Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s Dr. John Watson on the big screen for two days only, as a treat to Sherlockians everywhere. The special, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, places the two characters back in the Victorian age in a, as the writers say, “proper Gothic” story.
The Abominable Bride was shown on the BBC and in cinemas in the United Kingdom the night before it premiered in the States, drawing a third of that nation’s viewers. And, after catching the exclusive showing myself the following night, I can see why.
Taking place after the Reichenbach Falls incident of the traditional story, Sherlock (Cumberbatch—The Imitation Game, The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug) is still plagued by visions of his arch-nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Andrew Scott–Victor Frankenstein, Spectre).
Another case has arisen, however–one which haunts and captivates the London public. In a maddened rage, a woman, dressed in her wedding gown, opens fire into the streets from a balcony. Her intended victim seems to be her husband, down below, who flees for his life.
The husband escapes only after the woman turns the gun on herself and shoots herself in the head.
The following evening, however, as the husband stumbles from an opium den, he sees his suicide bride step out of a cab and, in front of several witnesses, is gunned down by the supposedly dead woman. The spectral bride then disappears into the fog.
Positively identified by her husband before his murder, the woman is again positively identified at the morgue.
But other murders occur with the bride again being identified as the killer. While Watson (Freeman—The Hobbit films) is starting to believe it actually is a ghost committing the murders, Sherlock is convinced the killings are simply being pinned, erroneously, on the dead woman as a convenient way to allay suspicion off the truly guilty parties.
Sherlock’s theory is put to the test, however, when Lady Carmichael, wife to Lord Eustice Carmichael, hires the pair, convinced her husband is the next target of this abominable bride.
Beautifully shot, The Abominable Bride paints with shadows, wrapping darkness around gas lamps and candlelight. Mist and fog fill the nights while cold, hard light infects the day. The mood is wonderfully set from scene to scene through the lighting alone.
The set designers paid painstaking attention to detail, populating each location with tidbits and Easter eggs most Sherlockians would appreciate. There are some minor errors in design, however, such as the simplified Chinese characters outside the aforementioned opium den. Such characters did not exist in Victorian times and faux pas such as these can threaten to dispel the illusion. But there may be a reason for that, as well. What that reason is, I will not say.
Cumberbatch and Freeman are both delightful in their respective roles, playing Holmes and Watson somewhat differently from how they handle the parts for the modern day. It becomes easy to forget they are, in fact, the same actors at all.
The most intriguing thing about The Abominable Bride, is the writer’s take on the story; imagine Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes mixed with Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It is a wonderfully woven tale that leaves you craving more stories like this one.
Perhaps most enjoyable about this special is the humor. While writers Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat (Dr. Who) are no novices when it comes to injecting humor in their work, The Abominable Bride is practically infested with it. So visually dark is this movie, the laughs act as a perfect balance to the Gothic setting and story.
Anyone not familiar with the Sherlock series can watch the first three seasons on Netflix or purchase them on DVD. If you have not already seen them, I would recommend viewing them before this special, as it will actually help your understanding and appreciation of it.
Although The Abominable Bride has run its course in the cinema, fear not, for PBS will be broadcasting it this Sunday and it will no doubt arrive on streaming platforms sometime soon as well. Either way, I suggest lowering the lights, turning up the sound and watching with a fellow lover of mystery. The game, fellow Sherlockians, is afoot.
Ammo Dump rating: 9 out of 10 magnifying glasses
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Run time: 115 minutes