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‘Sherlock: The Six Thatchers’ reviewed…


The game’s a’foot as ‘Sherlock‘ returns to screens once more, but despite being a ratings-magnet, is it a victim of that success?

A young man talks to his father through a skype video message – unable to make it to his father’s birthday as the son is apparently stuck in Tibet… but days later, when his son’s car (left behind in the UK) is struck by another vehicle, it burts into flames and the son’s body is found – having been there for over a week. It all sounds… impossible and just the kind of distraction that Holmes needs as he waits to see what the supposedly-equally dead Moriarty may have planned from beyond the grave.

But while Holmes is quick to solve the case, he’s intrigued by a burglary at the same home in which the only thing smashed was a specific bust of Margaret Thatcher. Other items of value, including other Thatcher memorabilia is untouched. He’s even more intrigued when Lestrarde finds other robberies where the only damage is similar.

Sherlock, happy from the distraction of having to ‘care’ for the Watsons’ new baby sets out to discover the reason, though he has no idea what price will be paid for his singular obsession…


It’s been three years since we left Sherlock  on a plane that might or might not be heading out of England after our ‘hero’ ruthlessly gunned down evil media-magnate Magnussen and Holmes was sent into exile. Apart from last holiday season’s ‘special’ The Abominable Bride set for the most part in the Victorian era and for several elongated seconds inside modern Sherlock’s brain, we haven’t seen or heard from him since. Cumberbatch has been busy with big-screen outings such as not-Khan in Star Trek into Darkness and, more recently Doctor Strange.  Freeman has been equally busy with Fargo and other corners of the Marvel universe himself. The creative team of Steven Moffat and have been involved with Doctor Who, though it – like Sherlock – was confined to filming rather than actually broadcasting.

For all those reasons, the episode’s first ten minutes essentially have to both remind audiences of where we were AND wipe the slate clean, quickly finding a way to undo Sherlock’s banishment – the now traditional trick of dismantling a major plot-point supporting wall in brisk fashion. This is done by a few lines and seconds of footage showing that anything can be re-edited when needs must and with Sherlock engaging full-flippancy mode as he realises that if bad-guy Moriarty has a posthumous plot in the works, people need him more than he needs them. It’s a scene that is likely to delight or infuriate depending on your feelings over the direction of the show in recent seasons. It highlights the banter and disdain-dripping dialogue that has become a benchmark for the show, an element delivered with gusto by Cumberbatch and with pantomime arrogance by Gatiss as Mycroft. But it’s so hyper and sarcastic, so ‘look-at-me-I’m-being-witty‘, that it’s also likely to alienate those who feel the show feels the same way: a little too pleased with itself, strutting along the ground like a peacock when it should be soaring instead.

That screen-time is also used to speed us through Mary Watson’s pregnancy and the delivery of a daughter for the happy couple. Enjoy the lighter domestic ‘bliss’ footage while it lasts a more nefarious games are a’foot.

Moriarty is the bogeyman, referenced throughout but little more than a maguffin to irritate Holmes as the story takes him everywhere else. The likes of Rupert Graves’ Lestrade and Louise Brealey’s Molly have a couple of nice scenes respectively but, once again, they are mostly foils for Sherlock’s rapier put-downs, as are so many of the supporting players. A joke that Sherlock doesn’t know who Margaret Thatcher is, is first just strange and then just annoying, even if he’s faking it.

Amanda Abbington – until recently both the on-screen and off-screen partner of Freeman/Watson –  gets some funny and also emotive scenes as Mary but these come somewhat at the expense of Freeman’s usual screen-time.There’s no denying Abbington’s skills but it’s the fact that some of her backstory turns Sherlock into an episode of 24 complete with hand-to-hand combat that leads things astray. Holmes’ work should tug on the coat-tails of his estranged brother’s government activities. He’s a capable adversary, but the story shouldn’t throw itself into the world of elite mercenary teams and black-ops missions quite as overtly as it does here… Holmes works best tweaking the indignant noses of those in power rather than cleaning up their messes.

Those familiar with the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s may well be aware that at least one central character in the current line-up is entirely expendable and we’ve no intention of spoiling the way that echoes here, except it will possibly divide audiences. More likely to annoy is the behaviour of John Watson during the story. He’s been referred to as an adrenaline-junkie in the past, but while the story has him act in a way that could be consistent with that, it also compacts it down in such a way it feels far less understandable or acceptable.

Ultimately, Sherlock continues to have the same qualities and frustrations it has for some time. Those searching for a good detective story will find much of that missing – there’s a lot of things thrown at the screen here, but so few of them actually count as ‘plot’-  its dialogue and stylistic camerawork that dominate now. But those here for the trademark lack of tolerance and Cumberbatch’s signature role will find it remains intact and ramped up to 11. It continues to be the type of show you’ll watch because the moments that DO work, work well. But it’s still feels like that bucket full of trifle. The first spoonfuls are delicious in the moment, but by the time you’re down to the bottom, it really hasn’t done much for your appetite in the long-term.

A bit of a gloriously-rendered guilty pleasure but still undeniable mess… as has become the norm.


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