Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Many Happy Returns" - 'Sherlock' as Sonnet.

This post is a personal response to the Sherlock Series 3 Mini-Episode currently available to view on the BBC's iPlayer and Red Button. Please do not read it if you have not yet seen 'Many Happy Returns' OR have avoided it, preferring to await 'The Empty Hearse'.

With considerable trepidation I've just watched seven richly multi-layered minutes of television that belie their brevity. I'm glad I did.

Two years ago come the 30th of January the last moments of 'Sherlock' (until now) in the BBC Canon inspired 'Markings'. Specifically, I thought Martin Freeman's John remarkable in his grief. I still do.

Rumour, the hype of teasers, my ambivalence over limited screenings and the underworld of internet spoilers combined to dull the edge of simple anticipation. In the end, I chose to view because the new episode wasn't billed as a trailer and was on general release.

I was familiar with the conventional 'minisode'. This is a different animal. The content of Many Happy Returns has crucial significance to the cycle's narrative arc and its sophisticated construction is on a higher artistic plane.

Form fascinates me in literature and film and as far as I can see Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have invented a new one - the filmic equivalent to poetry's sonnet. The raison d'etre of 'Many Happy Returns' is to encapsulate in seven minutes far longer passages of time. As with the sonnet there is here a masterly artistic compression. Consider the surprising density achievable by some thoughts in Twitter form. We RT them or Favourite as a salute to ingenuity. The new 'Sherlock' is just such a tweet of a film.

We are in Doctor Who (and Star Trek) territory in turning to consider the multiplicity of time spans represented by these seven minutes:

- the (as yet unrevealed) dramatic time that elapses between Reichenbach Fall's graveyard scene and the forthcoming opening to The Empty Hearse.

- our 2-year wait for Sherlock3.

- the Great Hiatus of May 4, 1891 to the cusp of March/April, 1894.

- the decade that passed between December, 1893's The Final Problem and October, 1903's The Empty House.

- the corresponding few minutes related in The Empty House where Holmes describes to Watson the missing years.

I am impressed by the writers' creative restraint, faultless Sherlockian logic, sureness of touch and powers of imagination.

Ever aware of a viewer's priorities, internal spoilers are scrupulously avoided. An elegantly constructed succession of hints (such as the Canon Holmes was wont to offer Lestrade) economically sketches (as in charcoal) two strong and interwoven narrative threads: the imminent Return and life as it is without Sherlock. No element is elaborated further, the writers' watchword being at the centre of the script in Sherlock's (pre-recorded) "Only lies have detail."
Via Anderson's map and the comedy of Greg Lestrade's futile refusal to entertain the notion Sherlock Lives! the writers conduct us on a whistle-stop tour of the detective's secret activities, faithfully re-creating Doyle's graduated 'reincarnation' (I elaborate on this stylistic technique HERE ).

What is totally new and logically original about Many Happy Returns is the provision of explicit insight into John's state - the central element of an authorial decision to embed our experience of the resurgent Sherlock in John's everyday world.

The inspirational device of Greg's (ironically retained) 'uncut version' of Sherlock's CD is delightfully, perfectly apt in a television experience. Its title, of course, puns poetically. As significant is the consummate recourse to a convention familiar to viewers. Those other Doctors, Who and Spock, impart knowledge to the present of the future from the past. Jesus did too.

In essence the film is a labour of love, a deftly fashioned, celebratory expression of something denied the readers of The Strand - foreknowledge with certainty that Sherlock Holmes was poised to return.

I'll leave it (aptly) there. It's Christmas Day and I've a guinea fowl to enjoy. After such an entrĂ©e, courtesy those cordon bleu chefs, Moffat and Gatiss, I prophesy it will go down all the better.

It gives me inordinate pleasure to note not only does Sherlock Live but the creators and actors of Many Happy Returns are firing on all cylinders too.

Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's  "Sherlock - Many Happy Returns".



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