Hit Bri­tish se­ries Sher­lock is back for a new sea­son, and its ac­tors — and au­di­ence — are be­ing put through the emo­tional wringer, writes Justin Burke

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Sher­lock:

For Martin Free­man, re­turn­ing to the role of Dr John Wat­son for a fourth sea­son of Sher­lock was sat­is­fy­ingly dif­fi­cult. “You want to go home at 10 o’clock at night ex­hausted and think, ‘I re­ally worked to­day’, be­cause you’ve cried or run or screamed. There’s noth­ing worse than go­ing home tired be­cause you’re bored,” says the 45-year-old English ac­tor.

Bore­dom is per­haps the last word any­one is us­ing about this show. More than 12 mil­lion peo­ple watched the sea­son three pre­miere on BBC, mak­ing it the high­est-rat­ing drama in Bri­tain of the past 15 years. The Emmy and BAFTA award-win­ning se­ries re­turns on Mon­day on stream­ing ser­vice Stan, star­ring Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in the ti­tle role, along­side Free­man, An­drew Scott as Mo­ri­arty and new re­cruit Toby Jones ( De­tec­torists).

The show’s cast and cre­atives are fa­mous for keep­ing the plot un­der wraps but the new sea­son’s trailer sug­gests a sin­is­ter turn, which Free­man con­firms.

“The sea­son it­self was very en­joy­able and we had a lot of fun do­ing it but the fic­tional con­tent is pretty dark,” he says. “There has al­ways been grue­some things or das­tardly peo­ple in the show, but I think this sea­son is the most shock­ing, and I’m look­ing for­ward to the au­di­ence see­ing it.”

Free­man says his char­ac­ter, who be­comes a fa­ther this sea­son with wife Mary Morstan (played by Amanda Ab­bing­ton), is not ex­empt from the pun­ish­ing plot­lines.

“I love the amount John gets to play. He is a very 3-D char­ac­ter, with strength and vul­ner­a­bil­ity, hu­mour and hero­ics — he gets to do the lot — but, like ev­ery­one this sea­son, he is put through the emo­tional wringer very badly,” he says.

“Some of the things our char­ac­ters come up against are the most emo­tion­ally test­ing that we have seen them deal with. There’s a lot of meat.”

Af­ter four sea­sons, Free­man says the fact he and Wat­son are be­com­ing more like each other is in­evitable.

“You be­gin to meet in the mid­dle. It’s a nat­u­ral part of you mak­ing sense of a char­ac­ter’s emo­tional life, given that your own emo­tional life is the only re­al­ity you know. If it makes you tick, it will make your char­ac­ter tick, and it will hope­fully make the au­di­ence tick.”

Free­man, who had star­ring roles in The Hob­bit film fran­chise and in new se­ries StartUp on stream­ing ser­vice Ama­zon Prime, as well as ac­claimed roles in The Of­fice and Fargo, is philo­soph­i­cal about the fo­cus on Cum­ber­batch and the ti­tle role.

“The show is called Sher­lock, it’s not called John. Sher­lock Holmes is the most fa­mous fic­tional char­ac­ter in history, John Wat­son is not,” he says.

“But John Wat­son is the au­di­ence’s way into the show; there won’t be that many peo­ple watch­ing the show who are very like Sher­lock Holmes, whereas John is a more recog­nis­ably hu­man fig­ure.

“Even though peo­ple love watch­ing Sher­lock’s men­tal ac­ro­bat­ics and agility, and they laugh at his in­abil­ity to con­nect emo­tion­ally with peo­ple, they also en­joy see­ing their friend­ship de­velop. I think he’s a bit more hu­man now as a re­sult of be­ing John’s friend.”

The show’s cre­ators, Steven Mof­fat and Mark Gatiss, who also stars as Sher­lock’s brother My­croft, say the de­ci­sion to cast Cum­ber­batch and Free­man back in 2010 is the se­cret of the show’s suc­cess.

“One of the things peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate is that very few ac­tors have cut through in those roles. Lots of peo­ple have played those parts but Ben and Martin are the Sher­lock and Dr Wat­son of this era,” says Gatiss, 50, also a writer on Doc­tor Who and best re­mem­bered from tele­vi­sion com­edy en­sem­ble The League of Gen­tle­men.

The co-cre­ators say suc­cess­fully adapt­ing the most adapted fic­tional char­ac­ter in history called for a mix­ture of love and ir­rev­er­ence. “There are so many adap­ta­tions: Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s orig­i­nal work is so bril­liant and beloved, it’s a great leg-up, but the thing you have to do is do some­thing dis­tinct with your work,” says Gatiss.

“Our ver­sion stands out, I hope, be­cause it is



Sher­lock set in the mod­ern day and de­spite the es­sen­tial heresy of the for­mat, it is a very faith­ful and lov­ing ver­sion of the orig­i­nal.

“But we have ex­actly the same rev­er­ence that Co­nan Doyle did — ab­so­lutely none. We love it to death but you mustn’t ap­proach it as holy writ, be­cause it isn’t.”

Mof­fat, 55, says he once be­lieved pop­u­lar Bri­tish char­ac­ters such as the Doc­tor, Sher­lock Holmes and James Bond showed au­di­ences pre­ferred a brainy rather than brawny hero, but af­ter the Brexit ref­er­en­dum in Bri­tain and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as US pres­i­dent, he is no longer sure.

“I would say half the world is go­ing mad, but the mas­sive pop­u­lar­ity of our show and the char­ac­ter con­tin­ues to give me hope,” he says.

“Bri­tain seems to have changed, and I find it very dispir­it­ing. In a world that has turned its back on ex­perts we have a show with a heroex­pert in it. Be­ing good at stuff and clever is im­por­tant, and can be quite sexy.

“Since we seem to be favour­ing dolts at the mo­ment — as if some­how they have any­thing to of­fer us — and in an era when we have elected the first gen­uine mo­ron for [US] pres­i­dent, I think it’s good that we have Sher­lock.”

That’s not to say Sher­lock is be­com­ing po­lit­i­cal, though the first episode of this three-part sea­son is ti­tled The Six Thatch­ers, on ac­count of a mys­tery in­volv­ing some­one de­stroy­ing images of for­mer prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher.

“Sher­lock has never re­flected the head­lines; it’s a slightly lurid and height­ened ver­sion of re­al­ity. You have to ac­cept there is an in­tel­lec­tual su­per­man who can do these in­cred­i­ble things and make the po­lice look stupid, and go on ad­ven­tures with him,” says Mof­fatt.

“Sher­lock has to be slightly out of the loop for us to en­joy the es­capism of it. Maybe in­creas­ingly we want more of it be­cause the world is so bloody dark.”

Gatiss finds the dis­tinc­tion be­tween dark and light, drama and com­edy, to be ar­ti­fi­cial.

“Life as we know it is a strange mish­mash of both, like laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally when you shouldn’t, and find­ing hu­mour in un­ex­pected dra­matic sit­u­a­tions,” he says.

More­over, Gatiss, Mof­fat and Free­man are pos­i­tive about the chances of a fifth sea­son. “We ob­vi­ously don’t know if a new sea­son will be com­mis­sioned, but we would love to carry on, and ev­ery­one wants us to,” says Gatiss. sea­son four pre­mieres on Mon­day on stream­ing ser­vice Stan.

Free­man with co-star Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in

Martin Free­man as Dr John Wat­son, left; Sher­lock cre­ators Steven Mof­fat and Mark Gatiss, above

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