All new Sher­lock

Back in a new se­ries of Sher­lock, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch re­veals we’ll see a more car­ing side to the sleuth this time – and that he’s thrilled to have found love him­self. By

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS - Gabrielle Don­nelly

The wait is over. Af­ter the tan­ta­lis­ing morsel that was last New Year’s one-off spe­cial The Abom­inable Bride, Sher­lock is back for a full three­part se­ries start­ing to­mor­row, the first since Jan­uary 2014. Re­unit­ing Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch as Holmes and Martin Free­man as Wat­son, the se­ries kicks off with an episode called The Six Thatch­ers – a twist on Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s clas­sic Holmes tale The Ad­ven­ture Of The Six Napoleons – and it’s a corker.

It be­gins with a case that’s been baf­fling DI Lestrade, played by Ru­pert Graves, and his col­leagues at New Scot­land Yard, re­volv­ing around a tragic young man who had seem­ingly man­aged to be in two places at the same time. That case is eas­ily solved by Sher­lock, but it’s an event dur­ing this in­ves­ti­ga­tion that rat­tles him. Notic­ing a shrine to for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher in a room at the home where the young man lived, Sher­lock de­duces that some­thing is miss­ing: a bust of Mrs T. Sud­denly im­ages of the de­tec­tive’s great neme­sis Mo­ri­arty start spin­ning through his mind and he in­stinc­tively re­alises that some­thing far big­ger and more sin­is­ter is afoot.

Sher­lock’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the miss­ing bust opens up an ex­tra­or­di­nary tale that crosses con­ti­nents, threatens lives and even sees Holmes be­come some­thing of an al­lac­tion hero in a swim­ming pool scene. ‘Al­though he’s only an ac­tion hero very briefly,’ laughs Bene­dict. ‘But I think the word “hero” can be at­trib­uted to Sher­lock dur­ing this new se­ries be­cause of his evolv­ing kind­ness, not be­cause he throws punches. This is a dif­fer­ent Sher­lock we’re about to see, some­one less ar­ro­gant, more of a hu­man be­ing. He’s come to re­alise that life isn’t all about the end re­sult and tram­pling over peo­ple in or­der to get there.

‘He’s let care in to his life – he cares about John Wat­son and his wife Mary, and the new­born daugh­ter Rosamund Mary they in­tro­duce in the first episode. Sher­lock feels very pro­tec­tive to­wards the three of them, even though he’s not a nat­u­ral when it comes to ba­bies. I hope my skills and in­ter­ac­tion with my own child are more en­gaged than his are!’ he adds. Bene­dict be­came a fa­ther for the first time in June 2015 when his wife, theatre di­rec­tor So­phie Hunter, gave birth to Christo­pher and the cou­ple are ex­pect­ing their sec­ond child in the spring. ‘Sher­lock’s seem­ingly in­dif­fer­ent to the child, which is comic at times, but it’s all un­der­pinned with a deep love. He’s a guardian an­gel, re­ally. And the ba­bies who played Rosamund have been amaz­ing too.’

If the ba­bies be­haved them­selves, the same can’t be said of the blood­hound em­ployed by Sher­lock as he tries to work out why some­body is go­ing around Lon­don smash­ing busts of Thatcher. ‘He was sweet but afraid of be­ing in the cen­tre of town, afraid of peo­ple and not great walk­ing on hard sur­faces,’ laughs Bene­dict. ‘Un­for­tu­nately we were in the mid­dle of Lon­don with lots of peo­ple and film­ing on con­crete! He re­ally wasn’t that well suited to what we were do­ing.’

Al­though there’s been spec­u­la­tion that the first episode could have a po­lit­i­cal an­gle with the smash­ing up of the Mrs T busts, view­ers will see no ob­vi­ous party bias. ‘The story is based on The Six Napoleons and fea­tures a sim­ple equiv­a­lent to the French em­peror, an iconic fig­ure from the mod­ern age,’ cocre­ator Mark Gatiss has said.

No new se­ries of Sher­lock would be com­plete without all man­ner of ru­mours swirling around about plot­lines and the fates of the key char­ac­ters. What ex­pla­na­tion could there be for last month’s BBC pub­lic­ity shot of Holmes and Wat­son sit­ting in the lounge at 221B Baker Street, an­kle deep in water? There are scenes set at the Lon­don Aquar­ium in episode one, but that’s about as wa­tery as it gets. The as-yetun­seen third Holmes brother, Sher­rin­ford, is reck­oned to be in line for an ap­pear­ance this time around, pos­si­bly played by The Night Man­ager star Tom Hid­dle­ston. Mark Gatiss (who also plays My­croft, Sher­lock’s older brother) re­cently tweeted a pho­to­graph of him­self, Tom and Amanda Ab­bing­ton (Mary Wat­son) cap­tioned ‘Blud’, slang for brother. And while we know Toby Jones plays a new vil­lain, evil ge­nius Cul­ver­ton Smith, how will his evil man­i­fest it­self? Then there’s Jim Mo­ri­arty, played in pre­vi­ous se­ries by Dubliner An­drew Scott. Sher­lock seems rather ob­sessed by his long-time neme­sis in the open­ing episode, and that may her­ald a re­turn for the char­ac­ter who ap­peared to have blown his brains out at the end of se­ries two but sub­se­quently sab­o­taged every TV set in the

coun­try and broad­cast the mes­sage, ‘Did you miss me?’ There are also strong sug­ges­tions that at least one lead­ing char­ac­ter may not make it through the three fea­ture-length episodes. As se­ries cre­ator Steven Mof­fat told the US mag­a­zine En­ter­tain­ment Weekly re­cently, ‘It’s hi­lar­i­ous and ex­hil­a­rat­ing some days, but some days it’s go­ing to be bloody fright­en­ing. There are go­ing to be chick­ens com­ing home to roost. We’re go­ing to put the fans through the mill.’

At the heart of it all, of course, is Sher­lock him­self – bril­liant, im­pa­tient and stubbornly ec­cen­tric. ‘I think that’s a great deal of what peo­ple love about the char­ac­ter,’ says Bene­dict when we meet on one of his rare vis­its to LA – the show is also a huge hit in the US. ‘You can get a vi­car­i­ous thrill out of some­body cut­ting through medi­ocrity and red tape and be­ing ab­surdly bril­liant and witty in the process. If you’re around Sher­lock, you’re go­ing on a trip with this man who sees in every mun­dane de­tail the po­ten­tial for an ex­tra­or­di­nary story. Every jour­ney he takes – even the most bor­ing com­muter trip – means a pos­si­ble ad­ven­ture.’

There would, of course, be no Holmes without Wat­son and Bene­dict says he couldn’t ask for a bet­ter on-screen part­ner than Martin Free­man. ‘I adore him,’ he says. ‘Well, he’s quite grumpy, but he’s adorable as well – he’s direct and nice and great fun to be with even when he’s be­ing grumpy be­cause then it’s just fun to wind him up!

‘Holmes and Wat­son need each other – Wat­son needs Holmes be­cause he needs the dan­ger, and Holmes needs Wat­son be­cause he needs to be re­minded he’s a hu­man, not a god or a ma­chine. They bal-

ance each other won­der­fully. But wait till you see what strain their re­la­tion­ship is put un­der in this one – you’re in for a treat.’

Four seasons into the ground­break­ing se­ries it now seems per­fectly nat­u­ral that Co­nan Doyle’s char­ac­ter has largely been trans­posed to mod­ern-day Lon­don, com­plete with all the trap­pings of cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy. Yet Bene­dict re­veals that when ini­tially ap­proached about the show he wasn’t con­vinced about the mod­ern set­ting. ‘I was a bit wary be­cause it seemed a bit gim­micky. I thought, “This char­ac­ter ex­ists so per­fectly in the Vic­to­rian guise, why mess with some­thing that isn’t bro­ken?” But then I read the script and saw how well done the tech­no­log­i­cal parts were, and it all made sense to me.’

‘And the fact is, what­ever time pe­riod you choose to put him in, Sher­lock’s never been old-fash­ioned. He’s al­ways been very much at the fore­front of what­ever tech­nol­ogy hap­pens to be avail­able in his time so I think the way we’re pre­sent­ing him now is very much in char­ac­ter with the orig­i­nal.’

Sur­pris­ingly, he ad­mits he wasn’t a huge Sher­lock fan as a boy. ‘I mean, I read The Hound Of The Baskervilles and A Study In Scar­let and I prob­a­bly had some of the shorter sto­ries read to me. But I cer­tainly didn’t read all of them, al­though I have since and I think they’re fan­tas­tic. I have very strong mem­o­ries of the television se­ries with Jeremy Brett, which was al­ways be­ing re­played in our house be­cause my mother was a friend of his, and I thought he was ex­tra­or­di­nary.’ Grow­ing up with the­atri­cal par­ents (Ti­mothy Carl­ton and Wanda Ventham) it was only nat­u­ral the young Bene­dict should be drawn to the world of per­form­ing. ‘I re­mem­ber stand­ing by the side of the stage where Mum was do­ing a com­edy when I was very small,’ he re­calls, ‘and see­ing all this light and hear­ing all this laugh­ter and feel­ing the heat com­ing off peo­ple who were hav­ing an in­cred­i­ble time watch­ing her. I felt en­er­gised. Mum re­mem­bers that time too, and says, “I was look­ing at you and think­ing, ‘Oh, no!’” Like many act­ing cou­ples, the Cum­ber­batches dreamed of a more se­cure ca­reer for their only child. ‘They worked in­cred­i­bly hard as ac­tors… to make sure the school bills were paid, and I could turn my hand to be­ing a doc­tor or a lawyer or any­thing but an ac­tor. I was very spoilt in that sense. But I took that ed­u­ca­tion and threw it in their faces and be­came an ac­tor any­way!’

He’s kid­ding, of course. His par­ents, who will once again be seen play­ing his par­ents on-screen in the new se­ries, have been to­tally sup­port­ive of his ca­reer choice from the be­gin­ning. ‘When I was in my sec­ond or third year at univer­sity I played Salieri in a stu­dent pro­duc­tion of Amadeus, and af­ter­wards my fa­ther said to me, “You’re bet­ter at this than I ever was or ever will be. I’m go­ing to sup­port you if you want to do this pro­fes­sion­ally, be­cause I know you’ll have a good time do­ing it.” Which was a huge thing for a man to say to his son. It was so hum­bling and mov­ing.’

What his par­ents may not have ex­pected was for their son to be­come the star of such a cult drama, with an army of fe­male fans col­lec­tively known as the Cum­ber­bitches. ‘As long as they’re en­joy­ing my work then that’s fine with So­phie and me. So­phie is some­thing in my life I’m in­cred­i­bly grate­ful for – it’s an amaz­ing thing to find some­body you love, let alone who loves you back to the same de­gree – and it’s a mi­nor mir­a­cle con­sid­er­ing how busy we’ve both been.’

Bene­dict turned 40 last July. ‘The older I get, the hap­pier I am. Yes, work is go­ing well, which is nice, but I’ve also had a very rich cou­ple of years per­son­ally…I now have ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and I do have to make cer­tain de­ci­sions about the fu­ture be­cause there are more peo­ple in my life who are im­por­tant to me.’

One of those de­ci­sions is whether he car­ries on play­ing Sher­lock – if he even gets the chance. There are ru­mours this will be the last se­ries and the third of the three episodes is called The Fi­nal Prob­lem.

‘This new se­ries goes to a place where it will be hard to fol­low on im­me­di­ately,’ says Bene­dict. ‘We never say never on the show, but… we all have things we want to crack on with and we’ve made some­thing very com­plete as it is, so I think we’ll just have to wait and see.’ Sher­lock, tonight, 8.30pm, BBC1.

‘It’s amaz­ing to find some­one you love who loves you back’

Re­turn: Sher­lock and (be­low) Wat­son with Mary and their new baby

From left: Ru­pert Graves, Amanda Ab­bing­ton, Martin Free­man, Una Stubbs, Mark Gatiss, Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Louise Brealey in the lat­est se­ries of Sher­lock

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