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 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