Screened at the BFI on Wednesday, 7 December.
So I must begin with some little drama involving my seats. I had two, you see, seeing as the tickets had come as a pair, acquired (as I understand it) via a charity auction and given to me as a birthday/holiday gift. Anyway, there is only the one of me, and I didn’t have any friends in London at the moment, so for fun I gave the other seat to Sherl:
But then this guy with shaggy hair and glasses came over and decided he wanted Sherl’s seat. I have to say, this irritated me because I held the ticket for that seat–it had been a gift, as had the entire trip been, and not an inexpensive one. So I’m not sure what made this man think he could just have it. You don’t go taking expensive gifts away from people.
Weirdly enough, the people around us thought we were on a blind date.
So I’ll admit to having given the guy a bit of a difficult time about it. I asked him how he had managed to get a ticket for that seat, since I had a ticket for that seat . . . He then said his seat was farther up, but he needed to sit in back in order to duck out early. Why go at all if you’re planning leave early, I wonder? But with a sense of fairness, I traded my seat for his and felt mollified.
[As an aside, if I’d known it was possible, I would have returned the unused ticket so someone else could have it. I didn’t know that could be done.]
Some people (remaining nameless, though you’d recognize the names) seemed to find my appearance in the new seat confusing, as they turned around several times to stare. I guess they were wondering what had happened to Hair-and-Glasses guy. Sorry, gents.
The other little bit of pre-show entertainment came from the chatter around me. People were laughing that Benedict Cumberbatch had entered the BFI with a hat pulled low over his face as if trying to hide. “He thinks he’s going to get raped!” one woman crowed. I suppose it does take a certain amount celebrity conceit to believe you’re such a massive target. Way to win ’em over, Benny. (Though I know for a fact, were he ever to read this, he would try to pass himself off as amused while being privately mortified.)
We were asked as attendees not to reveal, well, much of anything, so I’ll only be able to give my impressions in broad strokes here.
Let me start by acknowledging that it is difficult, when one has created such a television phenomenon, to consistently deliver the same high caliber of work. Even in the first series, the second episode “The Blind Banker” was met with some fuss about it not being as good as the pilot. (“The Blind Banker” improves with repeated viewing, as some of the best moments are understated and easy to overlook, even if the plot isn’t stellar.)
And maybe “A Scandal in Belgravia” will also seem better the second or third time around. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it as much as I expected to.
“Scandal” is full of fan-pleasing moments, but some come at such a rapid-fire pace they begin to border on the absurd or corny. Really, it might have been better to withhold some of these gems for a later date. As it stands, “Scandal” strives to come across as having a cohesive story, but in fact seems to be trying to do too much, or alternatively, it’s almost as if they weren’t sure how to fill/use all their time. In consequence, the episode feels a tad disjointed, with one or two too many change-ups.
The introduction of Irene Adler has been much anticipated, and the episode itself could just as easily be titled “Sherlock’s Crush.” While there is a lot going on between Sherlock and Irene, there were moments when I wasn’t convinced the actors understood their characters’ motivations and feelings (in that specific moment), which left me as a viewer equally confused. And maybe the point is that Sherlock and Irene don’t understand their own feelings, but something about that doesn’t ring entirely true. So my asking, “Why are they behaving this way?” allows facile, surface, plot-driven answers, but a deeper understanding appears to be missing.
As John, Martin Freeman is given a couple of lovely scenes, but comes off as so much wallpaper—or a voyeur—for stretches of the episode, except when required to ask Sherlock whether he’s all right.
And I will address my notes for Benedict to him directly:
You have a lot of people telling you how wonderful you are, and you won’t love this—even small criticisms are almost physically painful for you—but I’m sure eventually you’ll come to appreciate the value of honesty. Point 1: Please remember Sherlock Holmes is a master actor. I don’t know what kind of direction you were given, so it might not be entirely your fault, but your mugged priest bit was whiny and not terribly convincing. Maybe it was being played for laughs? (And no, mentioning the mugged priest is not giving anything away; the original Doyle story has as much.) Point 2: I’ve seen people play the violin. I’ve seen people imitate playing the violin. You were doing neither. At least try to match your movements—up and down with the correct notes, vibrato with your left hand—to the music. It’s a minor peeve, yes, but so very distracting. You are wonderful and talented, Benedict, which is why I’ve come to expect the absolute best from you and have no qualms in calling you out when you’re slacking. (BTW, that fabulous intuition of yours failed spectacularly on Wednesday night. Never let nerves cloud your perception.)
The Q & A
Panel members included Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lara Pulver. Andrew Scott (Moriarty) and Una Stubbs (Mrs. Hudson) attended the viewing but did not participate in the Q & A. Moderator Caitlin Moran was somewhat unfair in allowing only four audience questions. This either shows a selfishness on her part for monopolizing the conversation, or a nervousness on the part of the panelists who may very well have asked that audience questions be limited.
Moran opened by asking each panel member which scene(s) of the episode were their favorites, but as I cannot elaborate without giving anything away . . .
The awww, how sweet moment came when Benedict related that Una, having been a friend of his mum, was like a second mother to him. He also noted the difficulty not of learning lines so much as having to speak them very fast, as well as spoke about not liking to watch himself on screen.
There was some friendly ribbing of the absent Martin Freeman, who—in the context of Lara Pulver spending swaths of the episode in stages of undress (including complete undress)—they called “Martin Freehands.”
A young boy named Oliver stumped Benedict by asking what to do if one wants to become a consulting detective. “Memory games” was a portion of the stammered response, “and study criminal cases, finding out where mistakes were made.” (I’m summarizing; Benedict’s answer was less succinct but endearingly flummoxed.)
Another question was about the character of Mycroft, and Moffat and Gatiss reiterated what they’d said at the June screening of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is that Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Mycroft in that film largely informs their take, not least of which is having a thin Mycroft instead of one that is grossly overweight. (At the June screening they had pointed out Lee’s Mycroft had a sinister streak but also a certain amount of care and concern for his little brother; the latter is on good display at key moments in “Scandal”.)
Ideally the whole Q & A (which was filmed) will wind up as a DVD extra.
Please remember this is by nature a subjective point of view. I’m sure I haven’t won any friends or fans with my less-than-gushing review, and there will be many ready to freshly disagree when the episode airs early next year in the UK and in May in the US. But–much as I do love Sherlock, and certainly feel it deserves praises—I’ve never seen any use in simply and blindly loving everything, even in the best of television programs. As Steven Moffat said during the Q & A when someone asked him what draws him to create spiky, conflicted relationships in his shows: “They’re more interesting than easy, happy ones.” Nothing is perfect, but imperfection is what makes things interesting. “Scandal” is flawed. But still entertaining.
Special Thanks . . .
To Virgin-Atlantic, for their hospitality: as ever, you take the best care of me
And to London, my home away: much love, see you again in spring, and be good while I’m gone