Red alert to Sherlockians. You have likely been suffering from withdrawals after the cliffhanger finale to the BBC series “Sherlock,” which left us on a veritable desert island without murder mysteries or the comforting presence of Martin Freeman as John Watson and — worst of all — no Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock himself. But a quick fix is on the way. “The Abominable Bride,” a New Year’s Day TV special that aired on the BBC last month, will hit cinemas across Japan tomorrow. Let us simply be thankful for the fact that we’re getting to see this so soon (because you know, desert island) and on a big screen that enables everyone to collectively bask in the glorious snobbishness of the “Sherlock” series.
If you’ve been keeping up with the series, you’ll know it takes place in the present day. Our hero dresses like he just walked off a magazine photo shoot and Watson is a bit of a dork. The contemporary setting, however, doesn’t mean the show is a disrespectful spoof — quite the contrary. If anything, the Hollywood “Sherlock Holmes” franchise with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law is guilty of that accusation, despite its huge budget, Victorian set-up and resplendent costumes.
“The Abominable Bride” — which seems to feel entitled to do whatever it wants — takes place in 1890s London (at least, most of the time). And if we get down to brass tacks, real Londoners do a much better job of recreating the darkness, swirling fog and chilly creepiness of Victorian London.
In 19th-century London, Sherlock Holmes rooms with his old friend John Watson in the legendary digs of 221B Baker Street. Their long-suffering landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs), brings in their tea and all sorts of cases turn up at their door step, ranging from the merely curious to the downright macabre. And in the case of “The Abominable Bride,” the emphasis is on the latter.
Society lady Emelia Ricoletti (Natasha O’Keeffe) murders her husband, Thomas, in front of numerous witnesses before disappearing into thin air. Emelia may have a thing against married men, for the second victim, Sir Eustace Carmichael (Tim McInnerny), is also a husband, and other than his wedded state, he doesn’t seem to have a thing in common with Thomas. Emelia’s list may get longer.
As in the original series, “The Abominable Bride” is inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and this one takes its cues mainly from “The Five Orange Pips” (one of Holmes’ most celebrated cases) with splashes of the lesser known “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.” The special also features all the favorite “Sherlock” characters, including Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) and nemesis Professor Moriarty (Andrew Scott), who have both been transported back to the late 19th century along with the titular hero. “The Abominable Bride” is a meticulously crafted, wonderfully atmospheric piece of filmmaking. It could well stand on its own, without the series’ help or notoriety.
One complaint is the starry-eyed tone the special takes. The camera lingers long and lovingly on Holmes’ face, and the other characters hang on his every word. In the series, this colossal self-regard has always been a bone of contention between Holmes and Watson, the latter routinely sighing in exasperation or rolling his eyes toward the heavens. But as in Conan Doyle’s original books, “Sherlock” had always known where to draw the line before Holmes’ egotism escalated to blatant narcissism.
The “Abominable Bride” exercises no such propriety. If Sherlock were to gaze at his reflection in the mirror and give himself a lengthy kiss, it would be in perfect keeping with everything else that happens in the film. And Watson, poor soul, would be powerless to stop him.