Sherlock Holmes and Comedy: So very British

I have been watching Sherlock Holmes again. I have lost counts of how many times I have seen them from the oldest black and white ones to more recent ones. I am looking at them now as if for the first time. You see, the first times I watched them, I was absorbed in the mystery. Now I know most of the stories; so I can enjoy the films.

Sherlock Holmes is said to be the greatest detective who never lived as he is a fictional character. It is also said that he is one of the three major western characters of twentieth century; the other two are Churchill and Hitler. The irony is that the third, Holmes, didn’t exist!

After waiting for two years, I got the first volume of the series made by Granada. The ones with Jeremy Brett. Isn’t he the most amazing actor? He can smile with his eyes, with his laugh lines, and in a fraction of a second. You see it, now you don’t. It seems to me that every single facial feature of his can act independently and in unison with the rest of his face. His physicality, his agility is overwhelming, especially considering he could not have been so young when he acted in the series.

But there is more to the series, aside from Brett’s perfect masculine beauty. I learned so much by watching this series about England, about life and people there. The class system, and the difference between ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ is astounding. It is interesting that they always have the heat on at their homes, rich or poor! How cold could it have been then? I mean compared to -37 here? I guess it is the problem of inefficient heating, insulation, and fuel that kept their places so cold.

Then there is their logical way of thinking and planning. They used maps; this is in nineteenth century. I think about most of my friends/relatives/acquaintances in the 21st century who do not know how to use a map and have no intention of ever learning. Believe me, I have friends who set out to go to one city and ended up at another! I know that because they called me to ask what went wrong! And these are educated people of the 21st century.

There is more. I remember one episode when Holmes told Watson to advertise something in x, y, z, q, w, and all the rest of the papers! I had a hard time believing that: so many papers then. It does say something, doesn’t it?

And then there is murder itself; there is some meaning in it in the sense that there is a motive: greed, jealousy, … So much different from many movies nowadays when murder seems to be done for no apparent reason or no tangible reason: someone sets out to kill, to mutilate, and sometimes to eat others! This may be reflective of our times when sheer madness takes over individual and his interactions, or in this case actions.

I love Marple and Poirot too. I wonder what is it with the British and murder/mystery genre? Why are they so good at it? So inclined to it? I don’t see much of that anywhere else in Europe. Is it their isolation on an island that makes them brood/imagine/look at life through a dark prism so much? It cannot be that there is more murder and mystery happens there, can it?

They are also good with comedy. I love British humor: it is often witty, intelligent, and deep. They don’t seem to have any reservations about criticizing themselves and ridiculing their social/economic/moral system and values. I find it quite the opposite of American comedy which is, more often than not, vulgar and grotesque. Last time I went to see an American comedy, I walked out of the theater after ten minutes. It was all overly direct, graphic references to sex at its most primal and grotesque level.

Being good with comedy and with mystery/murder: what does that tell us about the British? Poignancy is definitely one common feature: they wonder at life, human nature, draw attention to it, and ridicule it all at the same time. And Sherlock Holmes is definitely broody, supernaturally intelligent, eccentric, and logical with a dark, isolated, lonely side to him.

“All my life has been a long effort in escaping common places of existence.” says it all, doesn’t it?
(Doyle in Sherlock Holmes)

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