What's wrong with this picture? That was the question confronting Sherlock Holmes in the last episode of the new BBC adaptation, Sherlock. With a life at stake, Holmes had to solve the mystery of a Vermeer, or what looked like a variant based on the View of Delft. Imagine that painting with a starry vault, and you'll get the idea
We hear a lot about connoisseurs getting it wrong, but they usually have lots of time to examine their artworks and make their mistakes. Holmes had a more pressing deadline: 10 seconds to save the case and save a child. Young Moriarty had orchestrated a great game involving a series of puzzles that involved victims wired up like suicide bombers; only solving the mysteries saved the victims. As the time ticked away and we saw the sleuth's thoughts represented by words flitting across the screen, it looked as if all was lost. "It's a fake," said Holmes, but Moriarty wanted more. After scanning the signature, the facture and other parts of the canvas, it suddenly hit Holmes that a series of paint splotches were arrayed in the shape of an astronomical cluster That was it! The fraudster-artist having a penchant for astronomy, had painted a supernova or an exploding star in the sky; but the snag was it was only visible in 1858, over a hundred years after the work was supposedly executed. A stellar performance in more ways than one. The joke here is that Holmes is not interested in the solar system because it falls outside the science of deduction. Still, as he told an amused Watson, while admiring the night sky, "That doesn't mean I can't appreciate it."
The writers of this updated Sherlock know their Conan Doyle; they know that the writer famously has Holmes say "art in the blood is liable to take the strangest of forms." In the books Holmes says he is descended from the Vernet dynasty of painters; and his artistic side has not been forgotten in this series despite his sleuthhound persona. In last week's episode Holmes consulted an art expert at the National Gallery to help him decode a set of symbols in an updated version of 'The Dancing Men'. This turned out to be a graffiti artist a la Banksy who sprayed-painted the walls of that venerable institution before being chased off by the police.
I've enjoyed this makeover of Sherlock Holmes, and it looks as if lots of other people have too. The two actors, Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) are well-matched, and the series captures the nervous rhythm of our times well. Currently, I would expect Holmes to be a techie, at ease with texting and e.mail, not to mention web-surfing; I also like the lumber-room of his brain compared to a hard drive from which certain information has been deleted. Likewise, it makes sense to make Watson a blogger and an unemployed locum! I'm not so sure about Moriarty's Paul McCartney sound-alike though!
My favourite line in this episode. Holmes (drily to Watson) "Where would I be without my blogger?"