Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Recommended

Replay video

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Elementary

A modern take on Sherlock Holmes set in New York and starring the fabulous Jonny Lee Miller.

PT4M8S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2d922 620 349

SHERLOCK HOLMES is one of the most versatile characters in the history of popular culture: more than 70 actors have played him, in more than 200 films, television programs and radio dramas.

So, then, what's all the fuss about Elementary? When the US network CBS announced plans to re-engineer the hero of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels into a contemporary leading man, people got edgy.

Perhaps because the most recent iteration, the BBC's Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, seemed so entirely ''definitive'', having premiered to almost universal acclaim. Or perhaps because before branching out on its own, CBS had discussed adapting the BBC's version and then decided to go it alone.

Sherlock Holmes

Fish out of water ... Lucy Liu as the innovatively female Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes.

Compounding the sin, say the heretics, is the fact that this Holmes, played by the British actor Johnny Lee Miller, was to be paired with a female ''Watson'', Dr Joan Watson, played by Lucy Liu. A woman as the faithful Dr Watson? God forbid.

Robert Doherty, the creator and an executive producer of Elementary, is comfortable with his reimagining of Sherlock Holmes. The original material, he says, is elastic, particularly in the context of the countless interpretations that have preceded Elementary.

''I was always aware you could take certain liberties with the original character, the supporting cast and the original stories sometimes,'' he says. ''For me it was zeroing in on a take that makes it specific and unique, something that honours the source material but lets the audience experience the franchise in a different way.''

Jonny Lee Miller: 'We get to shine a lens on a different side to Sherlock Holmes, which I don't think has really been done before.'

"We get to shine a lens on a different side to Sherlock Holmes, which I don't think has really been done before" ... Jonny Lee Miller.

The essence of Holmes, Doherty tells Fairfax, is his hypersensitivity, which manifests itself as a pervading unease with the world around him, and an uncanny sense of reading detail in a situation, typically a crime scene.

''One would imagine he has to be quite sensitive to pick up on the many many details that he identifies in those books and stories,'' Doherty says. ''When I read them as a kid, what drew me in was the fun, that partnership, the two of them [Holmes and Watson] living together and getting along.

''Re-reading them as an adult, I was drawn to how strange he was, he was always larger than life, and there were references to drugs and women and other things that went over my head as a kid.''

Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson.

Aidan Quinn as Captain Toby Gregson.

Elementary - the title, for those unfamiliar with the Holmes canon, comes from the character's signature line, first spoken in the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes: ''Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.'' - has cast Jonny Lee Miller in the lead role.

While Miller is widely regarded as an outstanding actor, you could be forgiven for thinking of it as safe casting: heaven help Elementary if anyone but a Brit had the temerity to take on Holmes.

''We saw [Miller's] Holmes as a fish out of water,'' Doherty says. London he knows like the back of his hand, now he's in one of the loudest, busiest, most confounding places on the planet, New York City, so it's fun to see him adjust, or struggle to adjust.

Classic ... Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

Classic ... Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

''And yet the more I developed the premise, the more I appreciated that no matter where you drop Sherlock Holmes, he'll be the master of that domain in a short matter of time,'' Doherty says.

Miller, for his part, wants to keep his options open. He and Doherty are on the same page in that respect: the Sherlock Holmes source material is open to enough interpretation that he doesn't feel too boxed in as an actor.

''If I put too much into the 'oh, look at this legendary character', then I am going to probably try too hard or put too much pressure on myself,'' Miller says of the role. ''What is wonderful is having a vast amount of literature to be able to call on. It's like a treasure trove of information and you can pick and choose as you like.''

Miller loved the pilot-episode script, and the relationship between Holmes and Watson. In this case, Holmes is a recovering addict, and Liu's Watson is assigned to monitor his state of sobriety. ''We get to shine a lens on a different side to Sherlock Holmes, which I don't think has really been done before,'' Miller says of the interpretation. ''I think that's what makes the project interesting, really.''

The elephant in the room for the show is, of course, the British Sherlock, and the sense of unease that surrounded the announcement of the American adaptation.

Though Doyle's original works are in the public domain, there were early ideas of adapting the British version for the US market. That plan was shelved and CBS decided to go it alone, but not without poking a hornet's nest of the Holmes cognoscenti, who were concerned the US version would be a knockoff.

In a commercial sense, it's not unlike opening a new Hamlet on Broadway while an established stage production of Hamlet, critically acclaimed no less, is already open at another theatre on the same block. The analogy elicits a laugh from Doherty. ''It's a challenge,'' he says.

Doherty says the other adaptations each offer their own unique take on Holmes. ''Around the time the British series was in its first series and the first [Robert] Downey jnr film had come out … Holmes was in the zeitgeist,'' he says.

''I enjoyed [the other adaptations] thoroughly and you could tell they were done by people who were passionate about the subject matter … and they were great delivery systems of Sherlock Holmes.

''They [also] absolutely set a very, very high bar. That can be intimidating, when you're thinking of dipping your toe in that pool.''

Comparisons, he says, are inevitable, particularly because Miller and Cumberbatch are both British and, as it turns out, friends. ''This character is in the public domain and has been interpreted and reinterpreted many, many times over the decades. You always run the risk of comparison. That's only natural.''

Elementary, Ten, Sunday, 8.30pm

 

The who's Sherlock of Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone
Played Sherlock Holmes in 14 films made between 1939 and 1946, including The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and Pursuit to Algiers (1945), and a radio series, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Nigel Bruce played his Dr Watson.

Peter Cushing
One of the godfathers of horror, Cushing played Sherlock Holmes in the Hammer Studio's 1959 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles; a TV series, Sherlock Holmes (1965-68); and finally a television movie, The Masks of Death. Andre Morell played his Dr Watson in the '59 film, in which legendary actor Christopher Lee, who would later himself play Holmes in three films, starred as Sir Henry Baskerville.

Peter Cook
A legendary comedian, Cook played Holmes in a 1978 film comedy based on The Hound of the Baskervilles. Dudley Moore played his Dr Watson. The film starred Carry On icon Kenneth Williams as Sir Henry Baskerville.

Tom Baker
Better known to a generation of TV viewers as the fourth (of 11) doctors Who, Baker played Sherlock Holmes in the 1982 television adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the hopping-off point for most adaptations of Doyle's works. Terence Rigby played his Dr Watson.

Jeremy Brett
In one of the most memorable adaptations of Doyle's books, Brett played Holmes in the TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-94). Two actors played Dr Watson in the series, David Burke and later Edward Hardwicke. Forty-two of Doyle's stories were turned into 36 episodes and five telemovies. Until the 2010 TV version, Sherlock, many considered Brett's portrayal to be the ''definitive'' TV Holmes.

Robert Downey jnr
The big-screen Holmes, reimagined by director Guy Ritchie in 2009 and starring Downey jnr as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr Watson. A sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, was released in 2011.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Launched in 2010 to great acclaim, Cumberbatch's Sherlock is a modern-day misanthrope. Only six telemovies have been produced so far — a third set of three is due to be filmed this year — but the firepower of the  series eclipsed even the Downey jnr big-screen adaptations. Martin Freeman plays his Dr Watson.