Thursday, March 28, 2013

Conan Doyle, Holmes & Watson – An Enduring Friendship: Guest post by Chris Allen (author of Intrepid series)


Dear Readers, please join me in welcoming Chris Allen, author of Intrepid series. Chris is a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories and has contributed this guest post about the same. Over to you, Chris:

Chris Allen, author of Intrepid series
Chris Allen
One of the great pleasures in my life to date has been in watching directors, producers and screenwriters re-interpret the great writing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as new productions are brought to the big and small screens. I literally count the days until the next Robert Downey/Jude Law collaboration hits the box office, and I always attempt to create a quiet environment at home when it's time to take in the BBC Sherlock series and the new US take on Holmes, Elementary. I collect the DVDs (special edition if possible) and watch them at my leisure, all the while re-reading at least one of Conan Doyle’s stories each week. Such is my obsession enjoyment of these stories and the literary inspiration I derive from them. It is indeed a pleasure to see them out again in the mainstream media for our general consumption.

One of the things I like to reflect upon when I’m viewing one or other of the latest iterations is the variety of ways in which the main characters, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have been presented to us over the years.

Before the recent adaptations, many people only knew of Holmes through the old black & white movies of the late 30's/early 40's, featuring Basil Rathbone. Fans of those movies will kill me for saying this, but I feel they were clichés.  Rathbone's Holmes was too perfect, the ultimate version, I suppose, rather than the complex, flawed, sometimes opiated, routinely depressed yet highly intelligent character we see on Conan Doyle’s pages.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
That said, my greatest bugbear with the older versions was the reduction of Dr. John Watson, as portrayed by Nigel Bruce, to little more than a bumbling oafish sidekick. I appreciate that the 'straight man & comic relief' pairing probably reflected the times, especially considering audience familiarity with the Crosby & Hope, Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis partnerships. In the books however, John Watson is nothing like that at all. Conan Doyle had put so much of himself into Watson’s history and character that you can’t help but admire them – they were incredible men, one real, the other fictional but steeped in reality. Note: In fairness to Rathbone & Bruce, both men saw action during World War 1. Rathbone was awarded the Military Cross for bravery and Bruce was shot and severely wounded.

Probably my favourite element of the original stories was that they were all written from Watson’s perspective, which was very effectively captured - in a contemporary sense - in BBC's Sherlock via Watson's blog, something that viewers of the US Elementary series may not realise.

Click on the link below to buy the book:


Holmes is so reliant on his partnership with Watson. In fact, in the books Holmes often states that he is so much better off when he has his trusted friend and ally at his side. If it wasn’t Holmes saving the day with some well-paced judo moves, then it would be Watson with his revolver. I love the duo. They are much more like Bodie and Doyle from The Professionals than Batman and Robin, if you know what I mean: a much more equal pairing than the old movies ever gave them credit for.

Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Although the stories have been done many times over, the real resurgence of interest in Sherlock Holmes in recent years has been due to, I think, directors and producers of my age who loved the books throughout their lives and imagined them as similarly vividly as I always have. I really got into the Sherlock Holmes (2009) movie with Robert Downey Jnr. and Jude Law. While they gave the camaraderie between the two characters a great treatment, they also gave the story more of a modern edge, particularly in terms of the banter between them. It’s perhaps not as gentlemanly, but still in the same vein as Conan Doyle’s original. Then the movie sequel to the 2009 hit became more slapstick again, and took it a bit far from Conan Doyle’s books for my personal preference, but I still enjoyed the interplay between Downey Jnr and Law across both films.

Since then, obviously, we've had two equally interesting but vastly different treatments of Sherlock Holmes: BBC’s dark but modern-day Sherlock (2010) and CBS’s quirky and equally contemporary Elementary (2012). BBC’s Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Watson) came pretty close to the originals of Holmes and Watson and stayed true to the stories. They established a great equal relationship between the two men.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in BBC Sherlock
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in BBC Sherlock
Next to Sherlock, I’m equally enamoured with CBS’s Elementary, featuring Johnny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. It’s a great take on the complexity and eccentricity of Holmes counterbalanced by the thorough, no-nonsense medical professionalism that is Watson. It’s such a thought-provoking angle with a man and a woman, and it really breathed new life into this incredibly enduring story.

In terms of my own writing, I also enjoyed the camaraderie inherent to military life, just as Conan Doyle obviously did. I've tried to replicate that in my stories, with regard to the banter and conversational exchanges between my protagonist Alex Morgan and his colleagues, the way they are and the way they interact with each other. It reflects my view that no one is an island; we are all reliant on each other in some way and there are people you must and can trust during times of adversity. I guess that’s what I love most in Conan Doyle’s stories and probably the reason I try to bring it out in my own humble offerings.

In this day and age, I don’t want to have just male agents in my thriller novels; Alex Morgan and his compadres are great, but they need some female energy in the mix. Just as we’ve seen Lucy Liu acting as Joan Watson in Elementary, I’m writing a new key character in the latest book, Avenger. She’ll be the first female Intrepid agent to be introduced to the legions of Intrepid and Alex Morgan fans currently amassing across the globe! She sure knows her stuff, but I can’t tell you her name or anything else just yet.

Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in CBS Elementary
Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson in CBS Elementary
I’d love to hear your thoughts on your preferred adaptation of Sherlock – or maybe you can’t beat the books? We know, for example, that our good friend B2B (Is CBS Elementary a good adaptation of Sherlock Holmes?) is a fan of Basil Rathborne and doesn’t believe that Elementary will hit cult status. Leave your comment below!

A former Paratrooper, Government Security and Counter-Terrorism expert, and - most recently - the Sheriff of New South Wales, Chris Allen's series of thriller novels feature Interpol's ultra-secret sub-directorate Intrepid and star agent Alex Morgan. His experience of the publishing revolution has been up close and personal, self-publishing before being signed to Pan Macmillan's digital imprint, Momentum Books. Defender and Hunter have become instant eBook sensations with traditional print deals and a film franchise underway.

Defender Intrepid 1 by Chris Allen
Hunter Intrepid 2 by Chris Allen

For more information visit www.intrepidallen.com, or say g’day to Chris at www.facebook.com/intrepidallen.

To read a sample of Defender: http://intrepidallen.com/getdefender/ to read a sample of Hunter: http://intrepidallen.com/gethunter/

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Image Sources: CBS, BBC, Warner Bros, Wikimedia

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14 comments:

  1. Hello Allen,
    In my opinion, the books are the best. They were the first and final original SHERLOCK that we have come to know and love. I also think that the friendship and partnership between Watson and Holmes is one to treasure - and that Watson is a very lucky man to share lodgings with the Great Detective. My favourite film/TV adaptations are the following: for the original, more canonical version - Jeremy Brett in the Granada adaptation and, for the modern version - BBC Sherlock. Both these stories hold the lively essence of Doyle's books and do not alter Holmes solely for the purposes of humour. So glad you dropped by, and I enjoyed your post very much!

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    1. Hello Reena,
      Thanks so much for your comments. I too believe that you can't beat the books. I must admit to not being so familiar with the Jeremy Brett/Granada series but when I read your comment I went off immediately to discover them. From the brief glimpse I’ve had so far I could see that you’re absolutely right. Jeremy did an outstanding job as Holmes. I look forward to tracking down the entire series! Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Best, CA

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  2. I agree about Rathbone's movies. They were very enjoyable to watch when I was a kid, but now they do not hold up that well compared to classics of the period like "The Big Sleep" or "The Maltese Falcon" as some would suggest.

    My main problem with the first Robert Downy Jr. movie is that there was no really mystery for the audience to discover because all of the clues Sherlock mentioned at the end were mostly off camera. However, as a fun action adventure, with good comedic timing, it was a very good movie and fun to watch. Games of Shadows is what I enjoyed the most though, it was underrated in my opinion.

    BBC's Sherlock and Watson are great, and Martin Freeman is one of my favorite current actors. Not much to say, except everyone seems to like this version and I can't disagree.

    Glad that you agree about Elementary, it is one of one of my favorite adaptations. Providing their relationship remains non-romance, it is done very well in my opinion. It is refreshing to see a non-romance relationship between a man and woman character, and they are hilarious. Despite my original skepticism about making Watson a woman, it turned out fantastic.

    I could not choose a favorite because all three (RDJ, BBC and CBS versions) have their unique appeal. One works as a feature film, another as a mini series and another as a on going TV series. I think of it as a great time to be a Sherlock fan because there is something for just about everyone, except for a Sherlock purist, which would be interesting to see another director adaptation.

    Excellent post Chris Allen. Do you have a blog? I did not see any links in the post.

    -James

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    1. James, I agree. If the producers of Elementary manage to keep Sherlock and Joan at arms length then the stories will be the better for it! And, yes, it’s a great time to be a Sherlock Holmes fan. So many different interpretations to satisfy a whole range of diverse tastes. You can find my blog on my website here: http://intrepidallen.com/blog/ Thanks for your thoughts.

      Best, CA

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  3. Thanks for your post. I agree with most of what the others have said, so I don't need to add a whole lot.
    I look forward to checking out your books.

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    1. G’day John, thank you. I hope you enjoy my books! I’m sure you’ll note the odd tribute to Conan Doyle, which you’ll find mostly in the language and character of General Davenport.

      Best, CA

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  4. Thanks to all for your comments.

    I agree with Chris about the Basil Rathbone and Robert Downey Jr movies.

    I specifically like his views about the BBC series Sherlock. He is spot on about Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman capturing the essence of Conan Doyle's everlasting characters.

    Great points by Reena and James in their comments.

    B2B.

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    1. I appreciate the opportunity to have conversations about some of my favourite characters with your discerning readers - thank you B2B!

      Best, CA

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  5. Interesting review. I love Rathbone - it's a product of its time but I thought he was a fine Holmes. I love Nigel Bruce too - if Watson can be a woman can't he be a comedy sidekick in one version?

    I do feel you've missed out the very best Holmes and Watson though. All the modern pretenders must bow to the superlative Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke in Granada TV's long running Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Any overview is incomplete without a mention of them.

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    1. Thanks GK for stopping by.

      You raised an interesting question by comparing the Watsons of CBS Elementary and the Basil Rathbone movies.

      B2B.

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    2. Gypsy King, thanks for your thoughts. The great thing about Conan Doyle’s work is that there are so many of us who love the Holmes stories and characters that we each enjoy our own unique take on how they have been interpreted through the years. You make a good point – if Watson can be presented as a woman, why not also present him with humour? Also, I completely agree re the Brett & Hardwicke collaboration. I am looking forward to discovering the series which, for me at least, will be new!

      Best, CA

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  6. Hello There,
    I just wanted to see if you were currently interested in additional guest bloggers for your blog site.
    I see that you've accepted some guest posters in the past - are there any specific guidelines you need me to follow while making submissions?
    If you're open to submissions, whom would I need to send them to?
    I'm eager to send some contributions to your blog and think that I can cover some interesting topics.
    Thanks for your time,
    Tess

    ReplyDelete