Tuesday, 30 August 2016

THE SACRIFICE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

Strong tea and a currant slice. Bet you weren’t expecting my review to start like that. But it had to, because this is the first thing I think of when I think of Sherlock Holmes. There are certain trigger memories and Sherlock Holmes is one of them. Whereas I was and am primarily a Doctor Who fan, this was a very solitary fandom for me as a child and teenager, none of my family or friends seemed to be that bothered with it and it was merely tolerated as an eccentricity I would grow out of. In Sherlock Holmes though I had an ally – a wonderful now sadly departed ally – my Taid (welsh for Grandfather). Good old William Edward Williams was a staunch fan of the exploits of Mr Holmes, he introduced me to his adventures through the repeats of the Basil Rathbone films on a Friday evening, and this became my highlight of the week after finishing school on a Friday  off to see Taid, strong tea & a currant slice provided and we would lose ourselves for an hour or so in the murky world of 1940’s wartime England as Holmes and Watson saw off Nazi spies. As I grew a bit older I graduated to Jeremy Brett and the sublime ITV series, again watched with Taid, tea & a slice. Ah memories.
 This nostalgia trip leads me nicely on to the latest release from Big Finish – The Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes and right out of my comfort zone. To begin with this is not set in the foggy gas-lit victorian streets of Brett or the war time of Rathbone, no dear reader, this is an altogether stranger and more dangerous setting. This story is set in a cold, grey wet November in 1921, and Holmes is an old man past his prime, almost a relic from a more genteel age, the four stories also happen in quick succession over the space of twelve hours or so. Gone is the slow, ponderous pace that I have been so used to replaced by a manic sense of urgency and a situation that very very soon gets out of control and has our heroes on the back foot.
 Normally I would break this down in to a review of all four stories as separate entities, but they really are just all chapters in an epic so here we go:
The Society – a group of terrorists whom Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Briggs) accuses of the murder of his brother Mycroft through his eulogy at Mycroft’s funeral. Holmes as always is correct, but this day is going to be one of the most trying days of his long and distinguished career for The Society have a plan to bring London and the British Empire to its knees, they will commit an terrorist atrocity every half an hour until the British Government decides to parlay with them and meet their demands. Time really is of the essence in this story and this really does not play well with Holmes’ method, he is used to meticulously taking in the evidence, but here he is almost blundering about like a headless chicken as the horrifying events of the day almost overtake him. At his side as always is the dependable Dr John Watson (Richard Earl) who’s marital strife with his third wife Eleanor (Elizabeth Rider) is being used as a tool by The Society to further their ends.
Ladies and gentlemen – we are in never experienced before territory for a Sherlock Holmes set – a fast paced, action packed blockbuster very much in the mould of TV series 24 – the stakes begin high and throughout the four episodes are raised again and again to almost a stratospheric threat level. And then there is Agamemnon (Alan Cox) the main “villain” of the piece, head of The Society and a face from Holmes & Watson’s past – utterly deranged, a complete split personality who genuinely believes that he and his insane plan to assert the agenda of The Society is the correct thing to do – murder, terorrism, viral warfare and a conspiracy that goes to the heart of the Government of the British Empire – it really is end of days epic stuff with a fair few tearjerking moments in episode four, I wont spoil anything but you will know them when you hear but just to say one just involves the word “loved”….
Would Taid approve though? It is a million miles away from the sedate pace of Rathbone & Brett – but I think the late great William Edward would heartily approve of Messers Briggs & Earls’ take on the great man & the redoubtable Dr – and for me they pass the “visual listening” test I put my Big Finish listens through, because as I hear Holmes speak I see Mr Briggs speaking the words in costume as Holmes and can think of no other playing the part at the moment – Briggs & Earl have passed the test, they enter into the realm of all time great Holmes & Watson actors, they occupy the parts so much that the words Sherlock Holmes makes me think of them almost as much as strong tea & a current slice :-)
 A high octane roller coaster ride of an adventure that really does leave the listener gasping for breath at the events that take place on that fateful November day in 1921. Holmes & Watson may be old but they are by no means past it and bring their skills to a new age with a new determination. I raise my mug of tea to them & gladly share my currant slice at 9/10.