sherlock, downton abbey, and luther


The following are three British television series Sean and I have recently discovered; made easy as they were available via Netflix streaming. I list them in order of viewing, Luther being newly arrived to Netflix.

I would also recommend Doctor Who and Torchwood as well. Torchwood is currently running a pretty intense season. And we can’t wait for the summer break to be over for more Doctor Who.

Sherlock (2010) :  the British television series as created by Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson are no longer confined to historical London, they’ve been translated into present-day context. Holmes is as savvy with technology as everything else. And Dr. Watson is a veteran of a different war, this one in Afghanistan. Dealing with internal and external wounds from the war Watson (Martin Freeman) needs work and a flat-mate, and something to occupy his mind. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) rather carelessly offers to split a place and it isn’t long before he pulls Watson into his sleuthing–because really, who else can put up with him? And Watson is actually very intelligent, though much more quietly so.  Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is present, of course, and Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs). Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) appears thinner, and a sly comment is made toward his success in dieting. And Moriarty seems to be behind most of the mayhem, and in a wonderfully imagined way.

The mysteries are good, but it is in the filming and the acting that viewers are compelled to follow the series. I was pleasantly distracted by the transitions between scenes, each movement a well-constructed match in which to fade, or would blend be the better word, bleed?  The lighting, the tilt-shift, the angles, the cross-cutting. Brilliant editing work. The addition of text is a really nice touch and not over done. The text popping up like bubbles at the press conference is a source of humor and the text as mind-reader is a useful tool in reading what Holmes is reading when examining a dead body. The soundtrack is good–can’t let that go unsaid.

Benedict Cumberpatch and Martin Freeman

Cumberbatch proves more than capable as the arrogant “sociopath” (as he is now labelled). He pulls off the simultaneity of oblivious and all-seeing beautifully. I found Freeman the much more compelling actor, in part, I think, because I hadn’t seen him play the straight man. Watson has his own demons, his own worries and yet, even as he is bewildered by Holmes, he is intrigued by what Holmes does, he can’t help but be involved. Freeman is so sober and quiet and emotive in a way that charms and steadies the course of the series. Watson has ever been the means by which the story of Holmes is told, but in Sherlock he has a story of his own as well. Watson and Holmes relationship makes the series, it develops in a comedic and dramatic way that wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the caliber of acting offered.

I really, really hope to see this series return. Yes, I know Freeman is busy with The Hobbit, which I have to say, I am even more eager to see, having witnessed how marvelous a range Mr. Freeman is capable of.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

Downton Abbey (2010) : British television series created and principally written by actor and writer Julian Fellowes. (wiki)

When the Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley’s “heir presumptive” goes down with the Titanic, life at Downton Abbey suffers unrest. A new heir will be named, an unfamiliar distant cousin. Robert Crawley’s eldest daughter Mary was to have married the previous heir and now her future is in free-fall. You see, her mother’s fortune (as a New York heiress) had become legally tied to the estate and title. All of her money would now go to a perfect stranger, leaving only respectable dowries for the three daughters–an unfair turn to Countess Crawley–and her mother-in-law, the Dowager. The servants are cast into uncertainty as well, and the arrival of a new valet for the Earl adds even more conflict. In this historical drama, events unfold on the grand scale, the suffragist movements, the threat of war, the decline of the aristocracy. The smaller scale dramas seem to play microcosmic role, while still entertaining their own intrigues.

Reasons to watch Downton Abbey:

Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: can anyone else portray absurd and dead-serious in the same breath this successfully? Oh, and the other actors aren’t too shabby either. I especially enjoyed Brendan Coyle’s performance as the valet John Bates. Truly, this is a well-cast show. Even as you hate the more villainous characters, you can’t help but appreciate how well played they are.

Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery (as Lady Mary) .

The costumes and sets. The clothing is easily one of my favorite reasons to watch this series.

It is easy to become invested in one or more of the characters. And it is lovely how the servants and not intertwine both in encounters that inform one another’s trajectories, but also thematically. The narrative would also cleverly keep the viewer on their toes. It was nice having the whole first season in one piece so as to not have to wait for next week! I am already on edge to watch this coming season.

Downton Abbey has become a phenomenal success for several reasons. I think it a wonderfully accessible historical drama with a something for everyone, not just its expected fans. I am sure you could find a reason to seek this series out, and I think you should.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

Luther (2010) : a British television series created by Neil Cross.

John Luther returns to his job as a Detective Chief Inspector for London Metropolitan Police Service’s Serious and Serial Crime Unit after being investigated for his part in a serial killer’s demise. Did he allow the killer to plummet to his death? Yes. Did Luther have a psychotic break? He certainly appears to still be reeling. His marriage disintegrates, the crimes are taxing, and he makes a very dangerous acquaintance.

Creator Neil Cross has said that Luther is influenced by both Sherlock Holmes and Columbo: the nature of Luther’s intellect and its application to solving crimes is comparable to Holmes’, whereas the show’s use of the “inverted detective format” (wherein the audience is aware of the identity of the criminals but not of how they will be caught, as opposed to the conventional format of the audience discovering the criminal as the characters do) was inspired by Columbo. (found on wiki)

Idris Elba as John Luther.

Luther is very good at solving cases; the only reason you can see his boss wanting him back and continuing to put up with him. And really, who doesn’t find Idris Elba attractive, even in the outright tormented figure that is John Luther? To say that Elba is riveting in this role is to sell him short. He carries off the strain of Luther’s existence in a confounding way. And Cross’ detective is as confounding as his story-line. It feels manipulative that you cannot anticipate the characters or the story-line (whether episodic or on the whole); and then you adjust as the drama enacted is really the reflective to Luther’s psychological planes. He isn’t predictive, which creates real suspense, and has the viewer returning with interest compounded. Luther creates a truly exhilarating experience. And then there are the cliff-hangers at the end of every show; with an incredible season finale to leave you hankering for the next season; which is a 4 episode summer run. Yep, we set to hunting it down immediately. If you like crime-police shows, are a fan of House, MD or Lie to Me, or Sherlock Holmes or Columbo…and if you would like to see what Idris Elba can do as the lead.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    Loved Sherlock. Watched it when they ran them on consecutive weeks on PBS Masterpiece Mystery. I was surprised at how pleased I was and thought they did such a great job of creatively working this series into the modern age while staying true (what I know of) the original works.

    Definitely going to have to check out Luther. We love British detective drama. Started watching Zen on Masterpiece Mystery last week (Italian detective but a British production) and liked how it began.

  2. L says:

    i will have to check out Zen as well, thank you.

  3. Suey says:

    Watching Dr. Who this very moment… only on Ep. 3…. I have also watched two ep. of Downton Abbey and plan to finish. Have never heard of Luther. Oh, and Sherlock Holmes is on my list (oh wait… “in my queue!” 🙂

  4. Kate says:

    Love the new Sherlock series, I caught it online when the BBC replayed it a few months ago. I agree that Cumberbatch and Freeman were both perfectly cast, each with their own unique interpretations to uphold (I do particularly like both Sherlock’s recasting as a sociopath and the use of the text to follow his thoughts.) I hear tell there’s a second series commissioned, but I haven’t heard when it’s planned to air.

    Also love Downton Abbey, and I’ve only been able to catch the first three episodes! “What’s a weekend?” – perfectly delivered. I hope that ITV might put it online soon so I can catch the last three before the second series.

  5. I can only take my hat off to the impressive roster of talent and skill of the English series. I really hope to continue producing more things like this in the factory yours to the delight of all.
    It’s just perfect the atmosphere of the time and classes cohabit in it. And then you come to mind the equally wonderful “Upstairs, Downstairs”, although old, is still a benchmark.
    It’s a series for lovers of vintage series, craftsmanship and drama students in our country.

  6. Frivolous Monsters says:

    Another UK series you might want to check out, if you don’t mind bad language, is Misfits. The first two series are brilliant. After that it’s gone off quite a lot.

    1. L says:

      thanks! I’ll look into it.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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