TV Review: Death in Paradise (s. 1-2)

Well, my wife and I have been digging around in the Netflix treasure chest looking for something we hadn’t watched before when we found this little gem: Death in Paradise. Set on the in the Caribbean, this TV show follows the exploits of a stuffy and meticulous English detective inspector who has been assigned to head up a tiny team of police officers working on the sun drenched shores of the fictional island of Saint Marie.

While it is primarily a murder/mystery style drama, focusing on a traditional ‘who dunnit’ formula, it is obviously not without a generous dollop of humour. The protagonist, D.I. Poole (Ben Miller), is a classic fish out of water. He despises sunshine, parties and anything remotely French; three things which abound in his new environment. Rather than adapt, Poole staunchly treads the burning sands of Saint Marie in his suit from morning till night as he works alongside his new fun-loving colleagues, including his sidekick and obvious foil, Camille (Sara Martins), solving an improbable number of murders on such a small island.

It was a slow start for me. The premise, though simple, appealed to me. I always enjoy a good murder/mystery and the fish out of water trope can be fun. Nevertheless, after the first episode, I still wasn’t quite sure if I was going to like it or not. It seemed to lack that je ne sais quoi that allows you to forget you’re watching people acting and enjoy the story. Realising that most TV shows have a few teething problems on the first episode, however, we persevered and have quickly become hooked (in spite of the shock of s. 3 ep. 1, but we’ll stick to s. 1-2 today).

As is so often the case, the characters are what make this show what it is. The premise is interesting enough, but not enough to keep a viewer hooked and at a technical level the show is pretty unremarkable but the characters (especially the regular cast) are what make it worth watching. Despite his stuffy, snotty-nosed, and borderline xenophobic tendencies, there is also a vulnerable and even lovable side to D.I. Poole. As the show progresses, his relationship with Camille develops into one of mutual respect, friendship and even hints of romantic attraction despite their obvious differences and the frustrations they often feel with each other. My only regret with their mutual story arc is that was cut rather short when D.I. Poole left the show at the start of s. 3 with the romantic tension left never really resolving itself, not even with a single bumbling kissy scene.

The two uniformed officers who work under Poole and Camille, Dwayne Myers (Danny John-Jules) and Fidel Best (Gary Carr) are similarly excellent in their supporting roles. Fidel in particular has his own little story arc weaved into the background of the main story, focusing on how he tries to juggle his career with his responsibilities as a husband and father. The Dwayne character, though beautifully portrayed by the actor, is a little more undercooked from a writing point of view, though remains a joy to watch as he bombs around on his motorbike, flirts with a different girl in every episode and takes a ‘traditional’ gung-hoe approach to policing.

Critics have often accused this show of being very formulaic. They’re right. Every episode without fail begins with the discovery of a body, the credits roll, there’s a vital clue that everybody dismisses but Poole can’t stop thinking about it, they interview the suspects, gather around a whiteboard covered in photographs, Poole has a sudden inspiration brought about by something innocuous and they all ‘gather in the drawing room bar by the pool’ Poirot style so Poole can reveal all and arrest the guilty party. Throw in a the odd will-they-won’t-they scene between Poole and Camille and you’ve got your episode.

In spite of this, it’s still a great show to sit down and lose yourself in. It’s funny, endearing, with enough drama to keep you engrossed without adversely affecting your blood pressure. Give it a whirl and don’t judge it too harshly by the first episode. It picks up quickly.

My rating: ūüĆüūüĆüūüĆüūüĆü


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I‚Äôm still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it‚Äôs books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you‚Äôve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you‚Äôre interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

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Review: Kim’s Convenience (season 1)

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen season 1 of the CBC TV show, Kim’s Convenience (season 1) is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Every now and again, you’ll be perusing Netflix looking for a new show to watch, unsure as to what you’re looking for and feeling frankly jaded with the search. Nothing looks any good. It all looks rubbish. Sure, you could always just rewatch Star Trek for the billionth time, but that would feel like admitting defeat.

You look up at the clock and see bedtime is fast approaching and you still haven’t actually watched anything. In a panic, you take a gamble on some random Canadian sitcom you’ve never heard of and are quite sure is going to be rubbish. A few hours later, much to your surprise, you’ve made it all the way through to season 2 and deeply regret having to turn it off to go to bed. Such was my experience with Kim’s Convenience.

This show, based on the stage play of the same name, focuses on the lives of a family of Korean-Canadians who run a convenience store in Toronto. Kim Sang-il (more often referred to as ‘appa‘, which I gather means ‘father’) and is wife Kim Yong-mi (umma) immigrated to Canada from Korea, and hold fast to Korean tradition and values while their daughter Janet, who is fully assimilated into Canadian culture, frustrates her parents by her refusal to take over the shop or marry a ‘cool Christian Korean boy’. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim’s estranged son and reformed teenage convict, Jung, works at a car rental shop with his flat mate under the supervision of a socially awkward manager who also happens to have a crush on him.

As is so often the case with TV shows I like, the characters in this show are what make it what it is. Sitcom characters are often very two dimensional, easily whittled down to a smattering of traits and nothing more but the characters in Kim’s Convenience have all got a little extra depth. Nothing too deep (it is still a sitcom), but their motives, goals and conflicts are sufficiently defined that we do actually find ourselves caring about the characters and not simply laughing at them. I found I was eager to discover if Shannon and Jung were going to get together or not, or if Jung would ever speak to his father again or if Janet would ever win the approval or acceptance of her parents. As a result, this show is often funny but sometimes touching, without being over the top with it. As a result, the closing scene of the final episode (big spoiler coming up now) packed a heartfelt punch which sitcoms often lack, as Mr. Kim sorrowfully accepted his daughter’s decision to move out of the family home by giving her a relentless list of instructions about how to be a good roommate, thus providing a satisfactory conclusion to some of the conflicts in their relationship throughout the series.

Janet: I’ll still be working at the store. You’ll barely know I’m gone.

Appa: I will know.

Janet: Appa… let’s get some hot chocolate.

Appa: Yeah. Be good roommate. Pay utility bill. Wash dish after you finish eating.

Kim’s Convenience, s. 1, ep. 13

The individual stories often touch on a lot of contemporary issues, particularly discrimination and diversity though not in a way which feels preachy or insensitive. On the contrary, there is something quite refreshing about this show’s simple and direct approach to delicate themes which maintains the show’s entertainment value without shying away from difficult subjects.

So I know what you really want to know: is there anything I didn’t like about this series?

The short answer is: no, not really. It isn’t side-splitting, eye watering laughter from start to finish, but it’s not really supposed to be. Some episodes stand out more than others and there are a few story which seem to end rather abruptly, but in general I’d call this show an ‘all rounder’ piece of light entertainment which you can easily spend an hour or two binge-watching.

Get yourself onto Netflix and give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

My rating: ūüĆüūüĆüūüĆüūüĆü


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don‚Äôt forget to ‚Äėlike‚Äô this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also¬†follow Penstricken on Twitter,¬†Pinterest¬†and¬†like Penstricken on Facebook, if that‚Äôs what fries your bacon.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I‚Äôm still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it‚Äôs books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you‚Äôve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you‚Äôre interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

How To Make a Spin-Off That Doesn’t Suck

This week, I had planned to write a blog about my favourite TV spin-offs; ‘5 Spin-Offs That Are Actually Worth Watching’, or something to that effect. I don’t know exactly what I would have called it. The whole idea was blown out the water when I realised I couldn’t think of many spin-off shows I actually liked; certainly nothing that I liked enough to devote several hundred words to raving about. A painstaking trawl through Wikipedia’s ever popular list of television spin-offs¬†did nothing to inspire me. It only confirmed what I had already begun to suspect: most spin-offs suck.

‘Why is this so?!’ I hear you cry.

Good question. Difficult to answer in broad-sweeping general terms, but I think I’ve managed to identify a few pitfalls that a great many spin-offs fall into that makes them suck. Avoid these when writing your spin-off and you might stand a chance of coming up with something that doesn’t make me want to tear my eyeballs out or (worse yet) yawn loudly and start playing with my phone.

Pitfall #1: The Surprising Shift in Genre

In spite of what I said earlier, as a Trekkie I love both Star Trek: The Original Series and¬†most of the subsequent spin-off shows and movies. One of the reasons for this is because you know where you are with a Star Trek show. Whether it’s the Original Series, The Next Generation¬†or¬†Voyager,¬†you know¬†you’re getting a reasonably family friendly sci-fi/drama. The main setting is nearly always a starship (except for Deep Space Nine where it was a space-station, but close enough). There’s always a captain, a first officer, an engineer, a doctor and so forth. There¬†is continuity with the original show, and that appeals to the most important audience you should be targeting with your spin-off: fans of the original.

But believe it or not, there really have been¬†other Star Trek spin-offs on the cards which were mercifully never produced; spin-offs which broke this rule. For example, Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek’s creator) did have¬†short-lived¬†plans¬†for one Star Trek spin-off which was to be a sitcom about Lwaxanna Troi (the mother of one of the regular characters in The Next Generation). No seeking out new life, no starship, no boldly going… just extravagant dresses¬†and canned¬†laughter (in Star Trek, if you please).

Need I say more?

Pitfall #2: The Surprising Shift in Age Appropriateness 

I’m looking at you,¬†Torchwood, Class, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9¬†and whatever other Doctor Who spin-offs there might ever be. If you’re going to do a spin-off of a successful show, the chances are your main audience is going to be people who already watch the original. Remember, knowing your target audience¬†can make or break any kind of story, so if your original story is a dark psychological thriller about an axe-murderer, don’t¬†make the spin-off¬†a children’s show about the exciting adventures of the axe-murderer’s 12 year old nephew. Your new audience won’t be familiar with the backstory and the old audience is unlikely to be interested

And for the love of bacon, don’t do it the other way around either. You’ll only end up getting letters from angry parents.

Pitfall #3: The Protagonist is a Supporting Character from the Original Show

Now before I go any further, I want to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with supporting characters in one show becoming the protagonist of another. It can work very well. For instance, in spite of what I said earlier about the Doctor Who spin-offs, I do think Jack Harkness was just as good a protagonist in Torchwood as he was as a supporting character in Doctor Who. After all, characters are people. People make good protagonists. But if you want a supporting character to have the leading role in your spin-off, they need to evolve beyond that minor role and become full-blown protagonists in their own right.

If the original story has a well developed cast of characters, this might be quite easy to do. Torchwood worked because Jack Harkness was already such a rich character in his own right whether the Doctor is present or not, and so he made the transition to protagonist easily. But let’s pretend we were going to write a new Doctor Who spin-off… let’s call it… I don’t know… Roses Are (Presumed) Dead (see what I did there?);¬†a spin-off about the Doctor’s companion¬†Rose,¬†after she got trapped in a parallel universe and was declared dead. In theory it could work quite well, but you would need to develop that character beyond what she is to begin with. Now living in the parallel universe without the Doctor, she needs to have motivations and goals of her own that the viewer can relate to and care about.

Pitfall #4: Writing a New but Inferior Protagonist to the Original

In some ways,¬†writing a brand new character to be the protagonist is probably far easier to do well, since you’re just creating a brand new protagonist from scratch instead of trying to augment a supporting character

However, you must make sure that your new protagonist lives up to the vibrancy of the original one. Remember, your original audience¬†are the main folk¬†you should try to appeal to. Sorry to keep banging on about Doctor Who spin-offs (there’s just so many of them), but one of the many things I hated about Class was that the protagonist(s?) was so rubbish. Boring, often annoying and quite forgettable. Nothing compared to the Doctor, Jack Harkness or even K-9 in my opinion! The best thing about Class was when the Doctor appeared in the first episode (I don’t know if it was any good after that; I couldn’t bring myself to watch another episode), and for ten marvellous minutes, we had a protagonist worth watching.

The only trouble is, the Doctor isn’t supposed to be the protagonist of this show! Don’t just rely on your popular fictional universe to make your story good. Characters, especially the protagonist, are the beating heart of a good story every single time.

Pitfall #5 РThe Protagonist is the Same Protagonist as in the Original Show

Once again, there’s nothing really wrong with this. It can work. Just ask yourself, if the protagonist’s story is finished, why are you still writing about him? It can be tempting to drag out a story beyond it’s natural lifespan, especially if it’s been popular, but if your protagonist has done all he needs to do, just let him live happily ever after. If, on the other hand, the protagonist’s story is not finished, why does it need a brand new spin-off? Why not do another series of the original?

A spin-off must require a brand new premise to truly stand on its own, especially if it has the same protagonist as the original. The British sitcom¬†Porridge and its spin-off¬†Going Straight¬†both feature the same protagonist, but it works because the protagonist, who was originally a prisoner of HMP Slade in Porridge, has now been released in Going Straight and is trying to live a crime-free life. Same character; different premise. It’s a brand new story with the potential to be interesting in its own right. That’s what you’re going for with a spin-off, no matter what format it takes. Something that’s both new enough to be stand alone¬†and¬†familiar enough to draw in your original fans.

Amazon Storywriter

UPDATE: amazon storywriter was retired on the 30th june 2019.

If you’ve ever dreamed of writing scripts for TV and aren’t quite sure where that golden opportunity is going to come from, might I suggest you have a look at this tasty free app I discovered. The Amazon Storywriter (developed by the good people¬†at Amazon Studios, naturally) is a very neat little app for script-writing which formats your script for you as you go and saves your work online for you to access from any computer in the world.

‘So what?’ I hear you cry, ‘There are dozens of online script-writing apps out there!’

True, but unlike most others, this script-writing app will send your completed script directly to Amazon Studios. If it is accepted, your script might well end up being the next TV show or movie to be produced by the same people who gave us Bosch, Mozart in the Jungle and¬†The Man in the High Castle. Tell me, dear would-be screenwriter, that you’re not a little bit interested.

As far as I can tell from looking at their website, they are particularly interested in drama series, comedy series, children’s TV shows or movies, so you’re probably best restricting yourself to those genres (though¬†don’t let me stand on your toes). I’ve not actually submitted anything yet (I’m getting there!) so I don’t have too much first hand knowledge about any issues that may or may not arise around creative royalties, contracts, copyright issues or anything else like that (therefore, I would strongly recommend doing your research before you submit anything – good advice any day of the week) but I can review it as a writing app.

amazon1

The interface is very simple. There are two tabs along the top: ‘Write’ and ‘Review’. The ‘Review’ tab is, unsurprisingly, where you go to review scripts that your friends have sent you. I’ll maybe talk about that another day, but right now I want to focus on Storywriter’s function as a script-writing app. So, let’s have a look under the ‘Write’ tab!

Here we have a sidebar consisting of two fairly self-explanatory options: ‘Create a script’ and ‘Import a script’. ‘Create a script’, as you might guess, creates a brand new project which is automatically saved to the cloud. ‘Import a script’ allows you to import either text-based PDFs, FDX files or Fountain files (5MB or less) into Amazon Storywriter from your computer. Either way, what you’ll end up with is a very intuitive little writing environment: a page, already set up and ready for you to write (or continue, if you imported) your script.

amazon7If, like me, your skills in proper script formatting are¬†a little rusty, the sidebar on the right (or ‘element menu’, as it is called) will help you to format your script as you go along without having to spend a lot of time faffing around with line-spacing, margins, alignments and all that sort of thing (though I would still strongly recommend learning how to format your script properly and proof-reading it to be certain anyway).¬†Your work will save automatically as you type and whenever you close your project, but there is, nevertheless, a big handy-dandy ‘SAVE’ button on the top right hand corner of the screen, if you crave that reassurance that only manually saving your work can bring. You will also find a small drop-down menu at the top-right of the screen. This is where you can make (fairly limited) changes to the layout of the editor: you can hide the element menu¬†and you can toggle ‘typewriter mode’, which causes the editor to scroll as you type.

amazon3Along the top-left of the screen there is a simple menu, most of which you will recognise from every other word processor you’ve ever used: undo, redo, bold, italics, etc. Clicking the ‘Amazon Storywriter’ logo will take you back to your home screen. There is also a single drop-down menu (which for some reason is labelled with the name¬†of your project) which most closely resembles the sort of things you might find in a ‘file’ menu on most normal word processors, but there are some important differences. I’m not going to waste time explaining every option in the menu since most of them are self-explanatory but there are a few that are worth highlighting.

First, this menu includes all your options for letting other people (specifically, your friends and Amazon Studios) see your work. Clicking on ‘share’ lets you send your script to whoever you like: friends, neighbours, dentists, anyone. All you need is their e-mail address and they will receive a notification asking them to review your script (they must accept this). If, however, you feel your script is as good as it’s ever going to be, clicking on ‘Submit to Amazon Studios’ will begin the step-by-step process of submitting your work to Amazon for consideration, so don’t use it until you’re certain your script is ready.

Another useful feature in this menu is ‘Save a draft’, though it might not be exactly what you imagine it to be at first. Once you save a draft, it is saved as a read-only file that can not be edited.¬†It can only be viewed, renamed, shared, exported, deleted completely or submitted to Amazon Studios. You can create as many drafts as you like (or at least, if there¬†is¬†a limit, I’ve not hit it yet) and you can continue to edit your script as before; only the draft files are read-only, allowing for easy redrafting without losing any previous drafts you might want to revisit. Every¬†draft file can be found attached to your project on the home screen.

If, however, you want multiple editable scripts for the same project, choosing ‘Create a copy’¬†from the same menu will create a brand new project identical to the one you’re working on at the time. The only thing it¬†won’t¬†copy over is your read-only draft files. As before, this copied project will also be available from your home screen and will not have any effect on the original project and its associated drafts.

amazon6

There is only one major thing this app does lack: any kind of¬†planning environment where you can write up character biographies, storyboards and the like. This app doesn’t really come into its own until all your planning is already done and you’re ready to actually¬†write a draft.

Still, it’s a swish little app for would-be screenwriters, especially if you’re a beginner looking for an easy way of having your work reviewed by your peers and considered for production by a company who can¬†(maybe, possibly, if you’re lucky) bring it to life for you. The app’s functionality may be a little basic in some respects (though there’s something to be said for that when writing, I find) but it’s¬†certainly much easier to use than¬†some more expensive apps and does the job well.

Also did I mention that it’s completely free to use?

 

Your Character’s “Thing”

SPOILER ALERT:

Anyone who still has not seen up to series 8 of the BBC sci-fi/drama, Doctor Who (the series 8 from 1971 one, not 2014), is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

My wife and I are Whovians. Recently we’ve been watching all of Doctor Who from the very beginning (the very,¬†very beginning with William Hartnell) and we’re now on series 8. The Doctor (by now on his third incarnation, portrayed by Jon Pertwee) has been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords. He still has his TARDIS – the space/time capsule by which he can travel anywhere, anywhen – but it has been sabotaged by the Time Lords, who have also put a block on the Doctor’s memory so he is unable to fix it. As such, he’s spent the majority of this series as a scientific adviser to the human organisation, UNIT. The TARDIS is barely seen or mentioned at all in the first couple of episodes.

As much as I’ve enjoyed this series as a show and think Pertwee is arguably one of¬†my favourite Doctors, he seems odd without his TARDIS. The TARDIS is, after all, the Doctor’s ‘Thing’. It’s what makes him stand out as a truly unique character. Many characters in fiction have travelled through time and space; many are aliens; many speak in BBC English but no one else has a space/time capsule disguised as a British police box. If anyone did, we would all cry ‘Plagiarism! A space/time travelling police box is the Doctor’s Thing!’

Almost all¬†of the most memorable characters in fiction have a Thing. It might be a physical object they carry, something they wear or perhaps even something they simply say. When one thinks of James Bond, we imagine a man who carries a Beretta 418 (though in reality, he did occasionally use other weapons) and drinks vodka martinis, shaken not stirred. Batman dresses like bat, drives a¬†Batmobile and operates from a Batcave; no prizes for guessing what his thing is. Even characters from history are often assigned Things that make them recognisable when they are portrayed on stage or on film today. For example, one of the first plays I recall ever seeing included a portrayal of Henry VIII, who spent most of the play munching a turkey leg.¬†Whether or not the¬†real Henry VIII ever had an affinity for turkey is neither here nor there; today, it’s become that character’s Thing. A Thing might even be another character; a constant companion (or nemesis?) whom he is lost without. Sherlock Holmes for example is almost always portrayed with John Watson. On the rare¬†occasions where Watson is not present, he is still almost always referred to by Holmes who is clearly suffering for a lack of ‘his Watson’; even if he is loathe to admit it.

And here it is that I miss my Watson. By cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder he could elevate my simple art, which is but systematised common sense, into a prodigy.

РDoyal, A.C. The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

In a short, a Thing can be anything but it must be unique.

So, does your character need a Thing? Not necessarily. A well-written character can function just fine within an excellent story without a Thing. What a Thing will do for your character is make them seem more distinctive¬†and memorable. Therefore, it is probably only necessary to give them to your protagonist and maybe your main antagonist; characters you want to make stand out. However, as we have said before, it is important that every element of your story – characters, objects, dialogue, the lot – serves a function in progressing the story. Pointless gimmicks are… well… pointless. I would, therefore, think very, very, very¬†carefully before giving your character a Thing which does not¬†also serve some practical function to move the story along, especially in written fiction where the narrative will be disrupted by your description of the Thing. (You can get away with a¬†little bit more on stage or film. For example, Henry VIII’s turkey leg might serve no practical function, but the story is not interrupted since he simply has to be seen holding it; in written fiction, however, the reader’s attention must be drawn to it with superfluous narrative).

So, before you even think about Things, think about this: what does my character actually need?

In other words, what is required to make the story work? In the case of Doctor Who, a space/time capsule was obviously required, because the whole premise of Doctor Who¬†revolves around an alien who has a variety of adventures travelling to different planets and different points in history. Clearly, he would need some means of transportation, especially if he is bringing human companions with him, as he always does. However, it doesn’t need to be disguised as a British police box. It could be disguised as anything – or not be disguised at all. At this stage, it’s not really distinctive enough to be a¬†Thing, since plenty of sci-fi includes time machines. We’re only interested at this stage in giving our character what he needs to make the story work.

Only once the essentials are in place can we start adding the dressing needed to create a Thing for our character. Remember, that if your story was a five¬†course meal and you were a chef, your characters’ Things would¬†be garnish; not appropriate for every course, and even then, only to be used in tiny quantities as a kind of ‘finishing touch’.

Like all good garnishes, a Thing should discreetly compliment and enhance the character you have already created. The Doctor’s TARDIS, for example, is perpetually disguised as a British police box, regardless of what planet or time it travels to. The fact it travels through time and space is your meat and potatoes, because it is¬†essential to make the story work. The fact it is humorously disguised as a police box is the garnish; passively turning the Doctor’s time machine into something unique, without hindering the pace of the story in any way. It’s unusual enough to make the Doctor (and indeed, the entire Doctor Who franchise) stand out as unique without taking any of the glory¬†away from the story itself. It¬†is everything a character’s Thing should be.

If You Don’t Like Mysteries, You’ll Love Mr. Holmes

SPOILER ALERT

Although every effort has been made to prevent spoilers, anyone who has not yet seen the film Mr. Holmes (2015) or read the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Last year, I was standing waiting for a bus when one passed by (not the one I was waiting for) with a poster on the side, advertising a new film that was about to be released. The poster was plain white apart from a very well dressed and sour faced Ian McKellen. The title of the film was Mr. Holmes.

‘Oh, a new Sherlock Holmes film.’ I thought, my interest piqued. ‘I must remember to make time to go and see that.’

Suffice it to say I did not remember and, whether it was because of¬†my own poor fortune or because the film¬†was inadequately¬†publicised, I did not see hide nor hair of that film again until this very year when¬†I was perusing Amazon for something to watch and it recommended this little gem to me. The reviews on Amazon were¬†generally good but there were also enough negative reviews to give me doubts. However, being a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and knowing that Ian McKellen’s acting is always a joy to watch (no matter how bad the rest of the film is) I decided to give it a chance.

In¬†this film,¬†Sherlock Holmes is¬†now in his nineties and is¬†struggling with his failing memory. He has long since retired to a farmhouse in Sussex where he lives in relative solitude apart from his housekeeper, her son and the bees he now keeps. Because of his failing memory, he cannot precisely remember how his last case as a private detective ended;¬†however, he is certain that the now deceased Watson’s novelisation of it cannot be correct because it portrays Sherlock¬†as having solved the case triumphantly, as he always does. Sherlock¬†cannot accept that he would have retired except after a terrible failure, and so, with the encouragement of his housekeeper’s son and consumed with guilt over something he cannot fully recall, he tries to write the story of the case as it truly happened. Meanwhile, his housekeeper is growing increasingly restless with her role as Sherlock’s housekeeper-come-nurse and resolves to move to Portsmouth with her son, who has grown very attached to Sherlock. There is also a sub-plot concerning¬†a Japanese man who lures Sherlock¬†to Japan in order to confront him about the disappearance of his father, for which he blames Sherlock.

If you’re looking for a ‘who dunnit’ or another exciting instalment of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, you’ve come to the wrong place. Sherlock¬†goes on no adventure in this story, nor is there a particularly mystery to be solved (unless you count his attempt to remember what he has forgotten). Unlike more traditional Sherlock Holmes stories, Mr. Holmes is gently paced and driven by its key themes: regret, ageing, death and senility. I¬†know that probably makes it sound like quite a miserable film, but in reality I¬†found¬†this film to be surprisingly light-hearted and sweetened with a light dusting of humour and sentimentality.

This film is particularly concerned with giving us a glimpse at the real Sherlock Holmes, as opposed to the ‘character out of a pantomime’ he feels he has¬†become through the novelisations and dramatisations of his various cases. Indeed, Sherlock himself¬†appears keen to distance himself from that character.¬†For example, there is a reference at one point to the fact he does not have his deerstalker or pipe. The reason for this, he claims, is that the deerstalker was a mere embellishment and that he prefers a cigar to a pipe; especially now that¬†the pipe has become nothing more than a ‘prop’. It is also revealed to us that 221B Baker Street was, in fact, not his actual address but a deliberate attempt to mislead fans and tourists who were intent on visiting him.

As well as his obvious trademarks, his own personality is also very different from the character we are used to. The writers (and, I should add, McKellen himself) have done a fantastic job here of showing us the other side of Sherlock, without making him a different person¬†altogether.¬†His paternal feelings towards his housekeeper’s son, for example, seem to be a far cry from the cold hearted mystery solving machine that we are all so familiar with. In spite of this, he still retains his uncanny ability to tell everything a person has done simply by looking at them and his philosophy that the truth will always be uncovered by careful analysis of the facts. While he does retain a certain bluntness and an apparent cold heartedness, this seems to be¬†little more than veneer (a thin one at that) which he uses to distance himself from difficult feelings. His warmth towards his housekeeper’s son, the empathy he shows towards¬†his client’s wife and his regret over her death and the deaths of his friends make him seem altogether more human.

His attitudes towards death strikes me as¬†particularly important. He approaches his own looming demise with an apparent nonchalance and claims never to have mourned the dead – bearing in mind that this is set after the death of John Watson, Mycroft Holmes and Mrs Hudson, all of whom were key figures in Sherlock’s life.

I can’t say that I’ve ever mourned¬†the dead, bees or otherwise.¬†I concentrate on circumstances. How did it die? Who was responsible?¬†Death, grieving, mourning;¬†they’re all commonplace.¬†Logic is rare (Mr. Holmes 2015).

This air of indifference is¬†typical of the traditional Sherlock; in Mr. Holmes, however,¬†it sounds quite hollow.¬†The fact that he was powerless to prevent his client’s wife from killing herself, despite recognising all the facts, has affected him deeply – to such an extent that it drove him to retirement. He also regrets that, after breaking off¬†contact with Watson, he never had a chance to say goodbye to him before he died. When his housekeeper’s son is nearly killed by a swarm of wasps, he sees all the evidence of what has happened and, uncharacteristically, assumes it must have been his bees that were to blame (at least at first) rather than notice¬†that the¬†evidence clearly implicates a nearby nest of wasps. While most of us might consider this a normal reaction to finding a boy lying bruised and unconscious next to a hive of bees, it is rather atypical of Sherlock Holmes.¬†The film also ends with him setting up memorial stones for everyone he has lost (or at least, everyone we have heard of anyway).¬†

All in all, this is a enjoyable and easy to watch film but I would certainly caution any lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan that¬†Mr. Holmes is best enjoyed if you approach it with absolutely no preconceptions about what a Sherlock Holmes film should be. It is a very good piece of cinema but it is not a typical Sherlock Holmes film by any stretch of the imagination, nor does it try to be. It’s not a mystery. It’s not an adventure. It’s a drama and a pretty decent¬†one at that.¬†Approach it as such and you will probably come away satisfied.