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British Expat Newsletter: May 2012

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In this issue

This month

Last month we promised you a review of Jack Scott’s debut novel, Perking the Pansies, the story of his move to Turkey with his civil partner, Liam. You can now read the review. Better still, you can enter our competition to win a free Kindle edition so that you can read the book for yourself! [Competition now closed.]

Meanwhile we decided that, having been to Phnom Penh several times recently, it was worth creating one of our Basics guides for new arrivals to the city. You’ll find it in our Cambodia section. (Of course.)

For a change, our latest Pic of the Week isn’t a photo – it’s a superb portrait of Sam, a Kelb tal-Kaċċa (Maltese for “gun-dog”) who was a much-loved ward of Gozo SPCA for several years.

Place names are changing all the time – we bought an atlas less than 20 years ago, but some of the maps are already out of date. Our latest Quick Quiz has a look at some historical names and asks you to tell us what country they’re in now.

Editorial: Sherlock!

It’s a commonly known fact that Sherlock Holmes is the world’s most famous fictional detective – and it perhaps wouldn’t surprise most people to hear that he’s the most reprised fictional role in film and television history.

The very first film portrayal of Sherlock Holmes was in the 1900 US production Sherlock Holmes Baffled, although this was just a 30-second reel for show in “What the Butler Saw”-type machines in amusement arcades rather than any attempt to adapt a Conan Doyle story for the screen. The actor himself was anonymous, as indeed film actors generally were in the earliest days of the cinema. It wasn’t until 1905 that a more authentic Holmes appeared, played by one Maurice Costello.

Since then, there have been a whole string of Holmes films (IMDb lists a total of 258 to date), played by a variety of actors more or less famous. Some of them are best known for their work as Holmes, whereas others have played him as a one-off.

Basil Rathbone falls squarely into the former category. For many years he was indelibly fixed in the English-speaking world’s popular consciousness as the definitive Holmes, with Nigel Bruce playing Watson alongside him. He starred in no fewer than 16 films, most of them filmed during the Second World War and some of them decidedly not from the Conan Doyle canon. Although some of the storylines were rather creaky and some of the acting atrociously wooden, the films were undoubtedly hugely popular and were re-run on television for many years after the war.

(I say the English-speaking world. Ask a Russian, and they’ll tell you that the definitive Holmes is undoubtedly Vasili Livanov, thanks to his appearance in nine USSR TV films between 1979 and 1986.)

A more traditional Holmes could be seen in the Granada TV adaptations starring Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes even more often. These productions made a lot more effort to re-create late Victorian and Edwardian London – and the Holmes of the original stories – faithfully; whereas the Rathbone Holmes had been full of derring-do and energy, the Brett Holmes was much more cerebral and austere.

Some of the one-offs are quite interesting. Michael Caine played a bumbling Holmes to Ben Kingsley’s sleuth Watson in Without A Clue (1988). Christopher Lee played him in 1962’s Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, then had a break of nearly 30 years before playing him again in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady. And even Charlton Heston had a go in The Crucifer of Blood.

But one recent adaptation stands out – Sherlock, a series of feature-length TV shows starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson.

On the face of it, it sounds like heresy to rival the worse excesses of the Rathbone films (which the writers freely acknowledge were their favourite adaptations). It rips Holmes and Watson out of Victorian London and puts them in a contemporary setting. Holmes’s vice is cigarettes rather than cocaine and morphine, and his Baker Street detective force are London’s homeless rather than “street Arabs”. Watson now blogs rather than publishing his memoirs in newspapers. Consulting criminal Professor Moriarty is now Jim Moriarty, a Dubliner who has “Stayin’ Alive” as his mobile ringtone and who nobbles juries by hacking into their hotel room personal TV service. Even Inspector Lestrade has now become DI Lestrade. And everyone seems to spend as much time texting each other as they do talking to each other.

And yet the series works fantastically well. It remains faithful to the spirit of the original stories – Holmes is still brilliant and difficult; Watson is still loyal but often baffled. And sometimes no updating at all is needed – both Watsons are ex-Army doctors convalescing after being wounded in Afghanistan.

But where details do need updating, it’s done so cleverly that you can’t help but admire it. In the books, Holmes demonstrates his methods to Watson by examining his pocket-watch; in the series, Sherlock examines John’s mobile.

And the plots aren’t simple screen adaptations – there are nice little twists to them. In A Study in Scarlet, the word “Rache” appears by a body, which the police think points to someone called Rachel – Holmes points out that it’s German for “revenge”. In the update, A Study in Pink, it’s the other way round – the police speculate about a German connection, Sherlock tells them to look for a person called Rachel.

It’s the best programme we’ve seen on telly for a long time. If you’re a Holmes fan and haven’t seen Sherlock yet, go and buy it now. You won’t regret it.

Who is your favourite Sherlock, and why? Why not let us know on our discussion forum?

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And now for something completely different…

Normally we like to link to a website other than our own for this part of the newsletter. But we reckoned this Taiwanese chain of themed restaurants was so unusual, we you wouldn’t mind if we made an exception. Just this once, eh? Oh, go on.
Not Delia: Modern Toilet

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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