One of the few intelligent responses from the liberal-left to our radically altered political landscape was an essay published last year in the impeccably right-on Vox. It began: ‘There is a smug style in American liberalism …It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.’
You could apply very much the same argument to Britain and, as evidence, you could cite the first episode in the new series of Sherlock. (Shitlock as I prefer to call it, in the interests of accuracy.) I refer you to exhibit A — a scene in which Sherlock comes to investigate the very mysterious death of a youth whose body has been found in a burned-out car in his parents’ drive on the day when he Skyped them from the Himalayas.
The parents live in a large country house not unlike the one you could afford many times over if you were, say, one of Shitlock’s stars — Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman, or its screenwriter Mark Gatiss or its co-creator Steven Moffat. But that’s not about to prevent Team Shitlock having a sly sneer at the victim’s privilege: not only is the son called Charlie and apparently on his gap yah, but his Dad is a Tory MP and, worse, keeps a bust of Margaret Thatcher in his drawing room.
That’s why we’re scarcely supposed to bat an eyelid when Sherlock is unaccountably rude to the grieving parents. When asking them about their collection of Thatcher memorabilia, he makes a great show of not knowing who Margaret Thatcher is. Except he clearly does because he signals his disdain by muttering under his breath ‘By the pricking of my thumbs…’, leaving the enlightened viewer to fill in the rest ‘…Something wicked this way comes.’
Sherlock Holmes loathes Margaret Thatcher. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Holmes is arrogant, cerebral, solipsistic, antisocial, clearly on the autistic spectrum and hitherto apolitical, so of course it’s not at all a random and inexplicable imposition on his character as established thus far to make him a Maggie hater…
No, not really. That particular detail makes no sense in terms of character or plotting, only in the context of that ‘smug style’ I mentioned at the beginning. Holmes — as interpreted by the Old Harrovian virtue-signaller Cumberbatch — disses Thatcher for the same reason comedians do on Radio 4 and the same reason someone like Will Self probably would on Question Time: to give the audience that warm glow of satisfaction which comes from knowing that you share the right values and that people who don’t share the right values are thoroughly disgusting and like to eat Richmond sausages with HP Sauce.
In years to come, cultural historians will pore over Sherlock episodes the better to understand the idiot values of the Cameron/Remain era in much the same way they will watch Love Actually to try to understand the vacuous fatuity of the Blair era. And in both cases, they’ll ask the same question: ‘What were these people thinking?’
Another detail in the recent Sherlock they’ll notice, I dare say, is the plot device whereby it turns out that Watson’s wife is, in fact, a former member of a crack freelance SAS-type team charged with hostage rescue, assassinations and such like. Somehow she has kept this detail a secret from her husband (why?), but when he discovers this, he delivers a little wifely homily to the effect that of course he’ll be there for her through thick and thin because of course she’s got to do what a woman’s got to do etc.
I can see why this would make perfect sense in a world where the main function of TV was to shape public consciousness in a positive way by demonstrating, for example, that male and female gender stereotypes were merely the offensive and outmoded construct of a patriarchal society. But not in the one at least 52 per cent of us inhabit where, when we turn on our TVs for some New Year’s Day prime-time viewing, funded with our licence fees, all we want is some good old-fashioned entertainment that doesn’t try to exclude us for having the ‘wrong politics’.
Some other things. Watson remains quite ineffably dull — a complete waste of Martin Freeman, who is made for comedy, not drama. The stupid patches on Watson’s incongruous designer outfits are distracting. Making Holmes more empathetic is not an improvement — we find him interesting precisely because he’s an antidote to all the grisly do-gooding types like Lily Allen taking to Twitter to show us how much they care about the world. All the emotional scenes are a nauseating and unnecessary bleeding-heart imposition on Conan Doyle’s formula. Sherlock is peak Remain — a period piece whose ephemeral and meretricious values are happily soon to be swamped by the tide of history. And good riddance, too.