The Baker Street sleuth's latest incarnation impresses Sophie Elmhirst.


It was, perhaps, too much for one day. But Sunday was bookended by watching the actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on The Andrew Marr Show in the morning and then, about 12 hours later, seeing them again in the new version of Sherlock Holmes (25 July, 9pm). Marr, eager as ever, seemed very excited about the whole thing, despite forcing poor old Freeman to mutter about The Office, a show he was last in seven years ago. Doing something outstanding early in your career must be such a burden. It's the only thing anyone wants to talk about, even when they've invited you on to their sofa to talk about something else. You could almost hear Marr, in that jaunty way of his that makes you want to retreat rapidly to bed, whispering at Freeman as the lights went down: "So, you and Ricky Gervais, you still friends?"

But the matter in hand is Sherlock Holmes. In many ways the updating of his story to a modern setting worked well. That Holmes would be a serial texter makes total sense, as does Watson being a military doctor injured in Afghanistan who suffers from phantom limb syndrome and various psychosomatic disorders. It's as if they've gone through the manual for 21st-century signifiers: inappropriate war in the Middle East, check; ineffective psychotherapy, check; references to the destructive social conservatism of the Daily Mail, check.

The best bit of this "Look how modern we've made it!" stuff was the gay undertones. On Marr, Cumberbatch and Freeman talked about how there had always been theories about the precise nature of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and how they'd drawn on that in their portrayals. So there I was, eagerly awaiting a subtle, downplayed enactment of unspecified sexuality, but instead, about ten minutes in, got Watson insisting to a landlady that he and Holmes weren't going to share a room and then, about ten minutes after that, saying with a look of blind panic on his face, "I am not his date!" to a waiter who had implied otherwise. As if that wasn't enough, Watson then told Holmes that it was "all fine" whether he was gay or not. Oh, for ambiguity.

Aside from the in-your-face elements - yes, they live at 221b Baker Street - it was fine Sunday-night entertainment: a rollicking serial-killer plot plus laughs and excellent acting. I wish they had let the actors do more of it, though. The director for some reason seemed to think it was a good idea, while Holmes was mid-deduction, to flash words on to the screen so that we could read his thoughts. Imagine if in Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio's thoughts had popped up as he drew Kate Winslet: "Attractive! Will now seduce." It would have ruined the magic. And so it was with poor Holmes. We weren't allowed to miss anything, or, God forbid, think for ourselves.

Still, Cumberbatch did a fine job - all mannerisms and angular jaw, moving in the way I always imagined Peter Mandelson did around the corridors of power - as though on wheels, gliding at pace and disappearing mysteriously when convenient. Freeman, next to Cumberbatch's melodramatic hand-waving and smart-arsing, was likeably downbeat. I'm not sure who else can balance a sense of genuine inner sadness with perfect comic timing like he does. He was quiet and understated and carried off the rather onerous task of having to translate Watson into a post-Afghanistan loner admirably well. Maybe he can finally put the Tim-out-of-The-Office character type to bed. Not, however, if Andrew Marr has anything to do with it.

And while we're there, can I just make a plea about The Andrew Marr Show? The opening titles. People have probably complained about them before, but I have absolutely had it with watching Marr arrive at the BBC in his silly blue car, pick up his post from some poor colleague with a look of affected surprise and then stride in to a lift - all accompanied by a saxophone that should have been strangled in 1982. What do you take us for? Seriously, on behalf of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sunday-morning Viewers, this has got to stop.

Rachel Cooke is away

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 02 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Politics and comedy

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The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis