Fans of Sherlock are in for an extra treat when the world-famous detective and his sidekick Watson are transported to Victorian Britain for one-off special. British actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman talk travelling back in time and the show’s timeless appeal with Gemma Dunn
Benedict Cumberbatch admits he “thought it was madness” when Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss revealed they wanted to transport the action from modern day to 19th-century London for a stand-alone episode.
“I thought they’d finally lost the plot, jumped the shark, and all the other cliches of television gone mad with itself. Then they expanded the idea and pitched it to me properly and now I think it’s fantastic; absolutely brilliant,” says the 39-year-old.
But then The Imitation Game actor, who has helmed the role of the world famous detective since the first series in 2010, is aware there’s a certain type of anticipation that surrounds Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic tale, not least when it sits within the prestigious BBC festive schedule.
Set in 1895 and boasting steam trains, hansom cabs and frock coats, the new episode will air on New Year’s Day and will also be simulcast in over 100 cinemas up and down the country.
“I think that’s one of the joys of doing Sherlock like this,” he says, considering what the fans will make of the period setting.
“We can’t disguise the fact that we’re filming it as we’re often in cities or public places where people can take snapshots of us dressed in Victorian kit. We haven’t disappointed fans in the past it seems, so hopefully this won’t.”
His co-star Martin Freeman, who plays Dr John Watson quips, “I hope they like it. That’s all I can say. That’s all I think about everything I’ve ever done.”
The episode, titled The Abominable Bride, might look impressive but the Fargo star reveals the period switch-up definitely prolonged onset duties.
“It changes the dynamic of filming because everything does take longer: it takes longer to get dressed, you’re longer in make-up, you’re longer in wardrobe and camera resets take longer just because there’s more stuff about,” explains the 44-year-old, who sports an impressive moustache in the special.
“The clothes that we’re wearing and the stuff we are dealing with as far as make-up and hair is concerned, are not everyday things that people have to deal with.”
While he acknowledges “it’s all slightly more formal”, Freeman adds the team were conscious “not to completely change the characters people have come to know and love”.
“I’m still recognisably John and Ben’s still recognisably Sherlock.”
The period garb might have meant more time in wardrobe but Cumberbatch says the twosome still had fun travelling back in time: “To muck around with a pipe and a deerstalker for real is wonderful. And then, as far as the background goes, the setting, the mise-en-scene, the scenery, all the rest of it, it’s just a delight. It always is with period drama; you kind of marvel at it.”
In addition to retaining the pair’s distinguishable traits, fans will be pleased to learn that the reworked instalment still packs in the same level of friendship, adventure and intriguing mysteries as you’d expect from the Sherlock team.
This episode will see a recently widowed Thomas Ricoletti taken by surprise, when he spots his wife dressed in her old wedding gown - just a few hours earlier she’d taken her life - and with that, Mrs Ricoletti’s ghost begins prowling the streets with an unshakeable thirst for revenge.
From fog-shrouded Limehouse in East London, to the bowels of a ruined church, Holmes, Watson and their friends must use all their cunning to combat an enemy, seemingly from beyond the grave, and reveal the final, shocking truth about the Abominable Bride.
Freeman, who became a household name following the success of The Office, explains that he wouldn’t want to do either doctoring or soldiering, Watson’s two professions. “I’m very interested in both of those, but I’d rather not be sewing people up on a battlefield - hence becoming an actor.”
Prompted as to whether he shares similarities with any of his counterparts, he continues: “I’m not as clever as Sherlock. I might be Lestrade, or Mrs Hudson, because I like making people tea. I’m quite caring; I like looking after people.”
Meanwhile, Cumberbatch, who has also worked with Freeman on Peter Jackson’s trilogy, The Hobbit, has his peer down as the “funny man”, adding that when he’s around “you don’t have to look far for comedy on set”.
So, the complex, often grisly, storylines are intact, and the famously high-functioning sociopath - sorry, sleuth - and his doctor partner have a thrilling new epoch to navigate, but just what is it that gives Sherlock its timeless, and global, appeal?
Freeman reasons: “Britain as a country has always been quite good at this stuff, you know - from Shakespeare onwards, we’ve been good at drama and good at comedy...”
“The enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes has always been global - I don’t think this is a phenomenon tied in with our success,” Cumberbatch chimes in modestly.
“I think it’s to do with Conan Doyle’s extraordinary invention, which has a universal appeal to all nationalities.
“This is a man who’s an outsider, who’s intelligent, who doesn’t tolerate mediocrity, who is incredibly efficient, but also has his weaknesses and comeuppances.
“I think the ability to turn the mundane, average and normal into a pop-up world of potential adventure, which is what I’ve always been saying about him, both on and off the page, in our version and in the original books, is that you never know where it’s going to lead...”
• Sherlock: The Abominable Bride will air on BBC One on New Year’s Day. Sherlock: The Abominable Bride will be shown in over 100 cinemas and participating venues including Picturehouse Cinemas, Odeon, Cineworld and Vue on New Year’s Day. For full listings, please visit www.sherlockolgy.com.