Recently, BBC’s acclaimed reinterpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective, Sherlock, has become quite popular, creating an even cultish audience and ensuring, perhaps, the survival of this famous literary creation for years and years to come. To a painting in this series, I dedicate my post.
In the Series 2 season finale, the makers of the show played with the concept of Holmes’ “Reichenbach Fall.” I’ll take a moment to explain this. When Doyle was writing the Holmes and Watson short stories, he eventually got tired of the same form of writing, even though they were incredibly popular. Therefore, in “The Final Problem,” Doyle “killed” Holmes, who falls off the Reichenbach Falls, a Swiss waterfall, whilst struggling with his great nemesis, Professor Moriarty. After public outrage, Doyle, against his wishes, raised Sherlock from the grave, fabricating an implausible, albeit desired, solution to the problem.
This idea of faking death appears in the series in a similar manner. I won’t spoil it for you, but I do urge you to watch the series if you have time. At the beginning of the finale, which was titled “The Reichenbach Fall,” homage is made to the Doyle’s stories. The episode begins with Sherlock retrieving a famous painting, The Reichenbach Falls. For Sherlock Holmes aficionados, this painting, via its title, sets the stage for the coming action, which has been played out and reinterpreted in a myriad of manners.
Consequently, The Reichenbach Falls is an actual painting done by the British Painter J.M.W. Turner. Turner was a Romantic painter of some renown. Although I really don’t care for Romanticism, Turner’s evocative landscapes are enjoyable enough. In 1804, he actually did a series of watercolors of this waterfall. Actually, for not being a fan of the Romantic painters, this is the second Turner painting I’ve dedicated a post to- so I don’t know what it says about me and my personal preferences.
I think this painting was used in the episode for a couple of reasons. The first is obviously to pay homage to the Doyle story in the “Final Problem”-inspired episode. I think, however, that the makers of the show liked the idea of a waterfall. A theme of the episode is personal downfall, urged on by outside forces. What’s a better symbol for the personal (and physical) downfall that occurs, than the constant moving waterfall, which is a very literal version of a fall.
The recovery and recognition of a painting can also be used as a probing point for further questions into the character. If Sherlock can recognize what is real and what is not in others, can he recognize in himself? Is his pride his own “Reichenbach [down]fall”?
Finally, as a great English painter, Turner’s painting helps create an atmosphere worthy of a British classic like Sherlock Holmes. The makers of the show certainly realize the association with the stereotypical cold English nature and the famed detective who evoked all these traits. If you’re trying to create an essentially British masterpiece- fill it with British people, British locations, British… paintings, and you have a modern British drama, played out on an operatic, albeit modern, scale. Which is exactly what you get with Sherlock.