Friday, 20 January 2017

For what it's worth...

Top Ten Films at the UK Box Office   
for the weekend of January 13-15, 2016:
1 (new) La La Land (12A) ***
2 (2) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12A) **
3 (5) Moana (PG) ****
4 (1) Assassin's Creed (15)
5 (4) Passengers (12A) **
6 (new) Manchester by the Sea (15) **** 
7 (new) Live by Night (15)
8 (6) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (12A) ***
9 (new) The Bye Bye Man (15) *
10 (8) Why Him? (15)  


My top five:   
1. GoodFellas
2. Trainspotting

Top Ten DVD rentals:  

1 (1) Bad Moms (15) **
2 (new) Suicide Squad (15)
3 (2) The Secret Life of Pets (U)
4 (new) Star Trek Beyond (12) ***
5 (3) Finding Dory (PG) ***
6 (4) Mechanic: Resurrection (15) **
7 (7) Hell or High Water (15) ****
8 (6) Ghostbusters (12)
9 (5) The BFG (PG) ***
10 (re) The Legend of Tarzan (12)

My top five:  
1. Under the Shadow
2. Kubo and the Two Strings
3. Anthropoid
4. Julieta
5. Hell or High Water

Top five films on terrestrial TV this week:   
1. Trainspotting (Sunday, C4, 10.05pm)
2. The Others [above] (Wednesday, C4, 1.30am)
3. Looper (Saturday, BBC2, 10.30pm)
4. The Day After Tomorrow (Sunday, C4, 5.50pm)
5. Insidious (Friday, C4, 12.50am)

On DVD: "Under the Shadow"

Could the late, great Abbas Kiarostami have guessed that, in the year of his death, Iran’s most prominent cinematic export would be horror movies? The development perhaps isn’t so unimaginable. This genre permits imaginative filmmakers to get by on suggestion alone, thus circumventing censorious eyes; vampires such as those we encountered in 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night can stand for long-repressed desires (ask the good folks of Hammer); and we forget that horror iconography travels easily, for every country has its own shadows within which bogeymen might take refuge.

That said, Babak Anvari’s cracking Under the Shadow outlines a decidedly region-specific set of circumstances. It opens in a mode recognisable from recent Asghar Farhadi films, describing the tricky situation faced by two progressive middle-class medics living together on the outskirts of Tehran. To the frustration of careerist hubby Iraj (Bobby Naderi), Shideh (Nargis Rashidi) has been suspended over her student radicalism. The irony is her nation needs every available hand – for we’re right in the middle of that 1980s conflict that saw Iran and neighbours Iraq tossing bombs into one another’s backyards.

With peaceful cohabitation some distance off, these characters appear plenty rattled even before things start to go bang and bump in the night. Shideh obsessively rearranges the glasses in the kitchen cabinets; young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) begins to wet the bed. When Iraj is ordered to the front line, matters get more fraught besides: there is talk of sleepwalking, someone else in the apartment, djinns. As in A Separation, our nerves wear alongside those of the characters: it reaches a point where the sight of the toaster popping makes us jumpy, and the gentlest movement of the camera leaves us rocking.

Worse is to come, but Anvari’s biggest achievement here is how well he invokes the background horror of life during wartime – a moment where, even if you’re fortunate enough to avoid seeing your loved ones wiped out before your eyes, your ears are still vulnerable to sirens, screaming, and endless speculation about the terrors headed your way. It doesn’t matter how rigorously Shideh exercises each morning to her Jane Fonda video, death is suddenly in the air, literalised in the missile that bisects one neighbour’s flat, or the ceiling crack that opens up closer to home, one among many threats hanging over her.

Clearly the recent wave of quiet-quiet-loud horrors – and the slower creep of 2014’s The Babadook – have factored into Anvari’s thinking, but Under the Shadow works as well as an evocation of a fraught moment in recent Iranian history, when mothers and daughters were left behind to patch up homes, possessions and families. More than anything, Shideh and Dorsa are plagued by uncertainty. Unable to sleep, their minds begin to wander; everyday events – such as the disappearance of Dorsa’s doll – take on disproportionate significance. Scenes hover between realism and waking nightmare.

The painting and music video that feed Dorsa’s imagination are precisely chosen, yet Anvari’s own imagemaking proves no less potent. The Xs of taped-up windows suggest a family marked for death; the ceiling crack concretises this household’s fragmenting relationships; while a suffocating chador floats over the final scenes. Ripe for multiplex dissection, Under the Shadow clearly isn’t one from the Kiarostami school. Yet wherever he’s now watching from, Kiarostami would likely recognise these most vividly described tensions, and – much like the rest of us – would almost certainly be jolted from his seat in several places.

Under the Shadow is available on DVD through Precision Pictures from Monday.

"Lion" (Reader's Digest 20/01/17)

Sometimes we’re just waiting for the technology to point us in the right direction. In 1986, a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo was collecting coal to help support his impoverished family on the outskirts of Khandwa when he suffered a stroke of colossal, life-altering misfortune. Falling asleep on a train being taken out of commission, Saroo woke up on the other side of the country – where he knew no-one, and couldn’t even speak the dialect that might alert passers-by to his predicament.

Faced with no easy, immediate way back, Saroo became first a street kid, falling subject to the expected predations, then found himself absorbed into an orphanage stuffed with the similarly lost and left behind. From there, matters moved relatively quickly. A year after being taken into care, Saroo was being dispatched to Tasmania – even further from home – as part of an adoption scheme, ending up at the residence of Sue and John Brierley, where he would spend the remainder of his childhood.

Yet throughout these years, Saroo never lost the urge to return to the town whose name he never learnt to pronounce, where he presumed his birth mother and older brother would be waiting for him. Twenty years after his fateful deviation, the arrival of the Internet – and Google Earth in particular – would allow this lad to get a new perspective on the lay of his homeland, and plot a route back for himself.

The events that followed were documented by Saroo Brierley in his 2012 memoir A Long Way Home, where they formed a return journey too compelling for keen-eyed, hit-seeking producers not to option as a possible big-screen crowdpleaser in the lineage of Slumdog Millionaire. Yet where that film had Danny Boyle’s usual energy to shift us past its heightened fictional contrivances, Lion – Saroo’s story, as adapted by writer Luke Davies and directed by Garth Davis – proves a more measured and subtly rewarding experience.

This is evidently the work of a director journeying from TV (where Davis did half of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake) to film, and bringing some of the virtues of recent episodic drama back to the big screen with him. Rather than hurrying through this round trip, Davis clears room for the sights and sounds of Saroo’s journey, and takes time – right from the opening overhead shot of a child dashing through the desert – to orient character with place, even a place that character might find utterly disorienting.

Best of all: Davis and Davies take risks. It defies all studio-movie logic that the film’s top-billed star (Dev Patel, the original Slumdog) shouldn’t appear for an hour, yet he doesn’t, and the risk is allowed to pay off. The outward journey is instead carried by the remarkable Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo, giving unerringly natural, credible responses whether he’s digging desperately in the dirt for some trove or playing opposite Nicole Kidman as his foster mum.

If Lion’s second half proves a notch or two more conventional – nudging us back in the direction we travelled from, with Patel growing leonine locks to play Saroo the elder, rootless (and initially routeless) member of Hobart’s ex-pat student community – this first hour has already instilled in us a desire for home, family, closure: Davis and Davies take us round the houses to better deliver on those qualities to which audiences have traditionally responded.

The extra light and space allows the actors room to make substantial impressions: the film’s not plotting a straight line there and back, rather ploughing an altogether deeper furrow. The ever-improving Patel gives his most mature and nuanced showing yet, while Kidman works discreet wonders as Sue: here is a well-meaning liberal, at the forefront of that millennial trend for well-meaning liberals to adopt children from developing nations, who senses she will eventually have to let her charge go, while hoping against hope he’ll also make his way back to her.

Many films will parade before us on this year’s awards red carpet dangling the “human interest” tag, and in several cases, it will prove no more than false advertising. Yet Lion pulls off the rare double of being not only human in its concerns, but also interesting and quietly moving in how it pursues them. For all the distance Davis’s film covers, for all its 21st century digital trappings, this is a movie about a child who just wants another hug from his mother, and a mother waiting for another hug from her boy – impulses that are timeless and universal.

Lion opens in cinemas nationwide today.

Bananas: "Split"

Let's give M. Night Shyamalan this: in the years since his opening, knockout one-two of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (still this director's best, most uncanny imaginings), he's been persistent, if far from consistent. After that first wave of supernatural wonders, there followed folly after folly, some (The Village) more interesting than others (Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender); in almost every one, you felt him pushing too hard to replicate those earlier, blockbusting successes, rather than being allowed to learn quietly on the job. Shyamalan was last witnessed turning in the lowish-budget found-footager The Visit, which hardly met with critical approval (to these eyes, it looked like a creative dead-end, a desperate last resort), but granted him a measure of commercial success, and a new home at Blumhouse Productions, prolific enablers of the Insidious and Purge franchises, among others. It would appear that Shyamalan has here found his natural level: making the kind of low-cost, potentially high-reward B-pictures that bet-hedging studios now seek out to sell on to teenage mallrats, albeit making them with a degree of technical and storytelling nous.

Split - which, right from its opening credits, makes clever play of that title - proceeds with a narrative that bifurcates and bifurcates until the point where Shyamalan can dust off his suture kit and start knitting these strands back together. Having tried to resuscitate the now-DOA found-footage format with his previous film, the new one finds Shyamalan the genre surgeon striving to salvage something worthwhile from the even more debased form of torture porn, beginning as it does with the grimly familiar spectacle of three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) being kidnapped and locked up in a basement by James McAvoy's bullet-headed, buttoned-down Dennis. 

Things don't pan out quite as expected, however. For one, there are clear splits between the girls, a consequence of their pre-existing social status; for another, Dennis is but one face of a man suffering from multiple personality disorder who presents to his shrink (Betty Buckley) as a swishing fashion designer called Barry, and to the girls as a prim-and-proper Ma Bates type (in a dress), then as a man with learning difficulties and a penchant for Kanye West. (Shyamalan offers no comment as to whether the two might be connected.) The fightback commences when the quietest of the potential victims - Taylor-Joy's Casey - puzzles out a novel way to overcome their keeper: a not-so-simple matter of turning one of his personalities against another.

That development alone speaks to the not inconsiderable element of bad taste in this script: we're also told Dennis has a weakness, perhaps shared by a section of the audience, for watching young women dance naked, and shown him removing selected items of the girls' clothes on the pretext they've become "dirty", meaning the whole film's both a countdown and a terrible tease. The good news, however, is that by picking up this disreputable strand of entertainment, Shyamalan looks to have abandoned all those thoughts of becoming the saviour of the Western world that he let slip during Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender. The new film foregrounds many of those qualities you may have admired in those first films - the curious commingling of science and storytelling (seen here in Buckley's Skyped dispatches to medical conferences about the unusual nature of her patient's condition), the utterly idiosyncratic camera framing that thinks nothing of obscuring a face or shooting in extreme close-up if it gets the audience to sit up and lean in - but yokes all this technique to a plot that merits working through, and possibly has to be seen to be believed.

The most enjoyable game Shyamalan has invited us to play in over a decade, Split is very capably sustained by its nimble players. McAvoy, occasioning a whole new showreel for his long-evident adaptability, creates a half-dozen distinct personalities, increasingly having to toggle between them - via a shift in facial expression or physical bearing - in the course of a single scene. (His B-boy dancing hits an exact sweet spot between creepy and funny.) The emergent Taylor-Joy, meanwhile, consolidates her eyecatching work in last year's horror hit The Witch, demonstrating a combination of resilience, ingenuity and eerie beauty that you come to suspect might just outwit (or further unhinge) her captor. 

It's still not quite as slick or proficient as the Shyamalan of yore: during the director's obligatory cameo - as "Hooters enthusiast", which says something about the journey he's been on - there's a reference to Henry V where someone surely meant Henry VIII (the Blumhouse boys presumably wouldn't know the difference), and the whole thing's wildly overwritten, thirty minutes too long for a B-movie, feeling a need to explain itself (and its position in the Shyamalan Cinematic Universe) deep into the closing credits. (I wonder whether we might start to think of Shyamalan as the Tarantino of fantasy-horror: another Miramax golden boy handed creative carte blanche at a perilously early stage in his development.) Still, where once we found this director playing God, here, newly humbled, we find him displaying no greater pretension than to toss his audience a handful of yaks and yuks to lap up on a Friday or Saturday night. At this point in this career, we'll take that. 

Split opens in cinemas nationwide today.  

"Jackie" (Catholic Herald 20/01/17)

How does one secure a legacy? The question has assumed renewed prominence in recent months, with a British Prime Minister resigning after severely misjudging the public mood, and a Democrat President ceding the White House to a successor representing who-knows-what. The Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain’s English-language debut Jackie (***, 100 mins, Cert: 15) approaches the matter from an unusual, oblique angle: its subject is Jacqueline Kennedy, witnessed in the long winter after the passing of her golden-boy husband, reflecting upon how she regathered herself to ensure the survival of an ideal.

Noah Oppenheim’s script structures itself around a (fictional) conversation between the former First Lady (Natalie Portman) and an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup) dispatched to her Massachusetts retreat. This heart-to-heart, conducted over one afternoon, cues irregular cutaways to key Kennedy moments: the houseproud Jackie of a 1962 TV special forms a morbid rhyme with the newly-made widow palming blood from her cheek. By picking up and over these vivid pieces, Jackie is seen to move on: each jagged flashback nudges her towards closure at the funeral procession, where she can present as the defiant face of Camelot.

Thus does Jackie mirror the arc of this director’s remarkable breakthrough trilogy – Tony Manero, Post Mortem, NO – which plumbed the Pinochet regime’s pungent depths before resurfacing somewhere close to hope. It’s heartening to witness Larrain’s established concerns being bolstered by a budget that permits a recreation of West Wing life, and his prowling camera makes Jackie feel far more alive than a museum piece like The Queen. Yet the film’s transitional moments prove oddly jumpy and sketchy: the restlessness that has seen Larrain complete three films (The Club, Neruda, this) in twelve months appears a mixed blessing here.

Curious-to-rash decisions prevail. Having Portman mouth the actual Jackie’s words in that ‘62 broadcast amplifies our sense of watching celebrity ventriloquism – and underlines how this performance relies on mannerisms: a raised eyebrow here, a downturned mouth there. The supporting players struggle to gain traction. While Peter Sarsgaard makes for one of the screen’s stronger Bobby Kennedys, and John Carroll Lynch a nicely bristling Lyndon Johnson, the cutaways clang with suddenly affordable faces (Richard E. Grant, John Hurt, kook-in-chief Greta Gerwig) who scarcely convince as Washington insiders.

Jackie merits points for swerving the usual biopic beats: it signals its wilful eccentricity from the first swooping violin of composer Mica Levi’s score. Yet it’s too hurried, and finally conventional in its underlying thesis, hurtling towards Crudup’s fawning farewell to his host: “People will remember your dignity, your majesty.” Ah, we go, gathering our coats – so that’s all we’re meant to take away. Hollywood may yet become stronger for absorbing Larrain’s historical nous and cinematic virtuosity – but this cursory first foray into American politics risks a plummeting approval rating. 

Jackie opens in selected cinemas from today.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The power and the glory: "GoodFellas"

A big hurrah for the BFI's comprehensive Martin Scorsese season, not least as it serves to open up new perspectives on this hallowed filmmaker's first major work in at least a decade and a half (Silence). Allow me to add a big hmm, however, over the fact the season's flagship film GoodFellas should already be in such wide circulation: like the annually reissued Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, here is a Scorsese film that's sat on the DVD shelf of every student flatshare for nigh-on two decades now. You do wonder what it would take to get Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (the rebuke to the old saw that insists this director doesn't do women) or The King of Comedy or After Hours or New York, New York, which might give all those whippersnappers getting excitable about La La Land what for, back onto our screens. Is it just that the numbers wouldn't add up? Or is it that we're now only really interested in Marty the wannabe tough guy - the nerd like us, in thrall to the masters of the universe? They're sending the heavies around again.

No denying that GoodFellas has a breathtaking, speedfreak energy that seems inseparable from this director: right from his opening line of voiceover ("As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster"), Ray Liotta's Henry Hill feels like a surrogate for Scorsese himself, the dreamy kid motormouth drawn in from the fringes of the Mob game only to be rattled by its ruthlessness and violence once he's installed there. This trajectory requires the kind of seduction Scorsese couldn't quite pull off in The Wolf of Wall Street, where the audience was forcefed altogether too much of a questionably good thing. In GoodFellas, we get just enough of the suits, the cars, the women, the free drinks, the laughs to want more; we are allowed to feel the exhilaration of entering a restaurant by the back door, and pulling off a bravura airport heist; and eventually arrive at a point where we, too, feel what Hill was ultimately lusting after - the respect, that power that allows some to walk the earth as feared gods among mere mortals. (Scorsese himself italicises that word with a fiery freeze-frame that positions GoodFellas as the thematic midpoint between Mean Streets and Silence.)

Revisiting the film this week, I was reminded of John Turturro's Mob-Macbeth variant Men of Respect, which opened around the same time; whatever its merits, it didn't stand a chance against the unrefusable offer Scorsese made viewers here. GoodFellas stands up as a gilded, fin-de-1980s update of the rise-and-fall Little Caesar narrative, a mobster movie deluxe: superbly fleshed out by its cast, scored to a selection of solid-gold pop platters, flatteringly cut by Thelma Schoonmaker, and polished to such a sheen that it's no surprise we should see its maker's reflection in it. You can tell that on some fundamental level Scorsese loves this world - its dumb jokes and Bobby Vinton songs, the men with funny nicknames lurking in the corners and shadows of garish all-day watering holes. What's great about this de Niro performance, and it endures as one of the greatest, is how peripheral it is for the first hour or so. His Jimmy hangs back from the action because he knows - unlike Joe Pesci's lethally insecure Tommy - that he doesn't have to make a scene: that's true power, we infer, but it's also crucial to the grubby, bloody, quasi-corporate battle for money and control that ensues.

For - more so than Liotta's starstruck, slightly dim-bulb Hill - Scorsese and co-writer Nicholas Pileggi spot the fatal pitfalls of the Moblife very early on. The violence in GoodFellas is constructed like the comedy routines these in-every-sense stand-up guys lap up at dinner club on their off-nights - it's how they entertain one another - until the laughter stops and the red mist descends, around the point the narrative circles back to the film's nocturnal prologue. When Pesci's oft-quoted "Funny how?" routine is replayed, it ends with Tommy doing for Christopher Moltisanti (one of Scorsese's achievements here: handing half the cast of The Sopranos to David Chase on a platter); Chuck Low's bewigged unfortunate Morrie returns to the fold even after he's throttled by Jimmy - allowing Scorsese and Pileggi to make a sly, sharp point about the complicity that sustains the Mafia (everybody wants in, no matter that they might have first-hand experience of the strongarming involved) - but isn't allowed to stick around for long. Even Tommy, at the last, finds out it's a closed shop.

The masterstroke in the adaptation process may have been to split the voiceover between Henry and his wife (Lorraine Bracco), the closest the film has to a point of identification for viewers who don't have a criminal record: Bracco makes Karen smart enough to figure out what (and who) her man has been doing after dark, but she's so in thrall to a certain lifestyle that she's prepared to make excuses for him. (The implication: you might be prepared to go along with this carnage, too, if it put a few extra dollars in your pocket at the end of every month.) I can see the argument - pushed by David Thomson, among others - that it's a cold, unsparing, merciless bastard of a film, but you can't say that doesn't befit the subject, and it occasions such sinuous, muscular filmmaking that you fall for it every goddamn time. For two hours twenty, Scorsese allows his audience of schnooks the vicarious thrill of swimming with sharks, at risk of sleeping with the fishes - before dropping us right back where we began the evening, on our own recognisably (depressingly? comfortingly?) banal front doorsteps.

GoodFellas is rereleased in selected cinemas from tomorrow.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

On demand: "Sherlock: The Final Problem"

Last New Year's Day, Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock took his first bow in UK cinemas with a simulcast screening of the roundly enjoyable festive special The Abominable Bride. A year on, and the subtitle of this Holmes' latest investigation The Final Problem suggests it's all over. Where did it go wrong? Online fan chatter informs us that the show's fourth series - unfolding on successive Sundays since this New Year's Day - has, even with the limited three-episode run, been a decidedly mixed bag: one good one, one bad one, and a general feeling that the show has succumbed to that cumbersome mythology that makes for far less lively and engaging viewing than those self-contained, case-specific episodes with which showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss first built up this fanbase. Season Four has been labouring towards the revelation that our hero has an unhinged sister, Eurus, who's spent this series running amok in various guises, unrecognised by Sherlock until she took a potshot at Martin Freeman's Watson while impersonating a therapist; the finale found her as the sole inmate of a byzantine offshore asylum, where she holds sway over the staff like a cross between Hannibal Lecter and the puppetmaster in the Saw movies. 

Moffat's intention was clearly to provide Sherlock with a new nemesis, one with easy access to the emotional weakspots that have come to light in the sleuth over three seasons, and Sian Brooke did much to establish Eurus as a credible threat, as masterly in her playing of human beings as she is of the family Stradivarius. Yet it's telling that the episode's pulse only really elevated once Andrew Scott's eternally OTT Moriarty reappeared on the scene, emerging from a helicopter to the strains of Queen's "I Want to Break Free": here, at last, was a rockstar baddie, whose presence, however wayward or malign, had been sorely lacking from all the washed-out asylum business. (For once in recent months, television looked to have been scooped - and long ago - by the movies.) All the fun stuff sat around the edges of this episode: a prologue in which Gatiss's Mycroft finds his enjoyment of a faked-up noir film (prime Gatiss territory) interrupted by an elaborate prank; the revelation that he once played Lady Bracknell in a school production of The Importance of Being Earnest (you can imagine that, and it's funny); a clever misdirect as a figure we initially clock as Cumberbatch-as-Holmes-in-disguise turns out to be nothing of the sort.

And though it came to be obscured by Eurus's very shaggy dog story, The Final Problem did float one genuinely compelling situation - the kind of problem which Moffat might once have spent an entire episode solving - involving a young girl who wakes up aboard an airborne plane on which the other passengers and crew appear to have died. Increasingly, Moffat looks to have been drawn to the fate of characters held in such suspension, faced with the possibility of a nasty crash-and-burn (the events of The Abominable Bride, it transpired, unfolded while Sherlock was dozing on a flight), and - donning our own deerstalkers - we might usefully analyse what this nightmare represents: the influence of Christopher Nolan's Inception, which sent semi-impenetrable vapour trails around the world, on contemporary fantasy-drama? The predicament faced by a showrunner obliged to operate in a holding pattern, and circling endlessly around those fixed points Conan Doyle left behind in the popular imagination? Or merely seepage from all those transatlantic flights the show's creatives have had to take just to get another season together? (Perhaps flights have become to Sherlock what meetings about taxation were to the Star Wars prequels.)

The biggest letdown here came with the revelation this particular scenario was playing out in headspace rather than actual airspace - that it was a figment of an overactive imagination, and no more - which meant the producers didn't have to worry about stumping up to film any dramatic final descent, and Moffat didn't have to explain it, except to explain it away. What these flights of fancy may finally stand for is the show's own trajectory: that as it went stratospheric, picking up viewers overseas, touching down in cinemas worldwide, it became more and more detached from the ground rules Moffat and Gatiss first laid down for themselves - that its once sharp deductive logic, a pleasure crucial to any worthwhile Sherlock variant, turned inexact, if not utterly vague. (One solution in this Problem involved a series of transposed numbers and letters on a gravestone, and was dashed through so offhandedly in the edit as to seem like a gross narrative cheat.)

The sad thing was that enough of the original show's fuselage was still intact for The Final Problem to pass muster as lazy Sunday night viewing, bag of leftover Christmas treats to hand. It's admirable that Moffat continued to give Cumberbatch emotions to play, rather than the bag of tics handed to Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock, and it's sweet that the series should play out by affirming Sherlock's friendship to Watson in the face of everything this pair had been through in the course of recent episodes - no matter that it left women looking as secondary to this bromance as they are to the Holmes and Watson of those Guy Ritchie movies. (Mary Watson's closing vision of the pair as "two men sitting in a scruffy flat" only evoked dread memories of Men Behaving Badly.) Rather than sticking the landing - if this is to be the show's final destination - this episode felt more indicative of a downturn, if not a terminal nosedive: as good a point as any for stars and viewers alike to bail out.

Sherlock: The Final Problem is available to watch online here.