Sherlock (BBC) – Happy 4th Anniversary to a British television triumph!

If we used the Doctor’s TARDIS and travelled back in time four years to 25 July 2010, we would find ourselves in a world in which the recognisable image of Sherlock Holmes was one of an older gentleman in Victorian London, driving through London in a Hackney cab through foggy streets. We would also be in a world in which only theatre enthusiasts and watchers of the odd BBC drama would have heard of a young actor with an unusual name.

What a difference a night makes! After 90 minutes of BBC1 drama on a summer’s evening (never an ideal time for a new series to start), the UK had a new obsession and the BBC had an instant hit on its hands. It has been referenced in numerous interviews how that night changed the lives and careers of those involved – none more so than its lead actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict in particular.

The Sherlock gang
The Sherlock gang

In the four years since it began Sherlock has gone on to success few could have imagined. After 7.5 million watched A Study in Pink in 2010, its UK audience has grown impressively, with the series 3 opener drawing 12.7 million viewers and the third series overall becoming the UK’s most watched drama series since 2001 and the most requested drama on BBC iPlayer to date. This would all be incredible on its own, but Sherlock has also achieved international success (being sold to 224 countries in the last year) and critical respect, with a raft of award nominations and wins from BAFTAs to Emmys. It has one of the strongest and most loyal group of fans of any show, who have taken the series, its cast and crew to their hearts (mine included). It’s almost unbelievable to think all it has achieved in so short a time, raising the profiles of not just Martin and Benedict, but others from Andrew Scott and Louise Brealey to the team at Hartswood Films.

If any television series deserved to reach such heady heights its this one. The writing is superb, with each script zipping along with pace, intelligence, humour, heartfelt emotion, fun and action. The direction is inventive and exciting to watch. There are fews shows where the choices made by a director seem to jump off the screen. It’s beautifully lit by the director of photography, not to mention the costume departments success in creating one of the most iconic outfits on television (why on earth Balstaff discontinued that coat is beyond me!). Then of course there is the acting. It’s not just the leads that make Sherlock what it is, it’s everyone. The core supporting cast are wonderful, from Rupert Graves’s Lestrade, the lovely Louise Brealey as Molly and Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, to Amanda Abbington’s Mary Morstan, Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss, not to mention all the guest stars that have added to the quality of each episode.

The Hartswood Films team

All these components work together seamlessly to make Sherlock a programme of the upmost quality in every respect. If only all dramas could be this good. Then again, if they were, it would lessen the joy and excitement at finding a new gem.

I now just need to decide on my order of these nine super episodes. That will be tough and deserves a separate post of its own! So as I watch A Study In Pink tonight, four years on from the first time, this post is a thank you to all those who have worked so hard to bring Sherlock to our screens. Long may it continue to shine!

Conversations with Screen Composers – Michael Price

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In association with BAFTA, the Royal Albert Hall continued its Conversations with Screen Composers series last night (31st March) with a wonderfully interesting and insightful chat with the lovely Michael Price, composer of both film and TV and of course now most notably Sherlock (which he scores with David Arnold). Over the course of two hours we learnt about his early career and how he came to write for the BBC’s phenomenally successful show. For those unable to attend I thought I’d provide an insight in to the evening in this blog.

The early days

Michael began by recalling his university days at the University of Surrey, at which he completed the Tonmeister degree (which combines elements of music, physics and maths) and how he had a wonderful university experience, making many friends that he still keeps in touch with today. He didn’t have a master plan for his career and it was touched upon that he was the first of the composers included in this series to complete this specific course, with others studying music in different degree forms.

After initially working in the sphere of contemporary dance, Michael went on to work with American screen composer Michael Kamen, whom he first came to work with on X-Men, quite randomly, after he began giving talks around the world for the creators of the leading music notation software Sibelius and his name was suggested when Mr Kamen was looking for a new assistant. Hilariously he was not the only person to be offered the job and Michael fondly recalled arriving on a Monday to start work only to find another person there too, James Brett, and how the two of them had plenty of time to bond seeing as Mr Kamen didn’t arrive for three and a half days! He continued to work for Kamen for five years on projects including the live Metallica concert S&M (Symphony & Metallica) and we were shown an amusing clip of a young Michael in the background of a docu-style behind the scenes film about this project. His final project with Kamen was the HBO series Band of Brothers and Michael commented how the producers were able to get something glorious from Kamen (I have always thought that the score for the series is very impressive indeed and compliments it perfectly). Michael spoke about Kamen’s improvisation during the process and how he and James Brett would tidy up the composition around the edges where necessary. He also noted that he felt this was the start of a growth in high-end television and that that has resonated with him from a career perspective.

Music editing

Michael then went on to be a successful music editor, working on a number of celebrated films. In order to give us a better insight in to the role of a music editor in film we were shown three clips from different scores Michael worked on. These were Love Actually, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Michael explained how the role of the music editor is to listen to the director, producer and composer and provide diplomatic solutions in order to achieve the best music for the film.

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It was interesting to hear that Richard Curtis had a huge number of songs that he was interested in using in Love Actually (some of which were referenced in the script) and how Michael was involved in the cutting room, deciding what track would work for a certain scene in order to realise the soundtrack in Curtis’s mind. The clip we watched was the moving moment Emma Thompson’s character receives the gift she thinks is a necklace, but which is in fact a Joni Mitchell CD, and goes to listen to it as she cries upstairs. Michael talked about how the music underscoring the moment she opens the gift references the music of the Joni Mitchell song that immediately follows in the bedroom scene, weaving the film together.

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Courtesy of Working Title

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Courtesy of New Line Cinema

We were also shown the famous fight in the Serpentine fountain scene from the Bridget Jones sequel as an example of when the editors have to dramatically cut a song in the edit for a film and finally the scene from The Return of the King in which Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn is crowned and reunited with Arwen. Michael spoke further about the process for creating the score for The Lord of the Rings films (he worked on all three of them) and how it was true that Howard Shore’s team had indeed taken over a whole floor of the Dorchester hotel during the process! There were scores of people working on the films and so unlike a smaller film (such as Love Actually) you couldn’t become personally familiar with everything that was happening. No one had all the answers and, although it had been an incredible experience and Howard Shore was an incredible man, it was not Michael’s style of working as a musician.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

One of Michael’s last jobs as a music editor was the film Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Michael recalled that this was the most incredible interview he ever had for a job ad talked about how Alfonso genuinely cares about every detail of his films. The project also meant Michael had the opportunity to work with his favourite composer Sir John Tavener and how the film was changed to fit the music tempo once Tavener came to Abbey Road and recorded his piece of score for it, as he did this at a different tempo to how Cuaron had imagined it. Michael also hilariously spoke of having to come up with the sound of the music of the future, which included audio of a screaming German student found online (who is credited in the film)!

Composing (and a certain TV show)!

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Courtesy of the BBC

Michael spoke about how, as a screen composer, there is a spectrum from artisan to artist and that he is more interested in the artist end of this spectrum. He is always trying to find artistic expression that is authentic. He spoke about first meeting David Arnold more than ten years ago, when he wrote additional music for him and how, although an unlikely pair, they had become firm friends. Michael then moved on to discuss the music he is now most associated with – BBC’s Sherlock (which he scores with David Arnold). David already knew Mark Gatiss and Michael remembers him and David watching the pilot of Sherlock and having just ten days to write the score. They divided up the characters between the two of them in a pub in Soho and set to work. I thought it was particularly nice to hear that they never say who writes each part of the music as it is a shared voice.

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Courtesy of the BBC

Michael further went in to detail as to the creation of some of the iconic themes from the show and how many of the characters in Sherlock have four chord tunes, such as Watson, Moriarty, Sherlock himself and the main theme and that therefore this DNA of the Sherlock music has been set from the beginning. This was wonderfully demonstrated by Peter Gregson (a cellist and composer in his own right), who played the main themes on a cello for us. To delve deeper in to the music of the show we then watched the first of two clips, which was from the first episode A Study In Pink and is the scene in which Sherlock and Watson chase the cab across Soho. After the clip Michael said how sometimes you are dependent on a constellation of things happening around you, for example, Paul McGuigan’s direction and how so much character is in the performances of the lead actors and that you just have to join in! He also admitted that he probably played it slightly safer in the beginning of the show.

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Courtesy of the BBC

The second clip was the final conversation between John and Sherlock in series 3’s His Last Vow. Michael spoke about how when writing the music you don’t want to repeat yourself as that would be boring, but that you also don’t want to alienate people either when coming up with something different and that although he and David had discussed ideas for series 3 before seeing it, none of these ideas were actually used. He kept these to himself in case they can be used for series 4 (if there is a series 4 he added swiftly, not wanting to be the one to be seen as confirming anything)! He agreed that the third series had been more about the relationship between the lead characters and he had chosen this clip specifically because it was a scene between them which contains that initial DNA of the music for those characters – those four chords, gradually moving around through the conversation, before the music reaches up with Sherlock as he disappears in the plane.

Any questions?

There was then time for a few questions from the audience.

1. Any rituals when composing?

On being asked about how he writes in solitude on projects (rather than as part of a collaboration) Michael talked about avoiding the blank page! He is a lark rather than an owl and so will work earlier in the morning if necessary rather than later and tries to work from 9am – 7pm. He also spoke of his belief in starting out with pencil, paper and a piano rather than writing on a computer, as he thinks writing straight on to a computer shapes how you work. By starting with a notebook the tune can develop at the speed it needs to and that once he has a book of ideas he hopes that is enough to sustain him through the score. He referred to the ability to go back to music on Sherlock and change things but that on any project if the tune isn’t great to begin with no amount of orchestration can save it.

2. Choice of instruments?

The second question came from Beryl Vertue herself (who began by saying how everyone at Sherlock was so proud of all the wonderful music, which was applauded by the audience). She asked Michael what motivates him to choose a certain instrument for a piece of score. He replied that sometimes a tune is simply a piano tune or a trumpet tune, but that at other times more than one instrument could fit and so it is decided on a cue by cue basis. He gave the example of Watson’s theme, which was used for the first time in brass in His Last Vow during the resurrection sequence when Watson is effectively saving Sherlock’s life. He also said that the Sherlock theme chords suit anything, such as low cellos under dialogue (as in the second clip) or violins and that it is great to be able to change the palette.

Reference was also made to the use of the cimbalom in the Sherlock music as this is also used by Hans Zimmer in the score of the Sherlock films. Michael said that they has actually used it earlier for the Crooked House for Mark Gatiss (where the budget stretched to only two instruments) and that the sound they had wanted to achieve with the Sherlock music had been one of hi-tech vs. low-tech, which was different from that of Zimmer’s score for the films.

3. Process for matching music to specific scenes?

Michael was finally asked how he matches music to specific scenes, to which he spoke about it being a carving process and that you need to be honest with yourself as to what works and what doesn’t work. There are big questions, such as what type of overall sound are you looking for, but there are also many micro decisions to be made during the process. Some are easy wins, however the majority need lots of polish. This takes a lot of work and he said that this is something composers respect about each other.

Michael ended by first letting us in on one of his favourite themes from Sherlock – Irene Adler’s theme (it’s like having a favourite child he said) and we were lucky enough to hear The Woman played beautifully by Peter (playing a violin part on a cello!) and Michael on the piano. With regards to the subject of soundtracks, Michael said he would rather create a 60 minute symphony for someone to listen to but that with a soundtrack like Sherlock he completely understood that there is an emotional connection to the memories of the characters for people and that when he hears certain pieces of the music played, he has the memories of working with David to create it.

Coming up next?

Michael is currently working on the next Inbetweeners film with David Arnold, as well as an Australian television show and his own record, which he is working on in Berlin at the moment. The evening then drew to a close with Michael playing a piece on the piano (I think it was from The Hope of Better Weather, but I’m not 100% certain about that) as a thank to us all.

This was certainly an incredibly interesting and insightful evening, during which it was wonderful to hear about Michael’s career as a whole and I’d like to thank him for taking the time to share his memories and experiences with us. The Conversations with Screen Composers series is continuing and I’d recommend going along to one if you can.

 

Watching Sherlock Series 3 Filming in London!

I started to write about my fantastic experiences watching filming of series 3 of Sherlock earlier in the year, more so I didn’t forget it and now I have a blog and now the episodes have aired I thought why not post it, so forgive me if this rambles on a bit! SPOILER WARNING – If you have yet to see the episodes this does contain spoilers.

I find the production of film and TV incredibly interesting and tend to watch filming if I come across it, which living in London does happen occasionally, especially since I learnt from the wisdom of others what those neon arrows I often see on lampposts mean! Therefore I was hopeful of catching filming of the new series of Sherlock when it ventured to London, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to Cardiff due to work.

I had already caught the bug after being lucky enough to be one of a small crowd who watched filming for the series 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall outside St Barts on 17 July 2011. There really weren’t many people there and at one point myself and my two friends found ourselves being moved to stand behind the monitor tent (so that we were not in shot), only to have Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stand practically next to us! They were watching their stunt doubles film the aftermath of Sherlock’s fall (Sherlock on the floor and John being knocked to the floor by the bike). It was quite surreal to have them so near, with Benedict covered in blood, with a towel round his shoulders – Sherlock and John watching Sherlock and John! Bonkers. Although we didn’t approach them as they were clearly working and that felt wholly inappropriate, it certainly made me hope I’d see more filming of this brilliant series!

Filming the aftermath of the Fall (you can just see Benedict on the floor)
can you spot Benedict’s arm as he lies on the floor?
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Benedict being wheeled in to the hospital entrance for a take

 

10th April 2013 – Day 1 at 221b!

I didn’t realise it would take quite so long however but at long last series 3 filming began in Wales and then the first trip to London. What a difference a two year hiatus makes – I still can’t quite believe the crowd at Baker Street for filming of episode one The Empty Hearse on 10th April 2013. As it was a working day I only managed to get there after work, but hadn’t actually missed too much. The weather started out fine and we watched the filming of what would turn out to be Sherlock & Watson’s last shot in the episode, standing outside Baker Street speaking to the reporters, complete with deerstalker. It was lovely to see them actually filming outside that iconic location and even my flatmate came along to watch!

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That evening turned out to be a great one to go to, with quite a few scenes shot, including John being attacked outside 221b. Mark Gatiss entertained the crowd during rehearsal of this scene, as on seeing what happens the crowd gasped, prompting him to turn around to us all, put his hand to his mouth and make a shock gasp style gesture!

As the evening went on however the weather took a turn for the worse. In short it poured it down for hours, but the crowd at Sherlock filming have a great spirit and once we had an umbrella (purchased from the wonderful corner shop on North Gower Street) it was fine. As the rain started to fall heavily, filming was to continue with Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington, who were to film their speedy exit from 221b on to the road and Sherlock commandeering a motorbike. It was during the set up for these scenes that Benedict, Martin and Amanda all came across to the huge crowd to say hello. Only Benedict made it along the line opposite 221b to reach the opposite corner where we were standing but it was nice of him to do so. He thanked everyone for being there and supporting the show and said to “Stay sane and dry” which in that weather was really a lost hope! I said I hoped he’d be able to fit in some more theatre sometime soon, to which he said he hoped so too as he’d love to if he could find the time. With the exciting Hamlet rumours now circulating I certainly hope this happens soon!

The scene with the bike was still being filmed when I left just after 10 p.m. (by which point myself and my flatmate were sufficiently drenched).

13th April 2013 – St Barts Day 1!

It wasn’t long before the all-important filming outside St Bart’s arrived. As I don’t work far from there, I suspected the rumours were true when the parking restriction signs for a full weekend due to filming went up all along the side of Smithfield Market and so I joined a few friends there the next day. The weather was pretty miserable yet again and I felt genuinely sorry for the cast and crew having to work on it the rain. Poor Benedict also seemed to have a cold, which couldn’t have been much fun in that weather.

When I arrived the crowd was fairly small and the large blue crash mat was in position by St Bart’s (little did we know that it would actually be in the episode!). Most of the day was spent filming Sherlock’s fall, requiring Benedict to first jump/fall from the cradle raised above the crash mat.

This was followed up by him leaping on to the mat from the side, which meant he had to climb a ladder and then launch himself on to the mat, which looked like a lot of fun!

In true fashion, the rain started once the wirework began. Benedict’s stunt double was used to measure out the different heights they wanted to capture and once that was done it was time for Benedict to film. After a few takes and as the rain started to pour, someone had clearly had a great idea, and as Benedict was raised up on the wire in preparation for another take, he took the umbrella up with him, continuing to hold it over himself whilst suspended in mid-air, which was quite funny to see. Only when they were ready to film, did he drop the umbrella to the crew below and do a take. The crew also started laying towels on the crash mat, as a few takes resulted in Benedict being lowered fully on to the mat face down, which by this point must have been soaking wet.


Benedict’s stunt double on the wire as they set up shots

Once Benedict and Martin were no longer needed, Benedict’s stunt double was filmed on the wire, dropping from the top of St Bart’s to almost the pavement, before being hoisted back up at some speed! It was very impressive to watch.

Everyone hoped that the weather would improve for the next day!


Benedict’s stunt double doing the full drop

14th April 2013 – St Bart’s Day 2!

As if by magic the weather for the second day at St Bart’s couldn’t have been more different! The sun was out and it was already quite warm by 11 a.m. when I arrived. A couple of friends I knew were already there and barriers were up, behind which the crowd were watching. The first scene I saw was Martin filming John on the phone to Sherlock and calling out to him. In between takes the cast and crew seemed far more relaxed (maybe it was the glorious weather) and Benedict and Martin, both sporting sunglasses chatted with Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue and the crew.

It was then time to film scenes in front of the hospital and joined by my flatmate, we managed to get a fantastic spot on top of a stone seat near the archway of the hospital. Being relatively short it was great to have something to stand! The next few hours were incredibly good fun. We watched the scene where Benedict ran up and swapped places with his stunt double who was dragged off through the side archway (cue lots of oohs from the crowd) and Steven Moffat appeared just before lunch to much excitement.


the body swap!


Two Sherlocks! Benedict wanders over between shots.


Benedict on the pavement


The 2 headed Sherlock! Real and stunt side by side!


Filming the scenes with Benedict covered in blood on the pavement

After lunch it really did get ridiculous. First Mark Gatiss returned to set, but in full Mycroft outfit, which started the speculation as to how Mycroft fitted in to the puzzle! Then, all of a sudden Andrew Scott, in full costume, casually sauntered up the road towards the hospital. The reaction as he was spotted by more people was crazy and he drew claps and cheers from the crowd. He chatted happily on set, every so often waving to those watching. Then they “filmed” that scene and I’m so pleased I was there to watch, as along with everyone else I puzzled over why Mycroft and Moriarty were together and shaking hands – was this flashback? And why on earth was Moriarty wearing Sherlock’s coat?! Or was this a hoax to wind us all up?! It was also nice to watch as Benedict wandered up to watch them film, sitting down on the floor against the ambulance station, next to Steven Moffat. Good for them for trying to plot red herrings and keep us guessing!

Then just when it couldn’t get any stranger, Martin began filming and my friend went “That guy looks a bit like Derren Brown” before we realised that that was indeed Derren Brown! We could clearly hear him saying “and sleep” which made us want to laugh. John hypnotised by Derren Brown? Really?!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I felt privileged to watch the hard working crew as well as the actors at work. The set up and effort that goes in to making TV of this quality is very impressive indeed. We also did well by not putting any spoilers on the internet.


Mycroft on set


Yes we did miss you Andrew!


The red herring!


The only photo I have of Derren – it’s him under the hood honest!

21st May 2013 – Day 2 at 221b!

My next trip to “221b” was for more filming of The Empty Hearse and the taxi scene from The Sign of Three, in which Sherlock hails a cab and he and John head off to investigate The Bloody Guardsman. The crowd was again quite large and it was a much shorter day in terms of scenes filmed. Benedict and Martin filmed the hailing of the taxi for about 45 minutes and then Benedict left and Martin filmed John’s arrival, this time with moustache (much to everyone’s amusement!) at 221b and the children asking him to give a Penny For The Guy. For trivia fans – the face on the Guy was drawn by Mark Gatiss! Filming was finished in a few hours, as the crew had already been filming in the morning at St James’ Park for the scenes on the bench and with the guards, which sadly I didn’t go to. The crew did however let people queue up to have photos at 221b before they removed the numbers and also with the Baker Street sign after it had been removed from the wall!

21st August 2013 – Day 3 at 221b!

My final day of filming was for the finale and again, mainly involved Benedict hailing a taxi, although instead of taking John with him, Sherlock leaves him standing alone of the street after what looked to be a few serious words. It was fun last night to see what they were actually saying and my friend who was there with me that day was thrilled to see it live on TV.

For the first time I was able to witness the welcome Martin and Benedict get when they arrive on set and it is quite something. There were hundreds of people there that day and the cheers they received when they arrived were like something from a rock concert! My friend had come with me out of curiosity and he couldn’t believe it. There came a point early on when the main crowd opposite 221b (we chose to stand in our usual spot on the corner a bit further along) screamed and cheered whenever they appeared from out of the door of 221b to rehearse the scene and after a couple of times, Benedict wandered across good naturedly and gestured for them to not do it when they were rehearsing/filming.

From then on, there was relative silence until Cut was shouted, at which point a large cheer and applause would be given. I felt as if I was at the theatre in some ways. It must be very strange for them filming TV in those surroundings.

Amanda Abbington also arrived on set and happily signed autographs for the crowd. This was also the day Benedict held up his political questions on civil liberties and I was hilariously referenced in a Guardian article, as possibly one of the first people to put on twitter what he’d said. That’s certainly one way to get your thoughts out to the world!

The other scenes filmed were the arrival of the henchmen of Charles Augustus Magnusson in a black car with the number plate “I CAM” and their entry in to Baker Street and also Sherlock’s arrival with John at Baker Street, dressed in very un-Sherlock tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt. We were all amused by his annoyance with the door knocker and again it was lovely to see the context of that on last night’s episode.

Once filming ended I was amazed when both Benedict and Martin signed for the huge crowd, with Benedict going along the whole line, as if it was a film premiere. Typically I hadn’t brought anything with me that day, seeing as they hadn’t signed previously so I happily stood back and watched the spectacle. People who just happened to be walking past wondered what was going on and on hearing who was signing, they joined the crowd! Now we just had to wait for the episodes to air!  

15th December 2013 – The Empty Hearse Preview at the BFI!

To top off the fun I’d had at filming, by some miracle I managed to buy two tickets for the preview screening at the BFI of episode one. I have been a BFI member for a few years now and I usually fail at getting tickets for the “popular sell out in seconds events”, so this was a huge surprise! As my earlier spoiler free post about that day says, the atmosphere was wonderful both in the building beforehand and during the screening. It was also lovely to see so many people involved with the show there. Andrew Scott seemed to go relatively unnoticed as people took their seats and Louise Brealey was sitting next to him with Una Stubbs also there. As you would expect the arrival of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch caused lots of excitement and they seemed genuinely thrilled to be there.

It was certainly an incredible atmosphere in which to watch that episode and now it’s aired you can imagine the reactions to some of the moments right from the first few minutes. There were everything from gasps, to groans, to laughter and clapping. The majority of people in the room also recognised who was playing Sherlock’s parents and this drew claps. Benedict in the Q&A later said how emotional he’d felt watching that scene and it getting that response and how wonderful it had been to have his parents involved. I’d recommend reading the transcript of the Q&A as there were some great questions (putting aside the awkward fan fiction moment).

And now it’s all over. I really hope it’s not another two year hiatus, but quality takes time and they are all so busy now that I won’t be surprised if it is. All my fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to see some filming of series 4, although the thought that that could not be until 2015 is quite a scary thought!

I’ll attempt in the next few days to put all my photos on Flickr (as I think I have an account for that). All my filming videos are on You Tube under vickster5001.

Sherlock: The Empty Hearse Preview – Spoiler Free Thoughts on a fab day!

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I’ll start by saying this contains no spoilers. I am not planning to ruin the thrill and surprise for any fans of Sherlock but had to record my thoughts of such a fantastic day at the BFI Southbank. I’ve been to a few events at the BFI but this atmosphere was something else entirely. From the moment you arrived you could sense the excitement. The box office area was packed with people waiting for returns/standby seats and people hoping for a glimpse of the stars. In NFT1 itself, as everyone took their seats, the anticipation and excitement was contagious. I couldn’t quite believe I’d managed to get a ticket all those weeks ago and here we were. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of filming in London for series 3 and was also excited to see those bits on film too.

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My spolier-free review of the actual episode The Empty Hearse is quite straightforward – the episode is fantastic and one of the best pieces of TV ever made. It’s rocketed straight to the top of my favourite Sherlock episodes too (taking the crown from A Scandal in Belgravia). The episode feels very expensive in terms of production values as the quality is superb. Jeremy Lovering’s direction is excellent and he takes the stylish baton from Paul McGuigan and adds to it. Seeing this on a big screen was a privilege. The story itself is fantastic. There is just about everything in this 90 minutes – light-hearted fun, bonkers humour (some bits had me cracking up along with everyone else), action, tense thrilling scenes and wonderful emotional depths. This is all possible due to the strength of the ensemble of Sherlock. Everyone adds to the episode to strengthen it, particularly Louise Brealey, Una Stubbs and Rupert Graves. Amanda Abbington has a great start as Mary and will no doubt be a super addition to the team at 221b. They are of course all led by the supremely talented Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman, whose talents know no bounds as Sherlock and John. The have so much to do in this episode and do it brilliantly. Martin handles John’s range of emotions at seeing his friend again wonderfully and gives a very real, human performance. Benedict is, as usual, excellent in a role that no one could do better and together they are a joy to watch. It almost doesn’t feel as if it’s been 2 years (well…almost)! It will be interesting to watch again without the crowd there, as this group viewing experience certainly heightened the responses – so much cheering, clapping and laughing throughout.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have created an incredibly special series with Sherlock but I have to give so much praise to Mark Gatiss for this episode. His writing is wonderful in The Empty Hearse – totally barmy one minute and deeply touching the next. The nods to not only Conan Doyle but to the show’s own incredible success is very well done and never feels too much. Plus he has written Mycroft some of his best bits here too, which is lovely.

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The Q&A was a disappointment and rather uncomfortable. Caitlin Moran’s choice of questions and approach were odd, especially from someone who is a fan and has done some great interviews in the past (her Benedict one is very good indeed). She brought people’s attention to fans in the back of a shot (which I didn’t notice but my friend did) which made me feel very sorry for the director and although it was made light of by the panel, it felt quite uncomfortable to watch. I will also never understand why she thought getting Martin & Benedict to read some slasher fanfiction was a good idea! Very awkward indeed. Not all awful though – Benedict & Martin were able to acknowledge how respectful fans are at filming. Mark Gatiss remembered screams from the crowd at one point and on being asked what had happened, responding Martin had just opened a packet of crisps! Some better audience questions (favourite scenes to film, how some of the story was thought of, how Mark finds writing and acting his own scripts (jokingly he said he finds it easier to remember the lines when it’s his scripts)).

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It was also lovely to see so many of the cast past and present in attendance, highlighting how much of a family the programme is for those who create it – as well as the panel (Benedict, Martin, Mark, Steven, Sue and Jeremy) in the audience was Louise Brealey, Una Stubbs and Andrew Scott as well as the composer and some of the production team.

I hope no one spoils the twists and turns for others. I knew certain things from watching filming but still would never have imagined some of the magical moments and it really will be better as a surprise. I look forward to chatting on twitter once it airs on New Year’s Day! Rest assured though Sherlock is back a bigger and better than ever!

Welcome back Sherlock – it really has been far too long but that episode was so good it was worth the wait!