Thursday, 9 February 2012

A Game of Chance, Call the Midwives

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Chance is a brilliant film, cleverly lifting the odd line verbatim from the books, Robert Downey does a very good and very different period Holmes, lots of humour and some big panoramic vistas. He maps out fight sequences in his head, calculating moves, before it actually takes place.

We forget that Holmes, in the original stories, is not above fighting, and indeed in "The Final Problem" we know that is how he survived. Although he is often presented as handy with his fists, pugilism is not his only fighting technique. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was aware of Bartitsu, and puts it in one story. So the idea of martial arts being used by Holmes is not as far fetched as the critics make out; they probably are not careful devotees of the original stories.
Bartitsu was a kind of martial art system originally developed in England during the years 1898-1902 by Edward William Barton-Wright, which he said combined the best elements of a range of fighting styles into a unified whole. The name was a mixture of  his own surname "Barton-Wright" and  "Jujitsu", hence "Bart-itstu "

It is mentioned, or more exactly, misspelt and mentioned in "The Empty House", the first story in the return of Sherlock Holmes (in 1901).

Holmes explained his victory over Professor Moriarty in their struggle at Reichenbach Falls by the use of "baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me"

A Game of Chance also has Stephen Fry as an excellent Mycroft Holmes. There is a comic scene in which he walks around his stately home - stark naked! Fear not, viewers, the camera used discrete angles to avoid giving cinema goers the fright of their lives.

"Call the Midwives" is shaping up to be a very good snapshot of life in the 1950s, before the optimism and hippy culture of the swinging sixties came to define the following decade.

In one recent episode a policeman warned Fred, the chap who looked after the boilers at the nurses home that he was breaking the law with his sidelines of quails and toffee apples. This even then a health and safety issue in the 1950s, demanding official intervention, because Fred was slaughtering and plucking of quails in a kitchen where he was also making toffee apples - so that feathers and blood on some apples!

But rather than arresting him, he told him that even now the public health officials were on their way to investigate, and he was breaking the law - and the best thing he could do was get back sharpish and clear it all up before they got there. Result - no health and safety hazard, no officials with fines and endless paperwork, and the Fred knew not to do it again. That's how policing used to work at its best - preventing people breaking the law, but doing it softly softly.

Last week, an even stronger episode followed. It was the story of the husband whose wife dies of pre-eclampsia, was very strong, and the part when he was just sitting beside her dead body on the hospital bed was very sad; but while he was shy, he came across as perhaps just too slightly reserved at that moment. I think lots of men looking at their young wife - however peaceful they looked in death - would be howling with grief and tears. Perhaps people were more buttoned up in those days; I'm not wholly convinced.

The other story was of the stolen baby, taken by a woman whose own baby had been taken from her from adoption; if ever there was a lesson against forced adoption, it was here. Whatever criticism people level against single mothers (and there is unfortunately a growing number of people and papers - like the Daily Mail - sounding off against them), this shows that the 1950s system of wrenching a mother apart from a child and placing them in adoption because the State knew best was not good either. It was heartless, and it gave no consideration of the trauma caused, which in this story, nearly ends in tragedy.

No comments: