Some justification is in order. The Legionnaire is a movie review blog, though maybe someday I will branch out into books or television. Today is not that day. If you are at all familiar with The Abominable Bride (2016), you might be saying to yourself, “Wait, is this not an episode of Sherlock (2010-2017)?” Okay, your thoughts probably did not include the dates of the television show’s current run. And yes, you would be technically correct. The Abominable Bride is meant to be a special episode of the famous British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) television series, an updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about perhaps the most famous fictional detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). Indeed, while it does catch you up on the events at the end of the last installment in the third season, “His Last Vow,” seeing it before watching The Abominable Bride will help the film make more sense. Actually, you should watch the entire series to which it relates. It is one of my favorite things ever filmed, and each episode is basically a movie unto itself. As such, they make for tempting fodder for The Legionnaire. Ultimately, they are television, and this really should include The Abominable Bride. Yet, they decided to show it in theaters here back in 2016, which was how I originally saw it, and why I feel justified in presenting it on my blog.
If you are familiar with Sherlock but have not seen The Abominable Bride before, then you might take it as a fun one-off that mirrors the show but set in 1895. For a brief time while first watching it, this is what I believed. As with the first episode of the show, the movie begins with Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman), newly back in London after having served queen and country as an army doctor in Afghanistan, looking for some place to stay. A chance meeting with a fellow medical man and acquaintance, Dr. Stamford (David Nellist), leads Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Being the overly perceptive sort that Sherlock is, he immediately offers Dr. Watson rooms in his row home at 221B Baker Street. Dr. Watson accepts, particularly after he is given a demonstration of Sherlock’s incredible deduction skills. Together they form an investigative partnership, and abiding friendship, that makes them the talk of London, this last bit thanks to Dr. Watson’s stories about their cases. A new one comes their way when Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) of Scotland Yard comes to them with a case about a disgruntled wife, Emelia Ricoletti (Natasha O’Keeffe). She had been randomly shooting people on the street from her balcony and then turns the gun on herself. Later that night, her bloodied corpse is seen in another part of London where she guns down her husband Thomas (Gerald Kyd) before disappearing into that ubiquitous London fog. Still, Emilia’s body is found to be in the morgue, leading Sherlock to conclude that there is a logical explanation. The matter comes back to his attention when Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), refers Lady Carmichael (Catherine McCormack) to Sherlock and Dr. Watson. Lady Carmichael is concerned about her husband, Sir Eustace (Tim McInnerny), particularly after he receives orange seeds in the mail and believe them to be a bad omen. Sherlock and Dr. Watson are brought to the estate to investigate, and in the process see ghostly images and are unable to prevent Sir Eustace’s murder. When Sherlock gets to the body, he finds a note attached to the knife that reads “Miss me?” It is at this point that we find out that what is happening is actually taking place in Sherlock’s head in more modern times. The reason these words pull Sherlock out of his reverie is because they echo those spoken by a supposedly dead Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. This had taken place in the previous episode of the show, and Sherlock is trying to figure out how this is possible since he had seen Moriarty put a gun in his mouth, pull the trigger, and blow his brains out the back of his head. Moriarty is dead, and yet he found a way to deliver a message to the whole of London. This triggered a memory of a case from 1895, the one we had been seeing to this point, that has Sherlock, with the aid of illicit drugs, working away in his mind palace to come up with a solution. As it turns out, Emilia is part of a secretive organization of women who take vengeance on men who wrong them. Like Moriarty, Emilia is dead, but had arranged for things to happen after her death. The problem for Sherlock is figuring out a way of conquering the Moriarty that remains only in his mind. During a struggle with the villain in his mind palace, which takes place next to a waterfall (a nod to the literary events upon which these stories are based), Moriarty refers to himself as a “virus” for Sherlock’s brain. What helps Sherlock triumph is his trusted, dear friend, Dr. Watson. This is what helps the modern Sherlock move on, though we have a fun conclusion with the 1895 version, back at 221B Baker Street, theorizing to Dr. Watson about all the modern conveniences we know today.
The concept of the mind palace is something that gets more play in the television series, and is the setting for The Abominable Bride. It is also an interesting one in a Catholic sense. The “sense” in this case relates more to the five senses, although thought is not often included among them. I like to think of it as a sixth sense, and there are many anecdotes out there that would probably support this position. There is a school of Catholic thought, if you will, specifically Ignatian spirituality, that teaches us to use all our senses, no matter how many we actually possess, to experience God. Further, one of the metaphors we use for talking about the in-dwelling of God in all of us is as a palace. The more elaborate and fleshed out is the mind palace of Faith, if you will, the stronger is your connection to God. In such a place, you can literally experience Jesus in the way that you might communicate with any of your friends. You can see Him before you, touch Him, smell Him, etc. It can be as real of an experience as Sherlock inventing an 1895 narrative in order to solve a crime. One has to be careful, though. Our imaginations can be wild, and like in the film with Moriarty, corrupted. For Sherlock, what provides a framework and stability is Dr. Watson. For us, it is the Faith handed onto us by Jesus.
My hope with this review of The Abominable Bride is that you will first accept it as a movie, and that it will get you interested in Sherlock. The Abominable Bride is clearly only one part of a bigger series, and it needs the context of the other shows to make complete sense. If you have that context, it is a satisfying, if somewhat confusing, story. The rest of the show is not exactly morally sound, but Sherlock and Watson are good people.