The empty violin case

January 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Posted in music, tv & film | 3 Comments
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Everyone has their pressure point.

For some, it’s the wrong kind of aircraft, the tubes going the wrong way, the wrong route in a London taxi. For my mum (who used to be a vet), it’s inaccurate representation of medical phenomena (our family now call this Oh, Blood Doesn’t Spurt Like That, after giggling at her watching The Killing one evening).

sherlock pressure point

I adore Sherlock. It’s glorious. Such attention to detail. I love it to death: the clever visuals, the knowing script, the nuanced acting, the way every scene is set up around lighting Cumberbatch’s bizarre, beautiful face. I’m completely rapt. And then Sherlock plays the violin.

I should know better, but I watch anyway. It’s not as bad as some efforts I’ve seen on screen: his fingers are in roughly the right places, he’s holding the bow properly. But it’s not right. I start to twitch. The boyfriend (who is a proper musician, rather than being a lapsed I-did-grade-8-but-the-University-orchestra-broke-me ‘cellist, like me) starts to laugh. It doesn’t bother him, but he knows it makes me want to kill people*.

Why is it so hard to look like you’re playing an instrument? I should say, immediately, that I am in no way criticising The Divine Cumberbatch (TDC), because everyone knows he is marvellous and delightful and made a very good fist of learning to play in a single week (his violin teacher blogged about it). I understand that actors don’t have six months to spend on learning an instrument when it’s a minor part of the character**, and even if they did, there aren’t 10,000 hours in six months, so what would be the point? But surely this doesn’t have to be the only way. I’d like to see that week spent, instead, on looking really convincing. Sod the sound, or where the fingers are. Shoot long, or very close up. Bow convincingly, move with the music, feel it, express it. Sway. I can teach you to sway, TDC. NO CHARGE.

Twitter mostly thinks I’m splitting hairs.

Does it matter? Well, yeah, it does. Because when Sherlock picks up the violin and plays like a beginner but sounds like a virtuoso, the spell is broken. Even though I KNOW no-one hires (or even is) a consulting detective; even though Sherlock’s ability to deduce someone’s marital infidelity or sexual preference or childhood trauma or latest Strava KOM from the state of his fingernails is crackers; even though the explanation of the faked death is risible, it all makes sense within the show. It has internal consistency. Sherlock behaves as he should, everyone else behaves as they should, the world around them behaves as it should, and we can believe. This is why people get upset about the taxi rides, and the tube rolling stock, and so on. We can laugh, but for them, it breaks the spell.

The Case of the Singing Violin, 1955 (many thanks to @bazzargh for making the .gif)

The Case of the Singing Violin, 1955 (many thanks to @bazzargh for making the .gif)

And what I’m REALLY peeved about is that this is a missed opportunity to show us something else about the character. How WOULD Sherlock play the violin? Technically perfectly, but devoid of expression? Or would it be the outlet for the emotion he won’t, or can’t, show elsewhere in life? I want to know.

gif nicked from the wonderful bbcsherlockftw, who nicked it from somewhere else, I dunno, I'm sorry

*it’s not just Sherlock. I hate this in all films/ tv. Hence the boyfriend laughing at me.

**there are notable examples of actors making a jolly good job of learning to play when it’s the focus of the film, but this is a different issue.


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  1. with pianos there is always the ‘show actor with hands hidden then cut to close up hands of actual musician of broadly the same race and gender as actor but I suppose you can’t get away with that with violins. I expect you must have a blacklist of films with strings in them you can’t watch: Emily watson in Hilary and Jackie, Emmanelle Beart in Un Coeur en hiver, John Voight in Deliverance…

    • Yes! I think you *can* get away with it, to some extent. There’s a bit where Sherlock plays the violin in The Reichenbach Fall where they just cut his left hand off entirely, and I think it works fine. I haven’t seen the films you mention, though I know of them; probably unconsciously avoiding them, you’re right 😉

  2. […] all that griping about violin playing in Sherlock made me itch to play the ‘cello. I learned at secondary school, did grade 8 in sixth form and […]

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