Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Dickens, Sherlock & Grayson Perry

Dickens, even in the ‘dark’ later novels is funny, as well as being earnest and moving.  In two recent TV adaptations, Great Expectations and Edwin Drood, the funny has been filleted out, and it is no coincidence that with the removal of funny has come the removal of moving and we have been left with earnest.  I watched the whole of GE in the hope of being moved, but the truth is I didn’t give a damn about anyone in it; and I gave up on Drood after Episode One, so dismally unDickensian – indeed, how Gradgrindian – it seemed.

Sherlock, however, was both funny and moving and even ever so slightly earnest.  How Sherlock managed his escape remains to be seen, but Watson (Martin Freeman seems to have an uncanny ability to marry comedy and emotion – remember The Office?) demanding of his friend “don’t be dead” certainly had me going.  We have had Sherlock’s Sexuality, Reason and Identity all questioned in this latest series, and yet not for a moment has the earnestness been anything other than worn lightly.  How Moffat and co have managed to transform Sherlock Holmes is little short of miraculous – for, however modern he seems to be there is absolutely never any doubt that this is the same Sherlock Holmes that so many of us know and love.  Truly great television, and in its appearing at the same time as the entertaining movie with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, it demonstrates how very much intellectually superior TV can be.

Grayson Perry’s show at the British Museum, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, is stupendous.  I went because, well, as Perry himself articulates on the first vase we encounter, “there’s just such a buzz”.  But I had not expected to be so entertained, so instructed, so engaged.  Like Dickens, Perry is funny and earnest and even ever so slightly moving.  He has the authority of an intellectual coherence that is fundamentally undogmatic.  Indeed this show is a kind of celebration of the non-dogmatic.  Perry seems to invite the whole world in, in tiny little increments.  The works he has chosen from the British Museum collection (and he clearly adores the British Museum) are all by unknown hands; they are generally delicate, usually full of detail, even messy.  The throwing together of disparate elements excites him.  In the enormous tapestry, Map of Truth and Beliefs, the word ‘Flanders’ sits under a picture of Stonehenge, and ‘Venice’ beneath a power station.

Grayson Perry’s work ought to be the epitome of kitsch, but actually it is the opposite.  May Alan Measles live another fifty years – at least.  And may adapters of Dickens recognize that without the funny the moving is lost, and one is left merely with earnest, which is dull.

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