[Spoiler alert: This is the post where I cover myself with shame and obloquy.]
As a child, I never liked Basil Rathbone. Too stiff, too pontifical, looked too old. Why did my parents enjoy those Sherlock Holmes movies so much? Jeremy Brett snooping around Victorian England on Masterpiece Theater in the 1990’s was all right to relax with after a hard week of lawyering. But really not my type either. Also somewhat too young for me, even if we had both made compromises on the age thing, and if he had a taste for women, which I understand he doesn’t.
But now there’s Benedict Cumberbatch! All in black. With curly dark hair falling over his forehead and a long dark officer’s coat. Gorgeous pale eyes that take in everything. A voluptuous mouth, a mind like quicksilver. Tall, very slim, impetuous. Graceful in action, sulky and petulant when not. And, not unimportant, quite shapely undressed — as we saw (front and back) in the first episode of the second season, Bill beside me on the sofa muttering, “What crap!” Be quiet, Bill! Be still, my beating heart!
Yes, I know I’m 82, he’s 37 (33 when they shot that first series which won me) — and looks even younger. That’s beside the point. I know what’s in the cards and what’s not. I’m not about to hop a plane for England to join the bevies of young women who crowd the streets when it’s known he’s going to appear. Moreover, as one who used to think, “Dirty old man!” whenever I caught an elderly gent lasciviously eyeing a young beauty, I’m well aware that the obverse exclamation could easily apply to me in this situation.
But why can’t the eighteen-year-old who lives on somewhere deep inside yours truly take private pleasure in the telly screen while seemingly insoluble crime gets solved and Watson blogs about it afterwards? She hasn’t come out to play for such a long time. So why isn’t she allowed now to waste a few hours of my time, in the privacy of my office, Googling various Pinterest boards slavishly devoted to this young actor with the Shakespearean first name and a last one so unfamiliar to the American ear it took several days to memorize correctly. (Bill and I would try at breakfast: Humbercratch? Bumbersnatch? Cumberwhat? No, last syllable starts with same letter as first name. Aha: CumberBatch! Batch, batch, batch. By God, we’ve got it!)
The trouble with telly love is that you soon run out of material on which to gaze in rapture. How many times can you stream the same six episodes of Sherlock before seriously annoying the other loved one who lives with you? Especially as neither of us can really figure out the plots. Talk about dense. (The plots, not us.) Moreover, much of the dialogue is incomprehensible because the English spoken runs too trippingly, meaning too fast, off the tongues of the English speaking it. And some of the actors play characters with south-of-the-Thames [Cockney?] accents. Or play people from Northumberland, impossible to understand until you’ve run the thing for the third time, and then only maybe.)
Benedict Cumberbatch has also brought into our home an element of family disharmony, in which the level of discourse drops below normal IQ levels:
Bill — You know, it’s not his own hair. He’s wearing a wig.
Me — It is so his hair! You can tell when he runs. He probably let it grow for the part.
Bill — How do you know it’s not a wig?
Me — I know. I just do.
In the end, there was only one solution. I checked out Parade’s End on Netflix — based on a Ford Madox Ford novel that had been the doctoral dissertation topic of an acquaintance of ours and was therefore acceptable to Bill.
Five more episodes of B.C., I warned. (Gleefully.)
He gave his assent. (He likes looking at Rebecca Hall.)
And you know what? [This is where the shame and obloquy come in. You thought it was for carrying on like a teen-ager for a movie star? You were wrong.] I was yearning for the wrong man!
Here in Parade’s End was Cumberbatch the actor as Christopher Tietjens, the last true eighteenth-century aristocrat in early twentieth century England: He was barely recognizable. Without the credits, you might not know him. Blond, including the eyebrows, for one thing. Different haircut (it changed the shape of his face), different walk (it made him look clumsier), slower of speech, thicker of body, slightly recessive of chin, less chiseled of face, loving to small children, respectful of ladies, and principled up the wazoo.
Superb actor, remarkable transformation. But not a man I could fall for. Not even at eighteen. That’s when I realized who I really wanted.
It wasn’t Cumberbatch. It was the Cumberbatch Sherlock. An artifact. A man who doesn’t exist.
Dark, tall, thin, quick, super smart, super alienated, supercilious. With unforgettable eyes that see right through you and no perceptible emotional needs you can fill. Guaranteed to break your heart!
You’d think after twenty-four non-consecutive years of shrinkage, plus many years of living, I’d be immune. That this weakness for suffering at the hands of yet another dark prince was finally vanquished. It seems not.
At least this time I’m safe from harm. Even though the third season is starting up on Sunday, there are only four episodes to enjoy (if I can persuade Bill not to spoil them with sotto voce mumblings of protest). Moreover, knowing my new love is just a fantasy figure created by an extremely gifted actor and there’s no real man out there who looks and talks and thinks like him does rather put pins in my balloon.
Especially as I’ve also discovered, since that idiot discussion with Bill, that the Cumberbatch hair is naturally red, which is not my thing at all. It was colored dark for Sherlock, which means Sherlock’s hair is definitely his own hair.
What I take away from all this is that you lose some, you win some. All the same, I can’t wait for next Sunday. 10 o’clock, right after Downton Abbey. I’ll be there!