Who is the sinister looking man in Sherlock?

Which man is that?

The one we saw watching the action replay of Sherlock rescuing John from the bonfire at the end of episode 1.

He also appears in the trailer for the series finale and seems to be the main adversary.


Isn’t that the guy from Borgen?

Yep, he’s actor Lars Mikkelsen who played Birgitte’s economic advisor in series 3 of Borgen. He was also the politician/suspect/possible love interest Troels Hartmann in first series of the Killing.

Oh and his brother is Casino Royal, Hannibal and a Royal Affair star Mads Mikkelsen.

So who is he playing in Sherlock?

Charles Augustus Magnussen

What do we know about this character?

He appears to be based on Charles Augustus Milverton the titular villain of the the Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’ – a short story that features in ‘the Return of Sherlock Holmes.’

Milverton is blackmailing a young woman with several ‘imprudent’ letters she wrote to a former lover. Unless she pays up Milverton will send them to her fiancé who will almost certainly break off their engagement.

She comes to Holmes and Watson for help recovering those letters. They first try and seize them from Milverton at Baker Street. When that fails, Holmes begins planning to steal the letters from Milverton’s house and goes undercover. He gets himself engaged to Milverton’s housemaid. He uses this ‘relationship’ to learn about Milverton’s safe and persuades her to chain up his guard dog. Holmes and Watson then break into Milverton’s house. However, rather than finding the house empty, they stumble across Milverton apparently meeting with a servant willing to sell him more incriminating letters. But Milverton has fallen into a trap – the servant is actually another of Milverton’s aristocratic victims. She takes her revenge by gunning down Milverton as a hidden Holmes and Watson watch. They flee having destroyed the contents of Milverton’s safe.

A blackmailer who features in a single story doesn’t sound like a fitting replacement for Moriarty

Well remember Moriarty himself only features in two of Conan Doyle’s stories. And trust me he’s a properly menacing character.

One of the joys of Conan Doyle’s work is that he makes his criminals proper multi-dimensional characters who seldom do things ‘for the evulz.’ That makes Milverton stand out. He’s the only one of Holmes adversaries who matches Moriarty’s malevolence. Holmes calls him the “king of all blackmailers” and “the worst man in London.”

Holmes of course has a remarkable ability to make deductions about people. There’s a real sense that when applies that talent to Milverton, he’s frightened by what he finds:

Do you feel a creeping, shrinking sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked, flattened faces? Well, that’s how Milverton impresses me. I’ve had to do with fifty murderers in my career, but the worst of them never gave me the repulsion which I have for this fellow.


Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton. With a smiling face and a heart of marble he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry. The fellow is a genius in his way, and would have made his mark in some more savoury trade. His method is as follows: He allows it to be known that he is prepared to pay very high sums for letters which compromise people of wealth or position. He receives these wares not only from treacherous valets or maids, but frequently from genteel ruffians who have gained the confidence and affection of trusting women. He deals with no niggard hand. I happen to know that he paid seven hundred pounds to a footman for a note two lines in length, and that the ruin of a noble family was the result. Everything which is in the market goes to Milverton, and there are hundreds in this great city who turn white at his name. No one knows where his grip may fall, for he is far too rich and far too cunning to work from hand to mouth. He will hold a card back for years in order to play it at the moment when the stake is best worth winning. I have said that he is the worst man in London, and I would ask you how could one compare the ruffian who in hot blood bludgeons his mate with this man, who methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags?

Part of what makes Milverton such a compelling villain is that his ruthless amorality tests Holmes’ own ethical limits. He commits burglary, manipulates and breaks the heart of a young woman, and ultimately winds up condoning murder. When Lestrade comes to Holmes asking for his help solving Milverton’s murder – a puzzle to which Holmes already has the solution – he sends him away saying “my sympathies are with the criminals and not the victim.”

So what does it mean that he’s in the final episode of Sherlock?

Well there’s a theory that the two previous heartwarming episodes, herald a tragedy in the season finale. If Milverton/Magnusson is behind it well then….be afraid, be very afraid.


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