Sherlock Holmes

Finally, I sat myself down to watch last year’s Sherlock Holmes. It did not go over well. As a movie on its own, it was fine. As a Sherlock Holmes film however, it was not fine.

I don’t know who it was that everyone kept calling Sherlock Holmes, because it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes! Goodness, Holmes is not a buffoon. For much of the film, he was such an idiot that it seemed the writers were confusing him with Lestrade. No, that’s unkind to Lestrade. Holmes is a gentleman. Yes, he’s eccentric, but he’s still a gentleman. The only time I’d expect him to look the least bit shabby is when he’s in disguise. The ‘real’ Holmes did sometimes say things that weren’t exactly proper, but he was still a gentleman. What this movie version did when he met Watson’s fiance would have been unthinkably rude and boorish. That wasn’t Holmes.

Watson is even more a gentleman than Holmes. He would not punch Holmes in the face. The idea is ridiculous. Although they were dear friends, Holmes was at a social level Watson would never reach. He knew it and acted accordingly. But in this film, they act like compatriots in a setting were there are no differing social strata. The writers took period window dressing and wrote largely modern characters. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams all fail to show any dignity of which their characters should have an abundance.

I was going to suggest that all three of the main ‘good guy’ characters were too young, but I realized that their age isn’t my gripe. It comes back to my point about their dignity. The characters don’t act like ladies and gentlemen. They largely act like we do today, and not like ladies and gentlemen of the Victorian era. This makes them seem younger, and disappointingly common.

In the Arthur Conan Doyle Story, A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Despite this, Downey’s Holmes draws conclusions with hardly any data several times, even though he paraphrases this very quote. As an aside, A Scandal in Bohemia was the first Sherlock Holmes short story, and the first published in The Strand magazine. It was published in 1891, the year in which the film is set. It is also the only story to feature Irene Adler.

As Hollywood is wont, they made a royal mess of the established Holmes timeline. Although this isn’t entirely a surprise, it’s still disappointing.

The only solace I can find is no utterance of the phrase, “elementary, my dear Watson,” and no appearance of any deerstalker caps.

Taken in isolation, as a period fantasy with new characters, it was okay. But these were characters I know, and it utterly failed as a Sherlock Holmes story.

3 thoughts to “Sherlock Holmes”

  1. I had heard some comments upon its debut to the effect that the new movie actually stayed closer to the original concept of Holmes. While I personally don’t know too much about the original (A.C.D.) Holmes, it was said that Holmes was an heroin addict. Watson was Holmes’ doctor and basically kept him alive despite all the damage Holmes managed to do to himself. The picture we have of Holmes, (deerstalker wearing, pipe smoking, retiree… ok maybe not a retiree but older than Downey Jr.) is a fabrication of Hollywood dating back some 70 years to the first depictions.
    Some mention was made of Leslie S. Klinger author of The New Annotated Shelock Holmes.
    Hope that helps a little

  2. I had heard some comments upon its debut to the effect that the new movie actually stayed closer to the original concept of Holmes.

    I question how anyone familiar with the source material could say such a thing. I make no claim to be any sort of expert, but I’ve read the stories a number of times and the film was no where close to faithful to even the feeling of Doyle’s stories. I’d agree if you said it didn’t indulge in the Hollywood clichés made popular by Basil Rathbone’s Holmes in the 1940s, but this film still managed to stay far away from the stories. If you want to watch rather than read, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is your best bet.

    It was cocaine that Holmes used. In between cases, he’d use it to stimulate his mind. Without stimulation, he’d fall into a deep melancholy. In The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, published in 1917, Holmes said,

    To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.

    Watson never missed the chance to warn Holmes of the negative effects of his cocaine use, but from my reading, Holmes never suffered any serious health issues from it and one could hardly claim Watson was keeping him alive. When Holmes was on the trail of a mystery, Watson could tell just by looking at him. The reader must decide whether this is because of the absence of the melancholy, or the absence of the effects of the cocaine.

    It is entertaining to follow along with Watson in understanding how Holmes figures things out, but that’s not the reason I keep returning to the stories. Indeed, some of the stories are more than a little forced, with Holmes’ deductions falling on the far side of what I can believe. I keep returning for the characters and the atmosphere. The film has all the visual trappings, but the characters and atmosphere are entirely absent.

  3. Forget authentic, forget original, forget everything Holes and Watson, the movie was just damn boring. It was also too dark to enjoy any of the visual detail, and I watched it on bluray with a tv that can resolve excellent blacks.

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