Sherlock Holmes

20100404_holmesFinally, 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.

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