Elementary

I’m really terrible at getting to the cinema. By the time I’ve got around to deciding I want to see a film, everyone else has already seen it, and I’m one of those people who gets really self-conscious about going to the cinema on my own. So thank the universal-driving-force-of-your-choice for Great Ormond Street Hospital’s film show.

You see, one Monday night per month, the hospital lets folk into one of its lecture theatres for a movie double bill. Obviously it’s primarily for the benefit of patients, but it’s open to the public, it’s free and I know the guy who runs it (har har). This month, the movie was Sherlock Holmes.

This was one of those films I’ve been uncertain about. When I first heard Guy Ritchie was planning a Sherlock Holmes action movie, I, like many people, groaned. I’m not a Holmes enthusiast, but I do rather enjoy the stories. I remember watching the Jeremy Brett adaptations while only small and, when I was a little older, reading the original books myself. But then I heard Ritchie’s reasoning – that Holmes is a man of action in the books, and he wanted to create his own interpretation based on the original stories rather than on previous adaptations – and I thought it sounded like a good idea. Then I saw the trailers for the film, which made it look like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (O God no) and decided it wasn’t for me. Then the bro went to see it and said that no, actually Holmes remained a cerebral character, but a man of action on top of that. And by the time I got around to going it was out of the cinema. So, long story short, I finally got the chance to see it on Monday.

And you know what? I really enjoyed it. See, as I have complained before, most of what we think of when we think “Sherlock Holmes” – the deerstalker hat, the calabash pipe, the bumbling Dr Watson – is the creation of illustrator Sidney Paget and later adaptations. Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Holmes deserves praise for daring to be so very different from the character we think we know. And yet at the same time, it’s not a character at odds with the version portrayed in the book – at least, not with the version I pictured. Downey and Ritchie seem to have interpreted Holmes as an individual somewhere on the higher-functioning end of the autistic spectrum. He’s untidy, he’s rude and petulant, he’s unable to express himself emotionally, but he’s a brilliant thinker. Basically, he’s a bit of an arsehole at times, which I feel gives him a humanity lacking from many adaptations (and indeed, many of the original stories). Plus, I think I need to kidnap the costume designer, because O God I love his outfits. Superficial, I know.

Jude Law’s Watson, in my opinion, is the closest to the original literary character that I have seen in any adaptation. In A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes story, Watson is introduced as a bit of a lad – a former soldier enjoying a life of leisure. Miles away from the fat old duffer one tends to picture when one thinks of Dr Watson. Law depicts him as the straight man to the eccentric and often intolerable Holmes, moving him out of the detective’s shadow.

Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler was perhaps a bit of a disappointment, in that to me she felt a bit too much like your standard action chick. Still, I did like the bizarre chemistry between her and Holmes.

While the story was not based directly on any single tale, there were still plenty of nerdy details for fans to get excited over. For instance, Holmes is seen trying (badly) to hide a portrait of Adler that he received in A Scandal in Bohemia, the story in which Ms Adler made her one and only appearance. The bull pup mentioned in A Study in Scarlet is here a full-grown bulldog and the unfortunate victim of Holmes’ experiments. One detail that I rather liked was Watson’s wound. In some stories, Watson claims to have been wounded in the shoulder and in others, wounded in the leg. In this film, he starts the movie walking with a limp and then gets wounded in the shoulder during the course of events. Admittedly that’s the wrong order for the books, but still. No doubt Holmes enthusiasts rather than casual fans such as myself spotted many more details that I missed.

And can we just talk about the production design? It was utterly gorgeous. I found it such a convincing portrayal of Victorian London that I actually get a sense of deja vu in a number of scenes that I was utterly convinced were filmed on real London streets. Very few actually were, although real buildings were clearly used for reference (for instance, the hospital that appears in a few scenes still stands in Waterloo, a former colleague of Yr. Humble Chronicler now works there). And Oh God but the costumes. The costumes, dear God, the costumes. I’m sorry, I… I’d better go.

In conclusion, if you haven’t seen it, it’s very worth a look.Sure, this Holmes won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re prepared to throw aside your preconceptions from other adaptations, you may find much to like in this one.

Further Reading

https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2009/06/21/yo-holmes/ – An entry pre-dating the movie by some six months in which I complain about the Holmes portrayed in adaptations.

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5 Comments

Filed under 19th century, Buildings and architecture, Crime, Current events, Film and TV, History, Literature, London, Medieval London, Notable Londoners, Occult, Politics, West End

5 responses to “Elementary

  1. Yes, I just saw it last week. The costumes …

  2. Pingback: Yo Holmes « London Particulars

  3. Jiheishou Daigakusha

    Thanks, you’ve helped me make up my mind on buying the DVD. Having said that, I believe that the TV series with Jeremy Brett is quite true to the books. Truer than most of the films, at any rate.

    • TGW

      I would certainly recommend the Jeremy Brett version as probably the truest – in fact, the Robert Downey Junior version does reference it with a few of its shots.

  4. Pingback: Go ahead, steampunk, make my day | London Particulars

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