When my wife gets in those moods, I’ve learned to shut my mouth and go along.
Every once in a while she likes to kick the dust off of me, get me out of the house, and do something spontaneous—the kryptonite bane of my home-body existence.
“Let’s go to a late-night showing of Sherlock Holmes on Christmas day.”
My reaction to the promos and commercials to this latest incarnation of the immortal Arthur Conan Doyle detective was one of skeptical curiosity. Although Robert Downey, Jr. has the sharpness and wit that may have lent him to a good rendition of the beloved Londonian sleuth, Holmes’ satanic antagonist in the new movie—“Lord Blackwood” (played by Mark Strong)—looks more like the original illustrations rendered for the Strand Magazine by Sidney Paget.
When it comes to “looks” and even “on-screen prowess” it’s hard to ever touch the great Basil Rathbone. Rathbone played Holmes in the late 30’s and early 40’s as well as the wily and treacherous villain in classic movies like The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power and The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, finding his end at the point of a sword (or a sword and a fall, in Robin Hood). Ironically, Rathbone was a consummate fencing artist and almost certainly the best swordsman in major film for his time.1
Unfortunately, for Holmesian enthusiasts like myself2, the series of films that ran from 1939 to 1946 was 5% Conan Doyle and 95% old-school Hollywood formula film; campy and somewhat entertaining but on the whole, mostly forgettable. The damage done to Doyle’s lead character foil—Dr. John Watson—by Nigel Bruce was almost incalculable.
For generations, “Dr. Watson” was synonymous with “bumbling comic foolishness” when Conan Doyle’s intent was an intelligent, compassionate-yet-introspective, physician hardened by combat with the Royal Army in Afghanistan. For me, I always saw Watson as an amalgam of Sir Arthur’s typical 19th century target reader and himself.
Holmes fans would have to wait until 1984 to see their crime-solving hero come to life in a way loyal to the British author/physician when Granada Television brought The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to U.K. TV and, later, audiences everywhere via rebroadcasts, video tape and, eventually, DVD.
I, personally, enjoyed this series thoroughly. Although there were moments in some of the episodes (like “The Solitary Cyclist”) that the acting approached theatrical. The “fight scene” was choreographed more for a play than for television.
It is an amazing contrast to the fight scenes in Sherlock Holmes (2009). I read one critic that felt that the slow-motion clinical breakdown was “over-done”, but that it was the perfect mix between Matrix-style action and Holmesian deductive reasoning.
There is a fascinating link between the Granada series and the 2009 film:
The role of the servant Joe Barnes who impersonates Lady Beatrice in the 1991 episode The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place was played by … Jude Law.3
Jude Law is the 2009 movie’s “Dr. John Watson” and he has done to the character of Watson what Heath Ledger did to Batman’s arch nemesis “The Joker”—forever redefined it.
Not only is Law the perfect physical Watson, but his portrayal (and the fantastic script) breathe life into the Holmes/Watson friendship that makes it more real than it has ever been on screen. Certainly Downey’s “Holmes” can be given equal credit for this feat.
As well done as the Granada series was, it portrayed Holmes as the brilliant machine-like intellect in need of almost nothing save to see his exploits chronicled by his wall-flower, sometime room-mate.
But Holmes (2009) portrays Watson as the mature older brother who keeps Holmes going. Without him, Holmes is almost entirely dysfunctional. With him, Holmes is free to focus his brilliant intellect on whatever problem is before him.
The Holmes/Watson relationship has been a cultural minefield since the decadent degradation of gender relationships starting in the 60s. It is entirely possible that the oddity of Holmes and the closeness of the two men in Conan Doyle’s original stories may have meant to imply a “crossing over” of sorts but it’s not likely. If anything, Sir Arthur described Holmes as “asexual” and there’s no hint that Watson’s very monumental marriage in both Strand stories and the 2009 movie is some tortured attempt for him to “finally go straight”.
Conan Doyle, himself, was married with two children when his first wife died of tuberculosis. He was married again and fathered three more children.(4) I dare say the chances of that lifestyle having been a façade are very slim.
When you combine this with the high probability that Dr. John Watson was very much a shadow of Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, the Holmes/Watson friendship being a close platonic bond is assured.
Certainly, ignoring all of this for the usual hard-Left Hollywood agenda of destroying the traditional family in specific and America as a nation in general was what I fully expected and I was wonderfully surprised at the result. But that didn’t stop the reprobates in the media from pushing a homosexual twist even when it wasn’t warranted like this “review” by CNN (in Iraq, we called it “the Caliphate News Network”); “Jude Law ‘in love’ with ‘Sherlock Holmes’ co-star Robert Downey Jr.” That was the spin that CNN put on Director Guy Ritchie’s efforts to foster on-screen chemistry between Law and Downey by making them spend copious amounts of time together off-screen. CNN homosexual shilling aside, it was a remarkable success.
Throughout the movie, Holmes tries (sometimes quite humorously) to slow or even sabotage Watson’s upcoming marriage because he can’t bear to see his friend leave their apartment/offices at 221B Baker and have a woman come between them. At one point he pays a street fortune-teller to scare Watson out of a terrible future with his wife. Aside from evoking a chuckle, the “script” Holmes gave the soothsayer describes the relationship in a clear, emotional fashion that I found touching.
This also discloses Watson to be human as well, suffering from an addiction to gambling. In light of his role as Holmes’ “keeper”, this adds depth and complexity to the characters.
Over-all, the two come across as wonderfully likeable college frat-mates and you find yourself rooting for Holmes to successfully put off Watson’s marriage.
Except that, instead of finding Watson’s betrothed to be an annoying nuisance, Miss Mary Morstan’s very limited time onscreen (played by Kelly Reilly) shows her to be deep and iconoclastic. After Watson almost dies in an explosion while working with Holmes, she very keenly sees through a legendary Holmesian disguise while he goes to check on his recuperating friend and tells the super-sleuth that, rather than feel tortured recrimination at his friend’s plight Watson would’ve emphasized his freewill choice and would have encouraged Holmes to soldier on in their investigation. Very pleasantly well done.
It is an investigation that brings up another Conan Doyle facet of who Sherlock Holmes is—drug use—again brilliantly negotiated by the makers of this film.
In Conan Doyle’s original Strand adventures, we read of Holmes’ brilliant mind coping with the inactivity of being between cases by the use of opium. This is only hinted at in the film and other drug use by Holmes is done in an academic effort to trace the path of our seemingly paranormal-powered villain (this, too, was loyal to Sir Arthur’s writings).
Some of the sexual innuendo was a bit much but, after viewing some of the movie promos it was apparent that Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler was meant to be even more the sex object were it not for some very well-deserved and skillful editing (quite thankfully).
And what of the very spiritual nature of the plot? Overall, I think it was tastefully done. After being set up with a seemingly unavoidable but reality-stretching conclusion—that “Lord Blackwood” had supernatural powers that even allowed him to come back from the dead—a much more Earthly conclusion was arrived at in the film’s climax. I appreciated that on several levels. The Sherlock Holmes franchise is built upon logic and reason and should always come “home” in the end.
Even more impressive to me was the Biblical tie-in, perhaps a respectful nod to a more Faith-centered time in English history. Now the religion that dominates the United Kingdom is one that cuts off heads and makes bombs to slaughter innocents who don’t submit to the will of “Allah”.
So Downey committed a Christian insider faux pas by calling the Book of Revelation “Revelations” but only a handful of well-read Christians know that it is a single Revelation given to the Son by the Father and subsequently to John by the Son. The fact that Revelation 1:18 was quoted sinisterly by “Lord Blackwood”—”I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore…”—wasn’t nearly as impressive as the use of Four Eternal Faces of Christ; the ox, the man, the lion and the eagle. These are the four faces of the cherubs that surround the Throne and the reason why we have 4 Gospels. They tell the story of Christ from four different perspectives; Messiah as servant (Mark), Messiah as man (Luke), Messiah as fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Matthew) and Messiah as God (John).
Equally impressive was the use of Egypt and the Sphinx symbolizing a spiritual inter-dimensional porthole. For more on this, read my study here.
I was going to round it all out by mentioning Watson’s poor bulldog “Gladstone” but wanted to research a bit before adding him (my wife loved him).
I didn’t think there was really any basis in Sir Arthur’s writings for him but it’s been a while and I can’t remember the details of each story.
According to Wikipedia (a source I approach with copious amounts of skepticism), not only did Gladstone have a basis in Conan Doyle’s writing, but so did many other aspects of the movie that I thought were just “artistic license”:
Among other references to the earlier stories, Holmes retains the portrait of Irene Adler acquired for his services in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The “V.R.” design that Holmes shoots into the wall at Baker Street is mentioned in “The Musgrave Ritual,” in which Watson reports that Holmes used a pistol to adorn the wall “with a patriotic V.R. [for Victoria Regina] done in bullet-pocks.” The bulldog that appears throughout the movie is first referenced in A Study in Scarlet, in which Watson says “I keep a bull pup.” The dog’s name, Gladstone, is taken from an episode of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Although the dog is never mentioned again in the original stories, its treatment in the film recalls the speculations of commentators (as summarized by Baring-Gould) that “the pup was a victim of one of Holmes’s chemical experiments…[or] the dog, unable to stand the Baker Street menage, deserted.”
A number of the film’s details recall “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone.” The first is the name of the primary antagonist, Lord Blackwood, which parallels that of “Mazarin Stone” villain Count Negretto Sylvius (Negretto is Italian for black and Sylvius is Latin for woods). (As Holmes scholar W. W. Roberts notes, this is “presumably a private joke at the expense of Blackwood’s Magazine, long and unavailingly courted by [Conan Doyle] in the 1880s.”) Another common detail is the Crown Diamond, an alternate name for the Mazarin Stone, which hangs around Irene Adler’s neck in the film. “The Mazarin Stone” is also the first story to mention that the 221B Baker Street apartment had multiple exits and a waiting room. The extra exit, which was through the bedroom, is employed by Sherlock to follow Irene early in the film. 4
Given that this isn’t the usual slanderous, lie-filled posting on my favorite Right-wing political figure, I’ll trust Wikipedia on this and be impressed that much more with the makers of Sherlock Holmes (2009). If there’s anything I like more than detail-oriented accuracy it’s passionate loyalty to an original author.
The only reason the replay is an “8.5” is because “mysteries” loose a little edge when you know how they are going to turn out. Other than that, this is both a “keeper” and will be frequently revisiting my DVD player.
- Both The Mark of Zorro and The Adventures of Robin Hood are Cirucci family favorites and a must have for your entertainment library (which is why my links to those movies take you to Amazon). The colorized version of The Mark of Zorro that I’ve linked to make an awesome film even better. Some get nostalgic about black and white film but I like the realism of color. It makes the “willing suspension of disbelief” easier.
- Many years ago, I bought a hardback compellation of Conan Doyle’s original Strand Magazine submissions complete with original illustrations by Sidney Paget. It is a powerful testimony to Sir Arthur’s talent that he could reach across time, cultures, generations and the Atlantic Ocean and get me to read all 636 pages more than once. Only J.R.R. Tolkien has done the same to me.
- Sherlock Holmes (1984 TV Series), Wikipedia.org
- Sherlock Holmes (2009 film), Wikipedia.org