Yesterday evening Owen and I went to the filums... well we found ourselves on Oxford Street just as the rush hour was about to kick-in and we fancied a sit-down. We decided SHERLOCK HOLMES would do to chew popcorn and slurp Pepsi Max to.
I have so far managed to avoid the oeuvre of Mr. Guy Ritchie - apart from SWEPT AWAY on dvd... oh and his his video for WHAT IT FEEL'S LIKE FOR A GIRL.
I had heard it was not your run-of-the-mill Holmes film but that isn't necessarily a bad thing for me. I've never been a fan of Conan Doyle's creation - that olive-arsed, stiff upper lip, "Elementary my dear Watson" shtick is something I've always found enervating and can usually manage about 20 minutes of any Holmes film. I would hazard a guess the only proper one I have ever sat all the way through is Hammer's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and I have seen the two Sherlock Holmes vs Jack The Ripper films A STUDY IN TERROR and MURDER BY DECREE. Despite my worst fears I must admit to the fact that I was never bored by it - didn't have a clue what was going on for most of the time and most of the Ritchieisms I found jarring - but I was never bored as it moved along at a rare old clip - I suspect because if it stopped for any period of time it might just collapse in on itself.
Robert Downey's Holmes certainly breaks the mould. Scruffy, petulant and seemingly hung-over most of the time, he is a striking contrast to Jude Law's Watson - prissy, reserved and stiff-upper-lippy. The storyline involves Watson about to marry his sweetheart Mary and moving out of 221b Baker Street which results in the two men having snitty squabbles which reveal that they borrow each others clothes. This has got the Holmesians in a right old tizz along with Downey's quote that he sees Holmes as a "butch homosexual". Oh please... if you could all just get over your cheap selves. It's just another of the "let's mess with the fanbase's heads" and nothing else. Like... who would have thought a few years ago that Downey would be such a box office draw? This and the forthcoming IRON MAN 2 should consolidate that and does indeed show that F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous line about there being no second act in American lives to not always be the case. He certainly carries the film here and is rarely offscreen - he might be a bit slappable at times but he does draw the eye. Maybe a few years ago, when he was being touted as the Next Big Thing, Law would have been cast as Holmes but he is a slippery fish on screen and works better here as the 2nd male lead. How odd it is that he can hold his own on stage in a lead role but in a screen lead role he just becomes transparent. The film is stolen by the wonderfully malevolent turn by Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood, a nasty toff who indulges in Devil worship and who despite, being confirmed dead by Watson at his hanging, seemingly rises from the dead to continue his evil work. Thank God he does! He has a real screen presence and his murderous lord pervades the film with a dark mystery that you wish for more of. Kelly Reilly and Rachel McAdam play Watson's fiancee and Holmes' criminal femme fatale to absolutely zero effect. They might as well have just sent their frocks on.
However the film bubbles with eye-catching supporting performances - James Fox brings a whiff of old-school frock coat acting in his few scenes as Lord Blackwood's father, Robert Maillet makes a very big impression - well he 7' odd - as Blackwood's chief assassin, William Houston makes a good impression as Constable Clark and Bronagh Gallagher has a fun cameo as a Gypsy fortune-teller. There is another impressive screen performance too from Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade, making you wish he had some more scenes as he brings real weight to this negligible role. Philippe Rousselot's cinematography is suitably impressive. The fine production design by Sarah Greenwood presents an over-populated Victorian London which is dominated by Tower Bridge being constructed that provides the stage for the rather anti-climactic climax. However the look of the film reminded me of how FROM HELL gave a better image of London as Victorian charnel house (mental note to self: most watch that again soon). Jenny Beaven's costumes are also fine - and a particular word of praise for the excellent crowd wardrobe work by Andrew!
Hans Zimmer's score is intriguing and irritating by equal measure which also sums up Ritchie's direction. Although he keeps the traffic of his stage moving along swiftly I felt certain hallmark touches to be annoying - do we really need a totally superfluous scene showing Holmes to be Victorian London's best bare-knuckle fighter? Mind you one touch definitely caught my attention - when Holmes visits Lord Blackwood in his death cell - putting one in mind of a frock-coated Hannibal Lechter - he finds him reading aloud the passage from Revelations that Madonna used in her track THE BEAST WITHIN.
Back in the day when I worked in Flashbacks, one of my more interesting punters was Richard Lancelyn Green who was a noted scholar, author and archivist on Conan Doyle and all things Holmesian. On the way home I wondered what he would have thought of this new lease of life for the character. However we will never know as he was found dead in 2004, garotted by a shoelace and a wooden spoon. The Coroner delivered an open verdict but it was reported that he had been telling friends that he was being harassed by an unknown American after he had tried to stop the auction of Conan Doyle letters which he claimed had been meant to be bequeathed to the British Library.
If ever Sherlock Holmes was needed it was then...