Monday, 2 October 2017

Sherlock Holmes - action hero?

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr as Watson and Holmes
Sherlock Holmes, as presented to the world by director Guy Ritchie in 2009, is an eminently watchable reinterpretation of the great Victorian detective. It is described as a "neo-noir, period mystery action film", which rather hits the nail on the head. The whole exercise is a vehicle for Robert Downey Jr's invention of Holmes as an eccentric, driven action hero. There is something of the Tony Stark in Downey Jr's Holmes, but you do need someone with this level of on-screen personality to carry it through, and he surely does.

This is not 'classic' Holmes; it is not Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett, by any means, but sometimes it is good to get out from under those immense shadows, as Benedict Cumberbatch has done with the recent BBC series. I'm working my way through the original stories, and to be honest, the Guy Ritchie interpretation of Holmes seems just as viable as others. Holmes was an eccentric, difficult to live with, occasionally inspired by flights of genius. That is all here in Ritchie's film.

But the backdrop against which the film's events take place is gorgeous, thanks to a whopping special effects budget. As an Englishman with a love of London, including its grittier side, Ritchie is able to bring the 1880s to life on screen, in a panoramic spectacular (e.g. the scenes on Tower Bridge at the end). As a native Londoner he avoids stereotypes, and includes accents and cultures which would have existed in Victorian London. The poverty and the bad teeth, the Irish navvies, hell, even a French dock worker, all are on display. It makes for a much more gritty and European portrayal.

At the time of filming in 2008-09, Ritchie, Downey Jr and co-star Jude Law (playing Doctor John Watson) were frequent fixtures on London's high end night life scene, happy to spend time partying with each other in the West End after the cameras stopped rolling, and that chemistry comes through in the camaraderie between the actors.

But what also makes the film so strong, from the perspective of a Call of Cthulhu gamer, perhaps, is Mark Strong's villainous Lord Henry Blackwood. Strong is one of the treasures of British cinema at the moment, and underused in the first Kingsman film, if you ask me, but in Sherlock Holmes he does a superb job as a corrupt aristocrat and occultist out to take over the Empire. Watch the first 10 minutes of this film and tell me if it isn't something straight out of a game of Call of Cthulhu? Strong's Blackwood could be a shoe-in for a CoC cult leader.

The whole exercise has a tense undercurrent verging on horror and nineteenth century mysticism that should make it compulsory viewing for any Keepers who are considering running some Gaslight adventures. Combine that with the pulp action elements and it feels very much like a typical game I might umpire.


  1. Yeah, I'm quite fond of this film and its sequel too. I shouldn't be, because a Guy Ritchie action-oriented Holmes seems like a dreadful idea on paper, but it works. It looks great, it rattles along at a decent clip, and all the actors do well; the two Holmes films got me to reconsider my opinion of Jude Law's talents for one thing.

    Yes, it may not be "Proper" Holmes, but it's still Good Holmes. As someone who holds Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian in high regard, I'm not one to be fussy about the faithfulness of an adaptation!

  2. Indeed. Decent films by Guy Richie ... on all accounts his King Arthur film is terrible... but these were great fun :)