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A little cheese and a little whine

Film Log: Sherlock Holmes

Details here.

There’s a lot to like about this film, but what I liked most was that it didn’t try to say anything about Conan Doyle’s original work. Instead, Holmes and Watson are re-imagined for a contemporary audience, with Holmes less cerebral (but still essentially a thinking detective rather than a fighting one) and slightly childlike in his neediness in his relationship with Watson; and Watson as the long-suffering friend who somehow always gets drawn back in despite everything. Watson’s fiancee Mary is a sympathetic foil for this relationship, and Holmes’ attempts to derail their engagement feel (in a good way) like something from a Victorian “Men Behaving Badly”. Only at one point does the script become self-conscious as Watson asks why he keeps following Holmes into danger when Holmes never reveals his plans. Holmes’ relationship with Irene Adler, while not making him a positively sexual character, diffuses any potential sexual tension between him and Watson.

The narrative structure is pleasantly predictable, with Holmes getting into more and more trouble until he finally sees the way forward and confronts the villain in his den, just an exciting chase away from the inevitable denoument where Holmes explains the villain’s crimes to him, followed by some flagrant sequel-baiting.

The film captures nicely the blurred line between the paranormal and what we would now see as mainstream science which was part of the spirit of the age and which (for those who enjoy fantasy as well as detective fiction) make tales of this era so appealing. The final scene both explains the apparent magic in the villain’s deeds as science (albeit Scooby Doo science) while at the same time hinting that genuine supernatural forces are at work.

The acting is thoroughly enjoyable, despite Robert Downey Junior’s somewhat unstable accent, and the script has plenty of witty moments both visually and verbally. This isn’t a film which will please Conan Doyle purists, but it’s one of the more satisfying re-imaginings of the duo on screen.

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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