Monday, January 11, 2010

Sherlock Who?

I think it’s a generational thing. ***Spoiler Alert*** for books and movie.

We walked out of the movie theater: husband and wife of a certain middle age; son and daughter, young adults. The movie? Sherlock Holmes. The reviews? Nothing short of fantastic, according to the younger set.

For us older folks, it was a perfectly fine movie. Entertaining, beautifully shot, incredible costumes, and zero relationship to the books by Arthur Conan Doyle. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law are terrific actors – but bear almost no resemblance to the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that I know.

I confess that I have special feelings about the Holmes books. It was probably the first mystery series I ever read – eagerly returning to the library to get another book as soon as I had finished the one I had in hand. Doyle taught me two things that have affected my writing. First, it never crossed my mind that an author could kill off his protagonist – but that is exactly what Doyle does in “The Final Problem.” I still love his mother’s reaction when Doyle informs her, “I think of slaying Holmes…and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” His Mom points out (and let’s hear it for Mom’s intuition), “You may do what you deem fit, but the crowds will not take this lightheartedly.” And guess what, Mom was right.

Which taught me the second important lesson – well maybe third, since learning that Moms are usually right is a point I often try to make with my own kids. But as to writing, under pressure from the public, Doyle brings Holmes back to life in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” and I discovered that an author creates and controls the fate of her characters. You may have some unhappy readers – you might even lose some of them – but as the author, it’s up to you.

But back to Sherlock Holmes, the movie. It’s been said that Holmes as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. has become an action hero, a romantic leading man. It’s not that Doyle doesn’t make reference to Holmes’ knowledge of the martial arts – but that’s not the focus of the novels. It’s his deductive powers that always resolve the mystery. Maybe having an actor who is good looking and in good physical shape made it an easy decision to have Holmes in one fight scene after another – preferably without his shirt. And the scene of nude Holmes, handcuffed to a bed and a pillow strategically covering his private parts is funny – and gratuitous.

Which leads me to Irene Adler, the romantic heroine for Mr. Holmes, played nicely by Rachel McAdams. But let’s put Irene Adler in perspective. In the Doyle books, she appears but once, in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” although she is mentioned in other stories. There’s no question that Doyle makes clear that Irene Adler is smart, a fitting intellectual foil for Holmes, but Ritchie puts the emphasis on the unfulfilled romantic longing between these two characters – and that’s a plot invention of the director’s imagination, not Doyle’s.

Maybe it doesn’t matter that Ritchie has essentially taken a well-known character and morphed him into someone that fits today’s movie standards. I don’t miss the deerstalker hat, but I do miss the concept that being smart is as valuable as being good-looking or an outstanding fighter. But maybe, a movie of watching someone think wouldn’t draw in the crowds? Instead, for me, one of my new year’s resolutions is to reread the original Sherlock Holmes books. Cheers to Mr. Ritchie for producing a pleasant afternoon's interlude. Bravo to Mr. Doyle for creating characters that have lasted for generations.

Marian aka The Northern half of Evelyn David


  1. I haven't seen the movie yet and don't know if I will. As much as I adore RDJ, the thought of seeing Sherlock Holmes naked, tied to a bed, with a pillow between his legs, makes my brain implode a little. It's like imagining your grandparents having sex - you know they did, but thinking about it makes you stuff a pillow in your mouth, just to stifle the screams.

  2. Hey, Ms. Marian! I'm loving the posts about movies lately (maybe because I haven't seen any of them!)! Seems like I always like the books better than the films made from them (with a few exceptions). But everyone talking flicks has inspired me to take a few hours away from my desk this week to see a matinee!


  3. Hmmm... sounds disappointing... I liked the old TV series with Jeremy Brett. But I guess I'm not surprised - I rarely enjoy new versions of a classic - Titanic may be the exception.


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