Thursday, May 21, 2009

By the pricking of my thumbs

Something rather nasty this way comes. I do know that the real word there is “wicked” but I think that is too big a concept for this rather shabby piece of filming.

Christmas 2009 will see the release of Guy Ritchie’s version of Sherlock Holmes, which will almost certainly be another remake of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” though in Victorian costume. That is what it looks like from the trailer and I am not likely to see any more than that. (Warning: some of the comments are truly dumb.)

Sherlock Holmes will be played by Robert Downey Jr and Dr Watson by Jude Law. I suppose there might be two actors less appropriate for their parts but, off-hand, I can’t think of any.

In the past I have amused myself with inappropriate but entirely possible casting in films. For instance, I cannot understand why somebody has not thought of a version of Macbeth with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Even so, it would not have occurred to me to produce a cast of this silliness, though I suppose Robert Downey Jnr has had drug problems in the past. Of course, Holmes kept his habit under control but that is a mere detail. This will be, presumably, Downey’s attempt to make it back to stardom and as he will have to run around, shoot and fight rather than do any real acting he might be able to manage it.

But Jude Law! Can he really step into the shoes of Nigel Stock, David Burke and Michael Williams? Altogether a film to miss but an infuriating loss of opportunity except that with Guy Ritchie directing that opportunity was not really there.

The obsession with Sherlock Holmes, particularly on the other side of the Pond is rather curious – it seems to combine nostalgia for a period of greater certainties with a desire to “improve” a literary classic. Tuesday’s trip to a charity bookshop (presents for someone else, honest) meant that I acquired for myself a copy of a curious novel by Caleb Carr, author of “The Alienist”, a novel about late nineteenth century New York with a psychiatrist as a hero. (These themes are becoming all the rage.)

Mr Carr has more recently decided to write a new Sherlock Holmes adventure, which is, naturally enough for our times, a full-length novel. There have been many new Holmes adventures written by other people; far from becoming obsolete the genre has acquired a new life in the last decade. All these people prove is what a good writer Conan Doyle was with his tight plotting and taut logical developments. That is why most readers miss the faults in reasoning at first reading but go back again and again even when they have realized that Holmes’s intellectual fireworks are not quite what they seem.

Lengthy dialogues, lose plotting, more action that is necessary make one see the problems immediately with plots, writing and, above all, Holmes’s personality. Would the man have really spluttered with hysterical anger over the murder of David Rizzio and the supposed wrongs done to Mary, Queen of Scots as he does in “The Italian Secretary”? I think not.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not an American tourist in Scotland but a man of Scottish blood himself. He would have had a shrewd idea about all those myths and legends.

Would Holmes really expound on ghosts and their existence? Unlikely, even though Conan Doyle himself believed in spiritual manifestation. Would Holmes put his cigarette out in a dish of butter when Dr Watson is having breakfast? Certainly not.

Another point about the Sherlock Holmes adventures is that they tend to be part of ordinary life not events that involve shoot-outs in various parts of the country, attempts at the Queen’s life, large numbers of intelligence officers escorting the two heroes and so, exhaustingly, on.

There have, needless to say, been some dire updates of the stories before. Once I managed to see a truly execrable film that updated Sherlock Holmes to the New York of 1940s, with Roger Moore as the detective and Patrick Macnee (of Avengers fame) as Dr Watson, played in the outdated Nigel Bruce mode of a complete idiot. Looking at the IMDB link I note that it had quite a good cast.

It did have one very good line. When Holmes explains why the villain (possibly Moriarty) wants to break into Fort Knox, that being the necessary prerequisite to take over the world, Watson says in the strange hoarse tones employed by Mr Macnee: “But Holmes, why does he want to rule the world?” A very good question.


  1. "A blog about politics and other things"Ah, now I understand the title of this blog a bit better. Who is today's Moriarty and are there Holmes and Watsons to whom we can defer? I'm not sure about the Moriarty, although there are several possible contenders, but Holmes and Watson? North or Szamuely for Holmes maybe, but I don't have any suggestions for Watson?

  2. Sadly, I do not possess a service revolver, much less know how to use one. Otherwise I'd volunteer for the Watson role. Actually, nobody deferred to either Holmes or Watson. I suggest a re-reading of the canon. :D

  3. Doyle would not have Holmes believing in ghosts because he had finished with Holmes stories well before he became a believer in supernatural manifestation himself. For one.

    Writing novels "in the manner" of a famous writer is an itch that should never be scratched. I came to this thought when hapen to read some novel by Agatha Christie and realized too late that it's not her novel at all, but a compilation by somebody else using a few notes in her draft books. Was it "Black Coffee"? Don't remember.