Saturday, 6 February 2010


An entry I made many years ago in a notebook was a list of people, real and imagined, who personified England. One of those was Sherlock Holmes. He encapsulates many aspects of the English style, wit and temperament. He is also canonical to our idealised view of Victorian London, with its ragamuffin street-urchins, ever-present hansom cabs and villains who clearly have too much time on their hands given the complexity of their schemes.

I am a big fan of Conan Doyle's hero so I was apprehensive about Guy Ritchie's new film. Ritchie is a joke here in the UK - a mockney posh-boy whose films always disappoint. No one is quite sure how he managed to seduce (let alone marry) Madonna, but he is staple fodder for our tabloids as a consequence. I did enjoy his debut outing, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - it is a competent affair that coasted on the success of Tarantino's low-life-gangsta movies by giving us Brits a version we could call our own. Snatch was saved by Brad Pitt's genius turn as a gypsy bare-knuckle boxer but I cannot even remember the names of Ritchie's other films. That someone had decided to let the twunt* dick-about with Sherlock Holmes, therefore, was not welcome news.

The film, however, is an enjoyable romp. It's a camp, silly steampunk-bullet-time-buddy-movie interpretation of Holmes which clips along at a decent pace. The aspect I want to dissect here is the art direction. It's pretty good and harks back to the crumbling, desaturated vision of London that Ritchie presented in L,S&TSB. The garrets filled with alchemical paraphernalia and caballistic graffiti are beautiful. Industry and rivets creep in towards the end of the film with scenes in a wonderful dry dock, an automated abattoir and then on a half-built bridge (as a Londoner I am deeply confused about the location of this bridge, but I'll let that one go on grounds of artistic license). Law looks wonderful in tweeds and whoever dressed Downey, Jnr had obviously seen Sweeney Todd. The end title sequence, by Prologue is stunning. I actually saw this on the web and it inspired me to watch the movie. Check out a wonderful interview about it here.

I realised that my resistance to interpretation of Holmes was inconsistent as one of my favourite films is Young Sherlock Holmes. Ritchie's version is this one all grown-up and sexy and I recommend it to anyone looking for a low-brow jaunt.

* It's depressing that, while reading for this post, I have learned that Ritchie hails from my home town of Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Shit.