Graham Theakston | 89 mins | TV | R
Sherlock Holmes is a character so well known in the international psyche that he is open to seemingly endless reinterpretation — a wartime spy in the Rathbone era, his younger self in a Temple of Doom remake, or cryogenically frozen to reawaken in the 22nd Century (no, really). Indeed, this year alone we can expect to see him re-imagined as both a wisecracking martial artist in a period-set action/adventure film from Guy Ritchie, and as a detective in the present day in a new TV series from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. All of which are considerably more exciting than this lame Young Sherlock effort from 2002.
Here, writer Piers Ashworth — who would go on to pen the new St Trinian’s and Goal! III (for which be sure to read the review at The Big Whatsit) — creates a kind of Holmes Begins, showing a young and unknown Sherlock break his first case against renowned criminal Professor Moriarty, gaining a bit of fame before he joins the investigation of a serial killer. Ashworth makes sure to complete the Begins format with introductions for various iconic elements, like the deerstalker (though only in the final scene), the pipe (though, only in the final scene), and even his drug addiction (though Holmes seems to have already been cured of it).
More fundamentally, however, Holmes is recast as a kind of Victorian James Bond, both in terms of his character and the plot structure. It begins with the end of the previous mission (which, GoldenEye-style, will become relevant later), before progressing through various familiar beats, like the villain helpfully explaining his plan and a climactic big shoot-out a la You Only Live Twice or The Spy Who Loved Me, except on a much, much, much smaller scale. To add to the effect, Dr Watson is revealed to be “a bit of an inventor” — a Q in the making? Even Holmes himself is not immune: young, dashing, and womanising. Yes, womanising. He even has a threesome, shot and scored like soft porn, though with a US TV-friendly complete lack of nudity. Or sex. It does feature an unintentionally hilarious striptease though.
The story itself moves at a decent lick early on, complete with some genuine detective work that even, occasionally, displays Holmes’ genius. Most of this (at least, most of it that’s actually relevant to the plot) occurs during a couple of autopsies, which choose not to stint on the gore. (Incidentally, this makes it even easier to believe it was created with US TV in mind. Nudity? Nooo. Gore and violence? Hurrah!) Unfortunately, the longer the film goes on the more it slows and begins to drag, and the mystery-solving is replaced with running around, backstory exposition, and semi-decent sword fights. The best of these is fortunately at the climax, which takes place (amusingly, like Basil the Great Mouse Detective) atop the Palace of Westminster clock tower — or, at least, a poor computer-generated version of it (also like Basil the Great Mouse Detective). To be fair, the interior is a decent-enough set… though quite how the clock faces function when no workings whatsoever are attached to them is a mystery worthy of Holmes. Sherlock was shot in Romania, so such dodgy effects work rears its head any time they wish to depict a London landmark. Thankfully this isn’t often, because every such shot is appallingly realised.
Much the same could be said of the performances. James D’Arcy initially seems miscast as Holmes, but… well, he is — it’s just that everyone else is even worse. Roger Morlidge’s Dr Watson feels like he’s being portrayed by Ricky Gervais — no, worse, like James Corden’s version of Gervais from Horne & Corden — while Vincent D’Onofrio’s accent wavers all over the place and takes his performance with it. In what amounts to a cameo as Mycroft Holmes, Richard E. Grant is dreadful too. I’ve never been much of a fan of his, but this is weak work even by his standards. About the only passable performance among the major characters comes from Nicholas Gecks as Lestrade. There’s nothing exemplary about his role, but by simply doing nothing wrong he fares better than the rest.
Sherlock probably sounds irredeemably awful, and for some it will be (Sherlock Holmes has a threesome for Chrissake!), but despite the numerous flaws it remains largely watchable and even has its moments, particularly for more forgiving non-Sherlockians.
Sherlock featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2009, which can be read in full here.