Monday, July 25, 2005

The game is afoot!

I watched the BBC production Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking last night on the ABC. Reviews that I had read beforehand had described as on the whole as rather silly and entertaining, but rather annoying for anyone who knows anything about 'the Great Detective'. Which is all absolutely true.

I am a Sherlock Holmes fan from way way back: I read my first story in about grade 7, bought my first collection of stories in grade 8, and the first (of many) of the complete works by the end of the year (in Edmonton actually, of all places). So yes, I found quite a lot of the movie last night extremely annoying. Case in point: while it is true that Conan Doyle gave Holmes a cocaine and morphine habit in the books, a habit that has been used by many writers since in various pastiches (most notably in The Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, who also happened to apparently write some Star Trek movies), it was never an enormous feature. This film however has as one of its opening scenes the image of Holmes injecting himself and lying back in a drugged-out stupor, an image that is repeated on several other occasions in a two hour film. From what I remember of the books, Holmes would only 'indulge' when he didn't have a case, which means that it is a blatant mistake to show him with his seven per cent solution in the middle of a case.

Yes, I'm picky. Anything wrong with that? :)

I also had a huge problem with Watson's fiance. Watson meets his wife in The Sign of Four, and depending on which Holmes-scholar you listen to, married once (or even twice) again after Mary Morstan died. There was certainly however never any mention of the American psychoanalyst who appears in this production. A completely unbelievable character who is placed in unbelievable and ridiculous scenes, such as when she regails Holmes with a list of sexual perversions. Edwardian England I think not. Basically the woman just pissed me off, particularly in the ridiculous hat she wore for her wedding.

The biggest problem I had with the film however was the story itself. There is a concept in detection fiction of 'Fair Play', as first codified by Father Knox in 1929. Essentially it means "that a mystery or detective story should in principle be solvable by the reader. Most importantly, this means that the clues the detective finds must not be withheld from the reader, and there must be no supernatural explanations." (from The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery, by Bruce F. Murphy) Even the famous and highly exclusive Detection Club enshrined the idea of Fair Play in their membership oath. And as Father Knox clearly stated in his rules, no sudden appearance of twins or doubles. But what happens in The Case of the Silk Stocking? The footman just happens to have a twin. Who is as evil as he is. And who both have the same strange foot fetish.

It was at this point, when the evil twin first appeared, that this entire film lost me. What had been a rather enjoyable, if extremely silly, few hours of tv had become just plain stupid. Damn identical twins. Damn stupid script writer, who despite writing the wonderful Hounds of the Baskervilles adaptation, couldn't come up with a decent and plausible storyline for his own ideas.

There were other things to pick on as well: the implausible (for the time and genre) storyline about sexual perversion; the 'incident room' set-up in the police station; the beating dished out by Lestrade to gather information; a too-young (in my mind anyway) Mrs Hudson.

But it wasn't all bad, and there were some redeeming features. Enormous swathes of dialogue were seemingly lifted at random from the original text and inserted into the screenplay at opportune times: the result should have seemed clunky, but I thought it worked quite well. It certainly gave true Holmes fans something to smile about when they heard something familiar.

Rupert Everett, who also shouldn't have worked in the role of Sherlock Holmes ("He's too gay!" someone said to me at breakfast) both looked and acted the part well. He's certainly the closest I've ever seen to my mental image of Holmes, which is based mostly on Sydney Paget's definitive illustrations. Ian Hart as Watson was also good, albeit a bit intelligent for the part - it is Watson, not Holmes, after all who discovers the vital clue of where the girls are being hidden. Not faithful to the 'Canon' at all!

So basically this is a very long-winded review of a film that was enjoyable, but seriously seriously flawed. But I can't imagine anyone reading this actually watched the thing as well, so this has basically been for my enjoyment and benefit. Well done if you made it this far!

1 comment:

r. bastiat said...

I stumbled across your post on an unrelated Google search for "game is afoot" and then made it a point to watch this production on a rerun. I couldn't agree more -- "just plain stupid" sums it up, and it was regrettably unfaithful to the canon. So thanks for this -- good insights and well stated, and nicely confirms my own judgment.