Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
When I first learned that Rupert Everett had been cast as Holmes, a cry of horror and disappointment escaped my lips. I was not the only member of opposition, for many of my fellow fans felt the same way. And while the film has won over an elite branch of non-novel-readers and dedicated fans alike, I found it overall lacking in both the acting and characterization department.
After Dr. Watson's (Ian Hart) removal from Baker Street, and subsequent engagement to an American widow (Helen McCrory), the famous London detective Sherlock Holmes faces irritability and boredom. Without any grand cases to occupy his attention, Holmes pursues the fascination of a cocaine needle. Then comes his opportunity to revive his senses and put his mind to work. The daughter of a wealthy lord goes missing not a fortnight before she is to participate in a musical performance for the king, and turns up in the river, strangled and dressed in a shoddy gown and shoes. Holmes' interest is peaked through Watson's insistence that he view the body. He locates a silk stocking stuffed down the girl's throat.
Not forty-eight hours later, the young woman's best friend goes missing. She is also a beauty, of about the same height, build, and weight. While Holmes gathers together an opinion of the crime, he faces insurmountable obstacles and a most clever thief, who is concealed beneath the unknowing protection of the very aristocracy he seeks to exploit. In that sense, it is not a bad script, all things considered. It does fail miserably on several occasions when it comes too near modernization, and many have accused it of taking a page from Dick Wolf in the crime department. There are many historical inaccuracies and distortions of the characters. For example, Holmes does not correct Watson's fiancé when she persists in calling him "Sherlock," a first name liberty that no one apart from his elder brother is allowed to get away with. He also does not inject cocaine while in the midst of a case.
One of the more eyebrow-raising moments of the production features a casual discussion about sexual perversion over brandy and cigars, a topic that would never be addressed in Victorian society, much less by a woman, who is portrayed as crass and vulgar; as most Americans are in British productions. (I might add that the attempt at an American accent is also predictably dreadful.) That being said, the conclusion is quite dramatic and unexpected, and the film does feature one of the best scenes of Holmes that I have ever witnessed -- that of an "accidental" run-in between the victim of a crime and the suspected fiend responsible. There are more abductions, more dead bodies, and further exploratory details, along with a decent disguise or two.
Brief discussion revolves around whether or not the girls have been violated; the answer is no, but Holmes predicts that the murderer has a sexual fetish and derives his pleasure from sadistic torment. A handful of bodies are found and examined; one pulled from the river, another hanging by the throat from a lamp-post in the fog, and another is exhumed from a grave. Flashbacks reveal girls having stockings shoved down their throats; one is briefly shown being strangled. Individuals are shot and wounded; a girl is threatened and nearly strangled. It is revealed that a woman has been having an affair. Holmes reads a book on sexual perversions. There are one or two mild profanities.
The truth is that not for a moment did I believe Rupert Everett was Holmes. The other characters are quite convincing, but he lacks the passion and drive that makes Conan Doyle's hero come alive. His monotone voice and complacent features work well in Wilde, but not as Holmes, however convincing his height might remain. He delivers his lines without much interest or perspective. The film might have worked better with another actor (the visible angry tension between Watson and Holmes not withstanding) but for its occasional weaker points, which manage to become laughable to fans of the original short stories. Like it or hate it, a viewing will do you no harm and I'll allow you to form your own conclusions.