For reasons too weird to get into here, I was reminded of my 2012 fixation with the Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law/Guy Ritchie Holmes fest that was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows last night. Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Sherlock Holmes in any incarnation, and the Guy Ritchie reimagining was no exception. So, I offer a little throwback to 2012, in the form of a few quotations from the article I had published in the English and Media Centre’s Media Magazine about the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes (with a particular focus on the Ritchie interpretation), and a fanvid I made for Game of Shadows, which decidedly plays up the homoerotic subtext of that interpretation.
Extract from A Match Made in Heaven: Onscreen Representations of Sherlock Holmes. (Media Magazine, December 2013, Fay Jessop.)
Fast forward to the twenty first century and over the past year there have been two major screen adaptations. The first of these was Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. This rollicking take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mythology brings the story up to date with several (literal) bangs. From the moment the film starts, we are plunged into the seedy underworld of Victorian London, and introduced to a hero who is both brilliant and rather unbalanced.
Downey’s swashbuckling, scruffy, neurotic take on the great detective mixes the traits that Conan Doyle wrote of with a dash of directorial license. We see Holmes taking part in a bare knuckle fight, for instance, when there was no real evidence for Holmes’ participation in the original stories, but Ritchie pulls examples from Holmesian canon with just as much agility. The violin playing, sometime drug taking supersleuth is still very much recognizable in this version.
Plotwise, there are similarities between this and Young Sherlock Holmes. The presence of a mysterious cult whose leader is sacrificing young women, the use of supposedly supernatural devices to create murder and mayhem, all seem rather familiar. This could merely be both directors paying homage to Conan Doyle’s beliefs in spiritualism, but it is tempting to consider the possibility that Ritchie was a fan of the eighties film.
Ritchie’s interpretation of the source material is more Lock Stock than Baker Street at times, but this does make for entertainment. The trademark camera angles and sequences play well in this film. Rather than have Holmes explaining his reasoning straight to camera, the director chooses to illustrate Holmes’ lightning fast thought processes through the lens of the camera. Take, for example, the opening setup, when Holmes, by way of a voiceover, talks through his attack strategy step by step while the sequence plays out at walking pace. Immediately after this, the sequence is played through again at lightning speed, to demonstrate the marriage of intellect and fighting prowess.
If the narrative of Ritchie’s film takes some liberties with the source material, the one area where Ritchie remains faithful, and affectionate, is the pairing of Holmes with Watson. Unlike so many earlier adaptations, Jude Law’s Watson is no buffoon; he is a loyal, intelligent companion to Holmes, who can certainly hold his own in any situation. This Watson even goes so far as to punch his dear friend on the nose after Holmes causes great upset during a dinner with Watson’s fiancé Mary Moreston. While Conan Doyle was sometimes flippant in the way he portrayed the good doctor, he never wrote Watson as a fool, and this is reflected strongly in the way the two interact on screen. These are two men who are equals; who compliment one another, complete one another.
The suggestion of homoeroticism runs through this version, as well. Holmes reacts to Mary Moreston like a love rival, exuding calculated bitchiness at the dinner table. Grabbing Watson’s walking cane under the dinner table, he unsheathes the sword within, demonstrating a possessiveness over his friend in the face of the competition. He then goes on to demolish Mary by making correct, yet pointed observations about her life, her career and her former romantic encounters. Watson is not amused, and remonstrates with Holmes, eventually leaving the table to pursue his fiancé…
Vid production notes, June 16 2012
*Spoilers for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows*
I’ve been experimenting a lot lately in my vids with lots and lots of effects, chroma keying, light, darkness etc, but for this one I just wanted to slow things back down a bit. I set myself the challenge to keep it very simple — no keyframes, no visual effects, the bare minimum of transitions etc. For this one I just wanted to rely on the footage and the music to tell the story. Guy Ritchie, for all of his insistence on fast cuts, guns, bangs and boys own humour, is remarkably adept at letting his actors tell the story with their facial expressions and body language. When you throw Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law into the mix, what you get is a lot of beautiful sequences of hands, eyes and expressions.
The story itself is pretty simple, too; Holmes loves Watson and is suffering terrible jealousy of everything and everyone surrounding the man he loves. He also doesn’t really know how to handle what he’s feeling (quelle surprise!).
What I really wanted to focus on was the eyes; for such a fast paced film, RDJ has so many moments where he’s either closing his eyes or doing something expressive with them, and, of course, there’s that beautiful scene at the end of the film where Holmes and Moriarty are falling; an element of peace in a chaotic mise en scene. That scene is what gave me the idea for the whole vid, and is what underpins the concept.
I’ve been waiting to use Will Young’s fabulous song Jealousy as a soundtrack for a while; but until now I couldn’t find a text to fit it. I’m surprised it hasn’t already been done for GoS. Will’s gentle, haunting but passionate vocals fit my ideas of Holmes’ range of emotions regarding Watson in this interpretation of their relationship, and the rise and fall of the song works well with the footage.
Of course, this vid has a slash theme; some might argue that Ritchie’s entire film makes homoeroticism a theme, rather than a subtext. I’m a fan of all interpretations of the Holmes canon, and in this case, I buy into the love affair fully. I think the vid reflects that!
And I’ll leave you with this gif, which shows that at least one of the RDJ/JL partnership was aware of the romantic subtext ;).