Friday, April 27, 2012

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009)

As the movie opens, we meet Dr Watson and Inspector Lestrade racing in a horse-driven carriage to an unknown destination. A medium-sized man (Robert Downey Jr) is also in a hurry as he quickly dispatches some unnamed hoodlums and prevents the villain Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) from making a sacrifice of a young woman. Thus begins our introduction to Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s renowned fictional detective.

Jude Law and Kelly Reilly as Dr John Watson and Mary Morstan in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Jude Law and Kelly Reilly as Dr Watson and Mary Morstan
Soon, Lord Blackwood is hanged for his dastardly deeds and is pronounced dead. Dr Watson is about to be engaged to Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly). Even as Holmes tries his best to thwart the impending engagement, Blackwood returns from the dead to menace England once again. Also thrown in the mix is Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), who has been employed by Professor Moriarty to manipulate Holmes into retrieving a device (the MacGuffin of this movie).

In a considerable departure from the canon, Holmes has a very personal and non-platonic relationship with Irene Adler.

Robert Downey Jr and Irene Adler as Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler share an intimate moment in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Yes, definitely not the Canonical Holmes....

As Sherlockians know, Holmes is quite distrusting of the opposite sex and his only interaction with Irene Adler is in A Scandal in Bohemia. I will not go into too many details, but suffice to say that this interaction was quite brief and decidedly impersonal.

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Moving on to the supporting cast, Jude Law gives a fine performance as Watson. He is every bit the canonical Watson, a strong-minded and decent individual, who also happens to the ally of Sherlock Holmes. Law presents a competent version of Watson along the likes of David BurkeEdward Hardwicke and Vitaly Solomin.

Eddie Marsan makes a remarkable Lestrade. Mark Strong does his best with the given material. Interestingly, Strong has the requisite physical attributes to be Sherlock Holmes.

Mark Strong and Robert Downey Jr as Lord Blackwood and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Mark Strong and Robert Downey Jr as Lord Blackwood and Sherlock Holmes

The movie is mainly focused on the bromance between the residents of 221 B and the ladies unfortunately have nothing much to do. Kelly Reilly and Rachel McAdams do perform the requisite duties of providing the necessary eye candy. Geraldine James makes a fleeing appearance in a couple of scenes as Mrs Hudson.

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Image Sources: Warner Bros. Pictures, ColliderFilmHotflick

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

TV Review: Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes – "The Master Blackmailer" (1980)

Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson in The Master Blackmailer
Holmes and Watson do a Green Hornet and Kato impression

This episode is based on The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton.

Holmes and Watson are returning to London after solving a case. The case in question is suggested as Silver Blaze.  Silver Blaze is my all-time personal favorite short story in the Canon and a reference to this story marks one of the many high points of this episode.

Holmes has received a communication from Mycroft Holmes with reference to a case. What follows is the inevitable visit to the Diogenes Club and the first appearance of Mycroft in this series. Fans will no doubt instantly recognize these scenes as belonging to the short story The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. The script writers have deftly handled the transition between the two stories.

Boris Klyuev as Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft Holmes makes his first appearance

At Mycroft’s request, Sherlock takes up the case of Lady Eva Brackwell, who is being blackmailed by Charles Augustus Milverton. Milverton has got hold of some of the letters written by Lady Eva long time ago and is threatening to spoil her upcoming engagement, by sending them to her fiancé. Sherlock arranges a meeting with Milverton at 221 B Baker Street.

The villainous Milverton is immune to Holmes’s reasoning and is hell-bent on extracting money from his prey. Holmes and Watson decide to break into Milverton’s house in order to retrieve the letters and save the lady’s honor. This entails Holmes adopting a disguise to know the layout of Milverton’s house to facilitate the break-in.

While the rest of the episode follows the canonical story closely, the reference to Professor Moriarty at the end is another masterstroke on the part of the director. In the canon, Moriarty makes his appearance only in The Valley of Fear and The Final Problem.

Boris Ryzhukhin as Charles Augustus Milverton
Boris Ryzhukhin as Charles Augustus Milverton

Vasily Livanov is one of my favorite actors to play Holmes and Vitaly Solomin is the definitive Watson. Both of them continue their stellar work in this episode as well.

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The supporting cast of this episode as top-notch as usual. Boris Klyuev is a classy Mycroft. Though a tad on the leaner side, he makes a convincing Mycroft, the superior version of Sherlock in powers of observation and deduction. Boris Ryzhukhin makes his Augustus Milverton a truly despicable character, who will stop at nothing to attain his ends.

Professor Moriarty makes his actual appearance in the next episode “The Mortal Fight”. He does communicate with Holmes by the end of this episode, indicating his displeasure at Holmes’s meddling in his affairs.

Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes
Professor Moriarty expresses his intentions to Holmes

The Russian series is not the only one to make the decision to refer to Moriarty in an earlier episode before The Final Problem. The Granada series too had Moriarty orchestrating the scam behind The Red-Headed League, before the episode of The Final Problem. 

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Image Source: Lenfilm Films Studio 

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Monday, April 9, 2012

TV Review: The Granada Adaptation of Sherlock Holmes

Jeremy Brett in The Granada Adaptation of Sherlock Holmes
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

The Granada adaptation is popular all over the world for its authentic portrayal of the Sherlock Holmes Canon.

Jeremy Brett is a good physical match for the role. Brett’s Holmes does chase the dragon and due credit has to be given to the series makers for making the decision to show Holmes as he is without any sugar-coating. Brett also maintained a 77-page file on Sherlock Holmes, detailing the mannerisms and habits of the detective. Brett’s dedication to the role is legendary and is the subject of an excellent book by David Stuart Davies.

The Granada adaptation scores a home run with Dr Watson as well. Both David Burke and Edward Hardwicke play Watson as the kind of competent doctor and ally, Sir Doyle had described in the canon. This is another proof of the series maker’s dedication and respect to the canon. Burke remains my favorite for the simple reason that he is more of the age of the canonical Dr Watson. Hardwicke is also good as Watson, but I always imagined Dr Watson as being considerably younger, especially after being spoilt by Burke and Vitaly Solomin (Russian adaptation).

Jeremy Brett and David Burke as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in the Granada Adaptation
Brett and Burke as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

Brett shares excellent on-screen chemistry with both Burke and Hardwicke.

One of my favorite characters is Mycroft Holmes, the elder brother of Sherlock. To quote Sherlock, “He is the British Government”. Mycroft is the superior to Sherlock not only in age, but in the powers of observation and deduction. Charles Gray is pitch perfect as Mycroft not only in terms of physical appearance but in his body language as well. 

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Mycroft is one of the founding members of Diogenes Club, home to some of the most unsociable and misanthropic men and even speaking is banned in certain areas inside the club. The scene in the The Greek Interpreter episode where Burke’s Watson silently walks through the Diogenes Club, observing the unsociable inhabitants is an instant classic.

Jeremy Brett and David Burke as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson at 221 B Baker Street in the Granada Adaptation
The famous lodgings at 221 B Baker Street

In addition to the Diogenes Club, the props and sets in the other episodes also are painstakingly done recreations of their Victorian-era counterparts. As an icing on the cake, few of the episodes even have the original Sidney Paget drawings shown during the end credits.

The music by Patrick Gowers is an asset to the series and complements the mood nicely.

As an avid fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, I have seen various adaptations of the world's premier fictional detective. The Granada adaptation is one of the best adaptations with its loyalty to the canonical stories, the sets and costumes.

Unfortunately, Brett suffered from bipolar disorder and this greatly affected his performance in the later seasons. Some of the scripts (especially the feature-length episodes) lacked in quality.

Still the first two seasons are a recommended watch for fans of the Sherlock Holmes Canon.

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Image Source: Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies 

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

There are few actors who have as fervent a fan following as Jeremy Brett and Sir Basil Rathbone is one of those privileged few.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were cast as the legendary duo in 14 films in the 1940s. Most of these movies were updated to reflect the times in which they were made rather than the Victorian times in which the novels were originally written. The makers wanted to make Sherlock a heroic figure during those tumultuous times faced by the Great Britain. Some of the movies, such as “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” were in fact based on real-life events.

Rathbone was actively involved in World War II and had even donned disguises as part of his duties. These experiences no doubt made Rathbone the perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. His tall and gaunt appearance and aquiline features give the impression that he just leapt right out of Sidney Paget’s drawings. Rathbone’s deep voice and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes are only the icing on the cake.

One of the often overlooked Holmesian habits in the adaptations is his addiction to drugs. The needle is mentioned very briefly at the end of the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The series makers obviously did not like the reception to this (seemingly unsavory) trait of Holmes and there is no mention of this in the next 13 movies in the series. 

The actor playing Dr Watson always gets second billing and is very vital to the success of the series. Vitaly Solomin was as much a highlight of the Russian adaptation as Vasily Livanov himself. In the same vein, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke greatly enhance the appeal of the Granada series. As for Rathbone, he is saddled with the gentleman below:

Nigel Bruce as Dr John Watson
Nigel Bruce as some old bumbling fool called John Watson

Nigel Bruce (bless his soul) makes the most comical Watson I have ever seen and this is not a compliment at all.. Sir Doyle created Watson as a competent doctor and an able ally/friend of the Bohemian detective. Dr Watson is the everyman that readers can relate to and he is our guide to the enigma that is Sherlock Holmes.

Making Dr Watson a bumbling fool is in my humble opinion, a big disservice to the genius of Arthur Conan Doyle. But to be fair to Bruce, he does share excellent on-screen chemistry with Basil Rathbone and this results in some truly memorable moments, mostly at the expense of Bruce's Watson!

Thankfully, Mary Gordon is the canonical Mrs Hudson: caring, affectionate and grudgingly tolerant of her Bohemian tenant.

Mary Gordon as Mrs Hudson
Mary Gordon as Mrs Hudson
Scotland Yard detective Lestrade is portrayed by Dennis Hoey who is even taller than Rathbone. It is an amusing sight to watch a Lestrade taller than Holmes, as Lestrade is defined as being a man of small build in the canon.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson and Dennis Hoey as Lestrade
Dennis Hoey as Lestrade with Holmes

Of the 14 movies, the only one based on the Canon is the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This is one of the best adaptations of arguably the most famous Sherlock Holmes novel. Incidentally, this was the first movie to star Rathbone and Bruce as the famous residents of 221B Baker Street. Basil is in top form as Holmes here and it is sheer pleasure to watch him leave his imprint on the role.

The supporting cast is good and does justice to their respective roles. There are some deviations from the Canon, such as Beryl Stapleton being the step-sister of John Stapleton (she is his wife in the novel) and Dr Mortimer is quite aged (he is described as being quite young in the canon). There is a séance sequence, where Mrs Mortimer acts as the medium. This scene is a nice touch and adds to the atmosphere.

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Most of the remaining movies are based on one or more of the canonical stories. “The Pearl of Death” is based on The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. “Sherlock Holmes faces death” is based on The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual. “Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear” is based on The Five Orange Pips.

Another significant fact is that there are a lot of recurring actors who portray various supporting roles in many of these 14 movies. I will not go into too many details, but suffice to say that it is quite disconcerting to watch no less than 3 different actors portray Professor Moriarty and interestingly he dies in each of these 3 incarnations!

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

The series is still a recommended watch for the sole purpose of enjoying Basil Rathbone’s superb portrayal of the world's premier fictional detective. 

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