Good old Watson [LAST]

I had an entirely different title in mind for this post until I saw the film and realised that this was the first time I had seen a decent portrayal of myself on the silver screen. Although David Burke and Edward Hardwicke had done a good job in the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, in films nothing had been done to replace the bumbling Nigel Bruce Watson alongside Basil Rathbone’s almost definitive Holmes.

Here, in the “Sherlock Holmes” film, we at last have in Jude Law a Watson that is quite faithful to The Canon complete with my nagging war wound and a Mary Morstan almost as pretty as the real thing.

Robert Downey Jr. is a somewhat quirky Holmes and as Alistair Duncan has pointed out they have replaced his use of narcotics with alcohol. Although Holmes enjoys a drink, he never drinks to excess as the effect of alcohol would deaden his senses. Whatever you and I think of his use of cocaine and opium the effects of these drugs are entirely different.

The problem with Holmes is that he is to many people a cold fish (as in the scene in the film in the restaurant with Mary and I) and any accurate portrayal would satisfy only a true Holmesian. Much in the same way that Holmes accuses me of glamourising his cold, calculating approach, Downey makes Holmes accessible and understandable and maybe a little more fallible that Holmes would like.

Irene Adler [SCAN] is often used as a device in the portrayal of Holmes to give him human frailties. In this film Irene is under the influence of Moriarty [FINA] who we never see – presumbly as Brad Pitt had better things to do! If there is a sequel Professor Moriarty may return. What happened to the alluring shots of Irene Adler that appeared in some of the trailers I do not know.

Lestrade, as usual, came in for one of Holmes jibes when Lestrade conjectured that in another life Holmes could have made a great criminal and Holmes retorted that Lestrade could have been a great policeman.

Mrs Hudson appeared but briefly and there is therefore little to say.

The only other character from the Canon was McMurdo [SIGN] the one-time prizefighter who was porter to Bartholomew Sholto at Pondicherry Lodge and therefore also known to Mary Morstan. It was in The Sign of Four that I first met Mary.

There was another “character” whom the film’s writers chose to include and that was Gladstone the bulldog presumably an oblique reference to the “bull pup” I mentioned in A Study In Scarlet when I first met Holmes.

Also, the film’s depiction of the mess that Holmes’ untidy habits engendered at 221B Baker Street was all too accurate!

With all this in mind I would raise Alistair Duncan’s scoring a notch or two. What was from the Canon was reasonably accurate and the film’s evocation of Victorian London was superb. The film was great fun and Downey appeared to be enjoying his role – a bit like someone trying on a new pair of shoes for the first time. It may take a while for him to walk comfortably in the footsteps of The Great Detective.

On other small but interesting point. A lot of young people were in the audience when I saw the film and that means that maybe a few people are becoming aware of Holmes for the first time.

So hang on. This promises to be a great ride if the makers of this film have the courage to continue from this stirring start.


3 Responses

  1. Becky says:

    The movie didn’t completely suppress Holmes’s drug use. Just toned it down, I suppose, for a younger audience. But he’s obviously smoking something that isn’t just a pipe in his study, and then there’s the comment about his taking a substance used in eye surgery (e.g., cocaine).

  2. Faith Wallis says:

    Wow! I’m glad you liked the movie. As I told my husband, “I may not feel entirely comfortable with RDJ as Holmes, but my god, that is the first time I’ve seen Watson done PROPERLY on screen. I can actually believe that this guy was a doctor, competent, and maybe even a bit of a lady’s man.”

    I find Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of you to be disrespectful. You don’t strike me as dumb in the stories. I don’t think Mr. Holmes would have been friends with you if you were dumb. I did like Mr. Hardwicke and Mr. Burke’s portrayals because they showed competence and a real partner for Mr. Holmes.

    • The Good Doctor says:

      Many thanks, my dear lady.

      Nigel Bruce had a particular part to play to help relieve some of the darkness that occasioanlly surrounds some portrayals of Holmes so I do not begrudge him his place in the history of Holmes in the cinema. Hardwicke and Burke did a much better job on television and Michael Williams on radio.

      As I think you will understand, in my attempts to chronicle the exploits of the Great Detective I have often neglected or played down my role and have thus given filmakers little material to play with so perhaps I am ultimately to blame.

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