* Prices may differ from that shown
Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Silk Stocking is a television film first broadcast on the BBC over Christmas in 2004. It was directed by Simon Cellan Jones and written by Alan Cubitt - who also wrote the BBC's somewhat bungled 2002 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Richard Roxburgh, who was terribly miscast as Holmes in the 2002 film, is replaced by Rupert Everett in the lead role although Ian Hart returns as Dr Watson. The updated Hound of the Baskervilles suffered from its self-consciously postmodern approach and rather loose attitude to the source material but Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Silk Stocking actually ups the ante as far prodding Conan Doyle traditionalists and waiting for a reaction is concerned. This is a completely original screenplay that has nothing to do with Conan Doyle's work (save for a few lines and references here and there) and is set in 1902. More than anything it seems to be inspired by films like SE7EN and The Silence of the Lambs (maybe a tiny splash of Hitchcock's Frenzy too) and CSI style police thrillers with their modern profiling techniques and procedures. I suppose it was a relatively brave attempt to do something slightly new but I can't say I was terribly impressed by the end result. It appears as if they were determined - perhaps with an eye to the American market - to make this less stuffy and heritage than previous Holmes films, more risque even, but it makes Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Silk Stocking too generic for its own good at times.
The film begins with the discovery of the body of a young woman washed-up by the Thames. Dr Watson (who seems to be working for the police) is present at the post-mortem and observes the victim was strangled with a silk stocking that remains knotted around her neck. The attending physician, Dr Dunwoody (Nicholas Pallise), believes that the victim is merely a street prostitute who had an unfortunate encounter with a dodgy kinky client and was dumped in the river after a sex game went wrong but Watson is not convinced by this theory. He decides to seek out his old colleague Sherlock Holmes, who is now practically retired and increasingly opium addled. Holmes is not pleased to see Watson but after a few sarcastic bon mots is eventually persuaded to look into the case and determines that a serial killer is on the loose and that the victims are from high society and not prostitutes. The game is afoot yet again. Rupert Everett is a decent shout for Sherlock Holmes on the face of it. He's tall and dark and looks as if he's just stepped out of another century. He appears much younger than most of the actors who have played the part before him too and so is more in line with the age of Conan Doyle's Holmes. However, his performance is so languid, his delivery of his lines so sedated, that he comes across as bored more than anything and doesn't supply much in the way of charisma.
Sure, this was probably partly deliberate to stress the innate boredom of the character, his weariness at being so much clever than anyone else but rarely having a challenge worthy of him, but Everett is so one-note you get bored of his Holmes in the end and yearn for a bit more spark or eccentricity from his performance. He's always an interesting presence to look at with his aqualine features but he sounds too modern. If you see Everett on a chat show or something he's just doing exactly the same voice here that he has in real life. You never really get a sense that this Holmes is a great genius either. Everett just comes across as a clever and rather smug public schoolboy rather than the world's greatest detective. He's not bad by any stretch of the imagination but it's hardly the most memorable interpretation of Holmes. Ian Hart is much better here as Watson than he was in The Hound of the Baskervilles - most notably because he radiates a bit more warmth and seems to care about Holmes more than he did in the Richard Roxborough film. I must say though that neither Everett or Hart look completely convincing in period clobber and I didn't care much for the way that Holmes is completely antagonistic to Watson at the start of the film. You wonder why Watson would even be friends or put up with this Holmes. The story is a fairly run of the mill serial killer hunt that you feel like you've already seen countless times in contemporary police thrillers and is consequently rather disappointing.
It is unavoidably rather jarring too to see Holmes in a case involving a foot fetishist and being forced to endure a lecture from (and this is a complete invention on the part of Cubitt) Watson's American feminist psychiatrist wife to be Jenny Vandeleur (Helen McCrory) on the sexual motivations of serial killers. She even gives him a book called Psychopathia Sexualis which he uses to help him in the case. Somehow you can't imagine Jeremy Brett's Holmes sitting through this lecture or needing a nudge from Watson's fiancee to help him solve a case. It makes Holmes look a bit stupid to be honest. Besides inventing an irritating fiancee for Watson, the treatment of Holmes' drug habit is also hardly faifthful to the literary character. In the books Holmes would use cocaine as a last resort when he was without a case and suffering from acute boredom. Here he not only shoots up cocaine but seems to be an opium addict. It's a wonder he can even remember his own name let alone solve a case. The film is well produced and the costumes are nice but despite my love of all things Sherlock Holmes this film just sort of washed over me in the end and I was left with no desire to return to it in the near future.
Everett has a few good moments when he becomes more commanding and some decent lines here and there ("The reek of the slaughterhouse - Eau de Morgue," he says when Watson asks how he knew he was following him near the start). Oh, I liked too his response to Mrs Hudson (Anne Caroll) when asked when he wants his dinner. "7:30 ... the day after tomorrow." Ultimately though it all felt strangely one-paced and generic to me and suffers too now in comparison to Benedict Cumberbatch's brilliant performance in the slick modern day Sherlock series. On a sidenote also, I think they really overdid the fog machine. London looks like it's in the aftermath of a nuclear war. There was probably the potential here for a decent new Sherlock Holmes story but, sadly, I never liked this nearly as much as I wanted to. Watch out by the way for an appearance by the now ubiquitous Michael Fassbender in a supporting role. At the time of writing curious Sherlockians who have yet to see Everett's take on the character can buy Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Silk Stocking for the modest sum of £2.99 with an audio commentary by Cubitt and the producers. Look out for the BBC Sherlock Holmes box set too as that's very reasonably priced and gives you this plus the Roxburgh led Hound and all the episodes in the sixties Peter Cushing series.
Sherlock Holmes is fast succumbing to his drug habit when a new case takes his interest, and, with the help of Dr Watson, he manages to pull himself together enough to work on the case. A number of girls from wealthy families are going missing, later found dead. All the girls appear to be young and innocent, yet someone obviously wants them wiped off the face of the earth. Then one young girl manages to survive the kidnap. Can she lead Holmes and Watson to the murderer? And will the latest forensic advances help them on their way?
Since I was a child, I have loved Sherlock Holmes stories, whether on screen or in printed book form. I am, however, rather choosy when it comes to who plays Sherlock Holmtes. So many actors have taken on the role, only to fail miserably. My personal favourites are Jeremy Brett, who is the perfect Holmes in my book, and Basil Rathbone, who adds a comic touch to the role without going too over the top. Knowing that Rupert Everett was going to take the role on intrigued me. I am a huge fan of Everett; he is great in comic roles and the fact that he is easy on the eye doesn't hurt.
As Holmes, however, I am not sure that Everett was really an ideal choice. He didn't really do anything drastically wrong in the role; he is a good actor and he managed to pull it off without any major misdemeanours. The problem is that the way the film is directed doesn't allow Everett to be shown in his best light. Nor is the script all that good. In the end, I found myself criticising the way that the film was made and forgetting to concentrate on the characters - unfortunately Everett's performance wasn't strong enough to draw me in. As far as I know, there are no plans for him to appear as Holmes again - from my point of view, to do so would be a mistake.
My initial opinion of Ian Hart, who plays Dr Watson, was much the same. However, he did grow on me during the course of the film and I ended up really liking him. It is a tall order to play a character so well portrayed by Edward Hardwicke in the Jeremy Brett series, but he brought his own interpretation of the character into the role and I thought that it worked well. This Watson is much more competent, much more like Conan Doyle's Watson - in fact, at times, he carries Holmes rather than the other way around. I am not familiar with Ian Hart as an actor, but I will look out for him in the future.
I wasn't particularly impressed by any of the supporting actors. There is a rather strange addition to Holmes' team in the form of Mrs Vandeleur, played by Helen McCrory. She is an American pscyho-analyst, affianced to Watson. I think she is a made-up character for the film - I certainly don't remember her in the books. McCrory gives a competent performance, I just wasn't convinced that Watson would marry such a woman. Perdita Weeks is also competent as Roberta Massingham - her character isn't very well developed, but she does look good, which is really all that was necessary. Neil Dudgeon as Lestrade, Holmes' police officer associate, is completely forgettable - I can't even remember what he looks like.
This film has been generally panned for being so far removed from the Conan Doyle stories, that it is virtually unrecognisable. It is set in Edwardian, rather than Victorian, Britain for example, and the clothes reflect this. So does the inclusion of technical advances, such as fingerprinting. I am not an expert on this, but do know that it began to be used in the early twentieth century, and am pretty sure that it is after Holmes' time. As the entire story depends on such technology, it does mean that it relies less on Holmes' brain and more on cold hard proof. I am not all that concerned by this. It makes the film slightly different from the average Sherlock Holmes film, something that I am sure director Simon Cellan Jones intended, so that his work does not disappear in the enormous sea of films featuring Holmes that already exist.
What did put me off this film was the weak story. Conan Doyle's original stories are always taut and very cleverly written. This one, put together by Alan Cubitt, is really quite weak, and could probably have been told in half an hour because there is so little substance. The director seems to have relied on the costumes and setting to carry much of the story - not a smart move considering so many have criticised it for being unrealistic. The solution to the crimes is particularly poor, and was the final nail in the coffin for me. The story reminded me more of Basil Rathbone's films, which often had weak stories - the difference is that Rathbone was much more charismatic as Holmes.
There is a director and producer commentary included as an extra, but nothing else. I only listened to part of it and didn't find it particularly interesting.
I didn't hate this film - it was entertaining enough to keep me watching until the end. I just think it could have been so much better. Everett's casting wasn't quite right for me, and with the poor script to boot, it was just not good enough. And of course, everyone will compare it to the series starring Jeremy Brett, who was so good as Holmes. I'm annoyed that someone bought me the DVD when it was shown on TV the other day - I don't regret watching it the once, but I doubt I'll ever watch it again. Just about recommended, but wait until it is shown on TV again.
The DVD is available from play.com for £2.99 (very cheap considering it was only made in 2003).
Classification: 15 (for various dead bodies)
Running time: 99 minutes