Culture Clash: Sherlock Holmes


The films

Sherlock Holmes, one of the greatest fictional  detectives of all time, up there with Poirot, Miss Marple and of course Ace Ventura. With the new film, ‘A Game of Shadows’, taking $39.6 million in its first weekend and the second TV series attracting 10 million viewers a week it seems Sherlock Holmes is becoming increasingly popular. But where is it better, on film or TV?

Robert Downey Jr. is perfect for the lead role; he portrays Holmes’s antisocial, over confident behaviour with precision, solidifying the notion that he is on the thin line between insanity and genius. Downey’s facial expressions accentuating every tiny emotion, in conjunction with his adept ability to control his body language, enables him to slip into Sherlock’s many creative disguises with ease, so much so that on multiple occasions I was left wondering whether it was in fact Holmes on the screen, or a new side character. While I don’t doubt that Benedict Cumberbatch is an accomplished actor and portrays Holmes rather well, but he just doesn’t have that bravado, that exuberance and that subtle humour that emanates so freely from Robert Downey Jr. But that is Sherlock Holmes; they may only be small points, perhaps insignificant to most, but as Sherlock Holmes states “…in fact, the little details are by far the most important.”

The films, set in 1891 according to Doyle’s original works, allow Guy Richie to expand the original vision and put his own archaic spin on it. Gatiss and Moffat’s attempt at trying to completely modernise it is a promising notion, but seriously, Dr. Watson blogging? Do you really think that Sir Arthur would have lowered one of his most beloved characters to participating in such ‘teenage’ behaviour? I think not. Another point worth noting is that the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ story was defiled by 90 minutes of conspiracy theories and that cheesy fog every time it was meant to be a scary. It was all very Scooby Doo.

Both the films and TV series have very different perspectives on how Holmes analyses the fine detail. Both are effective, with the TV series making use of on-screen text indicating a smudge of make-up here or some dog hair there, but on occasion there has been too much text to take in and as a result was missed. In contrast, the films employ the use of soliloquies, often in conjunction with slow motion footage. This enables the audience to easily understand the situation and also opens a window to Holmes’s methodical mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the TV series is a great way to end the weekend, but the films are wonderfully imaginative with that dark Guy Richie twist. They are two of the most enjoyable films I have watched in a long time. Oh and did I mention that the soundtrack is just fantastic?

— By Jonathan Doyle


The TV series

If you’re after a swashbuckling adventure film then sure, watch the Sherlock Holmes movies. Although I fell asleep in the first one, as is my unfortunate tendency with action films, they do seem like a good laugh. Just watch the trailer for the Game of Shadows; it all seems jolly good fun. Explosions, drama, and look, there he is dressed as a woman! Oh Sherlock, what are you like?!

As fun as the films are though, they are just not Sherlock Holmes. Hollywood has negated the Conan-Doyle stories to some sort of action-packed buddy comedy. Everything is so fast-paced and dramatic, little room has been left for the sheer
brilliance of the original stories.

Sherlock, in contrast, has it all. Wit, intrigue, depth of character, and clever nods to the original tales all combine to make unmissable Sunday night television. Despite being set in modern day Britain, the BBC drama captures the true essence of Sherlock Holmes, and provides the ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ factor without the loud bangs and ridiculous disguises of Hollywood’s more historical version.

Just like in the books, the plots in each show are fantastic. The way in which clues are dropped throughout the programme before being pieced together in Sherlock’s big reveal never fails to amaze. And, as clever and complex the plots are, there’s always the odd solvable clue along the way. This means that every now and again the average viewer has the pleasure of getting there just before our favourite detective. Last week’s episode, for instance, saw me shouting ‘It’s her measurements Sherlock! The code is her measurements!’ at the television set like some maniac, before subjecting my entire family to a smug smile as it transpired I was right.

As well as a fantastic script, the depth of the characters sets Sherlock miles above its Hollywood equivalent. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock captures the cool arrogance of the detective down to a tee, and manages to combine an infallibility of judgement with hints of vulnerability. When it comes to portraying the relationship between Holmes and Watson, Martin Freeman gets the balance just right; one part admiration, one part dependability, and one part resentment.

Freeman manages to provide the warm and fuzzy contrast to Cumberbatch’s Sherlock without falling into the trap of becoming the bumbling, old man Watson who features so often in earlier dramatisations. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, in comparison, provide only over-stated caricatures.

So if you fancy a Victorian-lads-on-tour adventure, by all means go and see Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, I am sure it will not disappoint. If you want to see the detective done properly, however, settle in for the next instalment of Sherlock.

— By Helen Percival

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