Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Is RDJ's Sherlock Holmes Any Good?

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Since I created the world's first series of novels about Sherlock Holmes's childhood, I often get asked for my opinion of the Robert Downey Jr. version of the Master that hit the big screen last year. Word is that RDJ will reprise the role at least one more time, perhaps with a big name Moriarty in opposition - some rumours claim it will be Brad Pitt.

Sherlock Holmes, I've heard it said, has been portrayed more times on film than any other character in history. And Robert Downey Jr. is unquestionably a compelling actor with a long list of stellar turns on the screen. With Jude Law as his Watson and Guy Ritchie behind the cameras, and such famous roles to toy with, one would think this was a match made in heaven. But it wasn't. At least not for me. It was a match made in Hollywood.

"Sherlock Holmes" is a good Hollywood movie, what they do well, with beautiful faces and bodies, snazzy roles, an action-packed plot, lots of pretend grit and edginess, and a nice, happy ending. It was an attractive two-hour distraction for most people who saw it. Ritchie made sure there were lots of fights, modern-appearing problems, darkness galore (another modern need), a little sexual content, and not a single moment for an audience member to stop to consider anything.

But given the capabilities of the folks involved and the fascinating, flawed character in the leading role, couldn't so much more have been done?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against many of the liberties that were taken with the character. After all, I made young Sherlock into a street-wise, half-Jewish boy with grudges against the world. But ... I believe I always stay true to the spirit of the character, and regardless of what I do to his surface personality, never mess with what is at his core. The film, on the other hand, constantly compromised in order to make the project commercially viable. Thus we have a Sherlock (who indeed was one of the Western World's first martial artists) constantly getting himself into brutal fights and slouching around London like a disheveled cool guy, a post-punk, from the 21st century. Sherlock Holmes only fought when necessary, when brain power wouldn't work, that was a hallmark of his personality, the very idea of him - that brains trump everything. That is why he was, one might argue, literature's first superhero ... not because he could "really fight." And he was always a spotless dresser, had his hair perfectly in place, because he believed in decorum, in trying to do the right thing. A guy in a suit with his hair spotlessly in place isn't cool in 2010, and that's why he was filmed with a punky hair style and a constant five-o'clock shadow. NOT because it truly reflected anything interesting about Holmes's character. At least that's how I see it. I am much in favour of artists' toying with characters, finding their take on them, but please, do it for artistic reasons ... not just to sell your movie.

Having said all that, I should repeat that I think "Sherlock Holmes" is a good, entertaining movie, and a pleasure to watch. But it ain't Sherlock. If you really want to see what Sherlock Holmes is all about then read the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or watch the extraordinary Jeremy Brett's interpretation of the Master (portrayed as a decided eccentric, a bit creepy at times, and with a big ego) on the British Granada TV series ... or, better than all that ... read The Boy Sherlock Holmes! (Just kidding .. sort of.)

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Shane Peacock

Shane Peacock is a biographer, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and novelist. He has received many honours for his writing, including the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Eye of the Crow, the first of his Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Go to Shane Peacock’s Author Page