A young Sherlock Holmes – the idea never fails to tantalize. Perhaps a child or teenage Sherlock, furtively collecting samples of soil and ash; or Sherlock Holmes as a young man, living on Montague Street and passing time at the British Museum. Whether it is a Sherlock Holmes in short pants toddling after an older Mycroft, learning to distinguish amongst the treads of bicycle tires, or a young detective just out of university, trapped somewhere between “The ‘Gloria Scott’,” and “The Musgrave Ritual” – devotees of Sherlock Holmes want to know the Great Detective before he ever was the Great Detective. It’s almost as if we think a full understanding of Sherlock Holmes is connected to being there from his beginning – as if we will know him better if we know him from the start.
And a young Sherlock Holmes is exactly what the 2002 made-for-television film Sherlock: A Case of Evil offers. A Sherlock Holmes who is still developing the finer points of his talents and skills; a Sherlock Holmes who is still figuring out how deep and malevolent the intricacies of his problematic relationship with Professor Moriarty are; a Sherlock Holmes who has not yet met his Dr. John Watson – and when they finally do meet, it is clear that they do not know what to make of each other. This is a Sherlock Holmes without his full set of armor in place, who is not immediately distrustful and who does not yet know that “the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money” (SIGN). This is Sherlock Holmes before the reader meets him in A Study in Scarlet, supposedly. This is the Great Detective before he was ever great.
But those viewers seeking that faithful adaptation of A Study in Scarlet, seemingly ever elusive, must look elsewhere. There is no youthful Sherlock Holmes bent low over a chemical table and studiously examining his “retorts, test-tubes, and little Bunsen lamps, with their blue flickering flames” (STUD) in this film. Instead, the audience finds a young detective who drinks copious amounts of absinthe in a dodgy establishment, flamboyantly tells stories of his (for the moment, solo) escapades to clutches of enraptured debutantes, and who finds himself waking up next to these same young women at an alarming and illogical rate. James D’Arcy as Sherlock Holmes is shades of Benedict Cumberbatch – magnificently tall, with gloriously sharp cheekbones and a deep, sonorous voice. But his arrogance seems misplaced and misdirected, as if he has not yet earned the right to act in such a fashion, and the audience is hard-pressed to imagine him ever being allowed such liberties. He is a man in desperate need of some humility, but whether the film’s conclusion finds him humbled or defeated is a matter of debate.A Case of Evil is not the first film to tackle Sherlock Holmes’s early years, to imagine the intricacies of the Great Detective’s construction. In Sherlock Holmes on Screen, Alan Barnes highlights the many similarities between A Case of Evil and the 1985 film directed by Barry Levinson and written by Chris Columbus, Young Sherlock Holmes:
“…both purport to detail the first meeting of Holmes and Watson; both see Holmes engaged in hitherto unreported confrontation with Professor Moriarty; both see Holmes falling victim to a grim narcotic, bringing forth hallucinogenic sequences; in both, Holmes’s lady-love is shot dead by Moriarty before he and Holmes settle their quarrel in a vicious swordfight; and both would seem to assert that these experiences would leave Holmes incapable of love” (167).Roger Morlidge stars as a Dr. John Watson who is not a quite a bumbling archetype of stupidity from the Nigel Bruce school of Watsons, but neither is he the model war hero and pillar of strength for which more recent Sherlock Holmes film and television adaptations have set a precedent. To begin with, Morlidge’s Watson does not treat the living, and is instead a mortician working closely with Scotland Yard. This Watson is clever, without question, as is demonstrated by the series of sometimes amusing and sometimes practical devices he invents over the course of the film. And that he cares for the young Sherlock Holmes is also without question. This Watson somehow manages to know Sherlock Holmes better than the Detective knows himself – even while he manages to remain largely perplexed by his new comrade. It is Watson who manages to intuit the existence of Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (played by Richard E. Grant), and reunites the somewhat estranged brothers. Grant’s performance as Mycroft provides one of the film’s strongest moments – taken largely from “The Greek Interpreter,” but highlighting that Sherlock Holmes is not just a product of his own contrivance, but also of his culture and context.
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|(Photo Credit: cinememories.blogspot.com)|
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