Complete A-Z list

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Paul Anderson, Thierry Neuvic, Geraldine James

Director: Guy Ritchie

Devotees of Conan Doyle’s great detective are clearly not in Ritchie’s sights. His and screenwriters Michelle and Kieran Mulroney’s take on Holmes, played with vigour rather than subtlety by Downey Jr, turns the intellectual sleuth into more of a street fighter which, given a plot that is something of a load of brawls, fits the view that this Holmes is 007-style crime-fighter.

Which is just fine at the box-office. Where Doyle’s Holmes liked violins, Downey Jr, playing the great sleuth rather camply, wallows in violence right from the star with explosions, slugfests and an unconvincing disguise a Chinaman. Law’s Watson calls him “manic verging on psychotic” which sums him up pretty well and apparently doesn’t effect their bromance which continues unabated, including the couple waltzing together (Holmes leads and when he asks ‘By the way, who taught you to dance?” Watson’s reply, almost inevitably, is “You did”). Their bromance also includes Downey Jr wrecking his colleague’s stage night and later throwing Law’s new wife off a speeding train, although to be fair, the latter is storyline-dictated) and Downey Jr, a tad camp throughout, calling Law “Shirley”.

The plot, effective enough as a framework on which to hang various set pieces, has Holmes saving the world from mega-villain Professor Moriarty (suavely played by Harris) and features the eating of hedgehog goulash with gypsies, followed by gypsy dancing and the involvement of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Rapace in an emaciated role. Action, explosions, shootouts, fisticuffs, machine guns, to say nothing of a fight with an athletic Cossack killer in a music hall appear to be as important to Ritchie as the prevention of the collapse of Western civilization which – something doubtless anathema to true Holmes devotees – is the basic raison d’etre of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

(There is one massive Fry in the ointment, though. Stephen Fry, who never plays anything other than superior, smug and super-self-satisfied Stephen Fry, is massively miscast as Holmes’ smarter brother Mycroft, and hugely irritating and awful to boot. He also appears naked, a scene that should have guaranteed the film an ‘18’ certificate).

When Holmes says, “It’s our last adventure, Watson. I intend to make the most of it”, you know he’s lying. Box-office returns will insist on a sequel.

(Rating is for action-entertainment, not intellectual qualities).

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Warner Bros.. Technicolor.
128 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 23 Dec 2011