Why Guy Ritchie’s Holmes films are more accurate than you would have guessed.
by Kristin Hunt
When Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes first hit theaters in 2009, critics slammed it as too modernized, too stylized, too bastardized. Guy Ritchie might have gotten a little overzealous with the action, but too bastardized? Please. Cinematic adaptations have been screwing Holmes over he was first brought off the page. And truth be told, for all his bombast, Ritchie gets a lot closer to the mark than several of his predecessors. For the release of the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, here are five things most Sherlock Holmes movies get wrong that Mr. Ritchie's get right.
1. Watson is not a portly idiot.
Cinema did Watson a disservice by casting him in the role of bumbling comic foil. In the books, Watson may not have shared Holmes' brilliance, but he was an asset nonetheless. His military training made him an expert marksman, a skill that saved Holmes more than once, and his medical background made him a handy consultant on causes of death and other CSI-type stuff. So Jude Law, though The Holiday toyed dangerously with my gag reflex, I’ll begrudgingly salute you.
2. Sherlock Holmes is actually kind of a badass.
Having detailed knowledge of everything from chemistry to "sensational literature" is badass, but in a nerdy kind of way. But in the books (and Ritchie's movies), Holmes is badass more in the fashion of Samuel L. Jackson. In the stories, Watson frequently references Holmes' martial-arts knowledge and amateur boxing matches; Holmes bends an iron poker back into shape and fights with Professor Moriarty on top of a goddamned waterfall.
3. Sherlock Holmes is also kind of an asshole.
There's a scene in Ritchie's first Holmes film where Watson goes off on Holmes for playing the violin at three in the morning, being messy, and experimenting on his dog. That wasn't just an updated touch for our era of cranky bromance; the Holmes of the books really is an inconsiderate jerk. Most films skip over that part to make him simply an eccentric hero, but his dickishness is an essential part of his personality. He constantly belittles the police, scares everyone silly by disappearing for hours without explanation, and yeah, plays the violin at all hours of the day and night. Really, what else would you expect from a coke fiend?
4. That deerstalker hat and tweed cape isn’t a uniform.
Doyle often portrayed Holmes as being clueless about human interactions and social cues, but even Doyle's Holmes knew that wearing a deerstalker hat and tweed cape twenty-four-seven would make him the subject of public ridicule. The only time he whipped out that get-up was when he was tailing ghostly canines and other mysterious figures in the country, and even then it existed solely in illustrations, not the actual text. (Why? Because deerstalker hats are for stalking deer.) Imagine a man who bills himself as the world’s greatest detective traipsing about London in a camouflage hat and orange vest, and you’ll understand why fans were happy to see Robert Downey, Jr. clad in a simple fedora.
5. “Elementary, my dear Watson” does not exist.
Perhaps even more ubiquitous than the famous Casablanca misquote "Play it again, Sam," is Sherlock’s very popular, very inaccurate catchphrase, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Never once does that phrase appear in the original texts, yet people young and old, male and female, well-read and merely Twilight-read, go apeshit over this quip. Ritchie chose not to perpetuate it, but he did make a compelling case for “Holllmeeesss!” How faithful Ritchie's second installment will be remains to be seen, but hopefully neither this catchphrase nor that damn hat will be making an appearance.