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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking
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by Jay Seaver

"The mystery is, why isn't this better?"
3 stars

In 2002, the BBC and WGBH-Boston co-produced a new version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" featuring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson. It wasn't particularly memorable, but was apparently successful enough to merit a sequel but not so much so that the producers felt the need to work around Roxburgh's schedule or stick to adapting Doyle's stories (curious, as it was being done under the umbrella of WGBH's "Masterpiece Theater"). So, two years later, we get "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking".

The year is 1902. On one side of London, Sherlock Holmes (Rupert Everett) is in an opium den, lying in a stupor. On the other, Dr. John Watson (Ian Hart) assists Inspector Lestrade (Neil Dudgeon) in the autopsy of a very young girl washed up on the side of the Thames. Watson brings the case to Holmes, who quickly deduces that the girl was not a prostitute, as had been believed, but a young lady of high society. Her father engages Holmes to find the girl's killer, but it's not soon before another debutante has gone missing, and Holmes believes that the missing girl's sister, Roberta Massingham (Perdita Weeks), may be the killer's next target.

Writer Allan Cubitt has some really solid ideas, many of which are played out quite well. He sets the film on the eve of Watson's second wedding (to an American psychologist played by Helen McCrory), setting up a nifty little triangle - Holmes outwardly uncaring but obviously bitter about the reduced attention of his best and only friend; Watson very much in love but drawn to the bohemian, adventure-filled life that Holmes represents; McCrory's Mrs. Vandeleur sharing common ground with Holmes that makes the detective uncomfortable. There's the stark contrast between turn of the century London on the outside - a foggy, polluted city where it's difficult to see much more than a few feet in any direction - and the gilded, colorful houses where the upper-class debutantes live. There's the potentially interesting juxtaposition of the cynical, crime-obsessed Holmes and the innocent likes of Roberta.

Unfortunately, the casting of Rupert Everett proves to be nearly disastrous. Maybe it's not the casting - Everett has the proper features for the character, and has been proven a fine actor in other productions. His portrayal of Holmes is dreadful, though - he speaks in a droning monotone, with an apparent broad-ranging contempt for all. He makes sure to pronounce the well-known phrases pulled from various stories carefully, but with no special meaning beyond "we're getting the line in". He may not be the worst Sherlock Holmes ever, but he absolutely ranks among the dullest.

Maybe he's just following director Simon Cellan Jones's direction, and if so, it's an even greater shame, because the rest of the cast is quite good. Hart, especially, is a charming and entertaining Watson, a veritable fountain of human warmth in contrast to Everett's bitter robot. McCrory makes Watson's wife-to-be an interesting enough addition to the cast that one wishes Doyle had done much more than he did with the dynamic between Holmes and Dr. & Mrs. Watson. Neil Dudgeon manages to make Lestrade limited in creativity but not foolish. Perdita Weeks is thoroughly charming.

Of course, it's not entirely a case of a great script and cast sabotaged by one bad decision. The story is quite generic - the twist to its serial killer mystery wouldn't have been terribly clever even in Doyle's time - leading to the question of why Cubitt didn't just adapt one of the original stories if this was the best he could come up with as an alternative. The finale has the cast too spread out among multiple locations, without much idea of whether Holmes or Watson is closer to the villain. And it at times feels too contemporary: The scenes in Scotland Yard often feel like a modern crime drama, with a reliance on autopsies and forensic evidence that undercuts just how unusual Holmes's scientific style of investigation would have been for the time.

It's not enough to make "Silk Stocking" disastrous, or even really a bad movie, but a Sherlock Holmes movie should not have to overcome its Sherlock Holmes. That it must try is doubly bizarre, since Everett seems to be good casting on first glance. Why things pan out the way they do is perhaps the film's biggest mystery.

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originally posted: 12/24/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

4/08/18 Terry Short Not a bad TV film. 3 stars
1/29/13 Steve Dawson Best holmes ever 5 stars
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Directed by
  Simon Cellan Jones

Written by
  Allan Cubitt

  Rupert Everett
  Nicholas Palliser
  Neil Dudgeon
  Ian Hart

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