Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004)

Country: United Kingdom / United States
Director: Simon Cellan Jones
Starring: Rupert Everett, Ian Hart, Neil Dudgeon, Perdita Weeks, Michael Fassbender, Jonathan Hyde
Music: Adrian Johnson
Based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle

The BBC’s 2002 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles was a misfire with a sadly miscast Richard Roxburgh as Sherlock Holmes. Despite this, the BBC decided to make another Holmes movie, with another actor as Holmes. This time they chose Rupert Everett to partner Ian Hart who was returning as Dr. Watson. With the recent comments by Robert Downey Jnr regarding Sherlock Holmes sexuality causing a minor furore (Downey Jnr. Intimated that Holmes was gay), I find it amusing that Rupert Everett who is openly gay (and at one point suggested he should appear as James Bond, in a series of gay adventures), should play the character remarkably straight.

The film opens in an opium den in London and a pipe is being made up for Sherlock Holmes. This is not the Holmes we are used to. Watson has moved out of the Baker Street lodgings and is on the verge of getting married (not to Mary Morston – but an American psychologist). And Holmes as a loner, well he no longer simply dabbles with his famous seven-per-cent solution of cocaine when extreme boredom and malaise overcome him – when there isn’t a case worthy of his mind and his talents. This Holmes seems almost drug dependent. Later in the movie – despite Holmes mind and wits being challenged, he still feels the need to shoot up, to get himself through the case.

Meanwhile, at low tide, vagabonds are sifting through the detritus in the mud along the banks of the Thames. One of the vagabonds finds the body of a young woman in the mud. It appears she has been strangled as she has a silk stocking knotted tightly around her neck.

The police naturally conduct an autopsy, and as it is being carried out, Dr. Watson (Ian Hart), who works at the hospital, sticks his nose in to see what is going on. The clothing on the victim would suggest that she worked as a prostitute – and marks around her wrists and knees indicate that she had been trussed up before death. Watson believes that there is more to this crime than meets the eye, and soon is off to find his old friend Sherlock Holmes (Rupert Everett).

Watson hasn’t seen Holmes in quite a while, and the relationship between the two men is not what it once was. Watson approaches Holmes as he leaves the opium den and presents him with the details of the girl’s death, hoping it will entice him back into action. But Holmes is not happy to see Watson. He has slipped into a depressive drug-fueled funk and has no desire to go racing around the streets of London, and delving into the seedier side of human nature. Holmes refuses the case, and Watson leaves. But Watson leaves a dossier of information, including a photograph from the autopsy, an the table for Holmes to peruse at his leisure.

Later, Holmes, his curiosity piqued, can’t help but look at the dossier, and within seconds of seeing the photo, spring into action. Soon he is at the morgue and preparing to carry out his own investigation. Of course, Watson expected that Holmes would show up sooner or later and is waiting for him. With the old team reunited it is, once again, business as usual.

Holmes quickly deduces that the victim was not a prostitute, but Lady Alice Petney, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Yarborough. He also finds another stocking lodged in her throat. Soon after, the Duke of Yarborough employs Holmes services to find his daughter’s murderer.

It soon appears that a serial madman is on the loose, when the daughter of another aristocrat, Lord Massingham, goes missing. Unfortunately Holmes believes that this is just the beginning and the girl, Lady Georgina, is possibly already dead.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking is quite a splendid production and Everett gives a wonderful performance as Holmes. He displays the right amount of aloofness, egocentricity and pride that you’d expect in Holmes, but he doesn’t take it so far that Holmes becomes an unlikeable character. Everett walks the tightrope very nicely indeed. Once again, purists may be up in arms at Holmes depiction as a drug addict, but as I have mentioned before Holmes has to evolve if he is to remain relevant. If the character were to stagnate, then he’d simply fade away.

One very positive aspect of this production is that Watson is not simply Holmes shadow. Throughout the movie he has several solo missions to carry out, including the interrogation of the owner of a shoe store (foot fetish thing going on), and exhuming the body and carrying out an autopsy on the body of Sarah O’Brien – a girl who died many months previously and may hold many clues to the mystery. In fact it is Watson’s aggressive and proactive methods at the climax of the film, that allow Holmes to save the day. Obviously the credit for how Watson is portrayed must go down to the fine script bu Alan Cubitt who refuse to portray Watson as a Buffoon. Ian Hart too, puts in a performance that adds a bit of well-needed vigour (when required) to the Holmes / Watson relationship.

The twist at the end of the film is slightly predictable and any reasonable armchair detective will see it coming, but the way the resolution is played out is incredibly suspenseful. The key ingredient, however, is atmosphere, and this film is dripping with it. The streets of London are foggy, dark and filled with danger. On the strength of this production it is a shame that the BBC (and its American partner WGBH Boston) haven’t seen fit to make another Holmes adventure pairing Everett and Hart once again, because I for one, would be quite thrilled to see it.

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  1. I like Rupert Everett, and I always thought he would make a good James Bond back when he was a bit sturdier built. When he got so gaunt, I thought he would make a good Holmes, and I was glad he got the chance and very excited for this production. When it aired, I found it solid, but was a tad let down by Everett's performance. You've definitely made me want to revisit it though! It IS too bad there weren't more Everett/Hart adventures, but then we probably wouldn't be getting the new BBC Sherlock series, and frankly that's the media event I'm looking forward to above all others in 2010!

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