Friday, 15 April 2016

Sherlock Scribbles: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

This time on 'Sherlock Scribbles' we take a look at perhaps the finest Sherlock Holmes film there has ever been (big words, I know), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes...

Starring: Robert Stephens (Sherlock Holmes), Colin Blakely (Dr Watson), Genevieve Page (Gabrielle Valadon) and Irene Handl (Mrs Hudson) with Christopher Lee (Mycroft Holmes).

Synopsis: The most illuminating case of Sherlock Holmes' career is finally revealed - a tale of Russian ballerinas, missing circus dwarfs, mysterious monks and the Loch Ness Monster. Plus, the answer to the biggest mystery of them all: just what made Sherlock Holmes the way he is?

Doyled or Spoiled?: Private Life is steeped in the canon, although it isn't afraid to be cheeky with it as well. The film opens with Watson's strongbox of his most scandalous cases being opened in the present-day at Cox & Co bank, as per 'The Problem of Thor's Bridge.' Many canonical elements of Holmes' character - his great height, violin virtuosity and misogyny - are explained as being fabrications of Watson's to make the detective more colourful. Unlike Doyle's Mycroft, Christopher Lee is a thin, rakish character with a prickly relationship with his brother. Likewise, as many Holmes fans have theorised, the film presents Mycroft's Diogenes Club as a front for the secret service. Private Life goes above and beyond Doyle, however, by offering an explanation for Holmes' asexual, emotionally-distant ways. To find out what it is, you shall have to watch the film - but I will say it is somewhat similar to that offered in Young Sherlock Holmes. 

Highlight: It is nigh on impossible to say. The handling of the material is pitch perfect while the performances are uniformly brilliant. Still, I'm going to plump for the fantastic sequence near the beginning of the film which sees the nature of Holmes and Watson's relationship called into question for comedic effect. This is something we are now quite familiar with, but pre-Sherlock adaptations rarely realised that you could have fun with Conan Doyle's work as well as treating it reverentially.

Verdict: My claim that this is the best Holmes film ever is obviously a huge one, but surely no other movie delivers everything you could want in a Sherlock Holmes adventure so well. There is an exploration of Holmes and Watson's friendship, of Holmes' character and his back story, as well as a rollicking and ingenious adventure which pits Holmes against the supernatural and the fantastical. Perhaps the reason why it is not more commonly praised is because it has a very unusual Holmes in Robert Stephens, though still brilliant he is much more dandyish and playful than the norm. If you don't believe my opinion of this film, it is also the favourite of Sherlock's Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, who largely got that show's aesthetic and tone from Private Life (not least the presentation of Mycroft). Definitely one to be checked out.

A Private Visit - Holmes and Watson check on brother Mycroft.

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