According to The Dreaming Arm the Holy Trinity of iconic characters in popular fiction (at least in the English-speaking world anyway) consists of James Bond, Doctor Who (and if any pedantic anoraks are reading this – before you write in to complain, yes I know his name is actually “The Doctor” and not “Dr Who” – so please self-copulate), and Sherlock Holmes. I can’t speak for the French-speaking world, but their Holy Trinity could be something like Tintin, Maigret and Asterix – ironically the former two are not of France, but of its trilingual neighbour to the north-east, whose other contributions to civilisation include fine chocolates, several hundred varieties of beer of multitudinous colours and flavours, quality lace, a dubious colonial legacy in the Congo, whose effects are still being felt today – and a statue of a urinating boy.
But as a certain diminutive bespectacled golf-playing entertainer and former star of a long-forgotten 1980s sitcom which gave the catchphrase “Language Timothy!” to a dysfunctional generation used to say – “I digress”. Anyway I’ve already written about Who and Bond in this blog, so to coincide with the imminent cinematic release of a new eponymously-titled motion picture this is The Dreaming Arm’s take on Sherlock Holmes.
I remember having an argument when aged 8 or 9 with a schoolfriend by the name of Paul McGrade over whether Sherlock Holmes had been a real life character. I contended that he was purely a work of fiction, but young McGrade insisted that there had been a real Holmes at some point in time. In an attempt to settle the argument he advised me to pop down to the local police station and ask them to verify the past existence or otherwise of the great detective. I was confident in my assertion, so didn’t bother to take him up on this. But over a quarter of a century later I often wonder what the duty sergeants at the heavily fortified Omagh RUC station would have made of a 9-year old making such an enquiry. The image of a tall ruddy-faced moustached man sternly dismissing me with words to the effect of “Fuck away off, son and don’t be wasting my time!” provides many an amusing moment on these cold dark lonely winter nights. In fact it’s becoming a rather tiresome running joke – as certain nameless individuals will be able to testify.
However to his credit some 5 or 6 years later the redoubtable Mr McGrade was to pen an excellent parody of a Holmes short story which captured the essence of Conan Doyle’s writing, yet sent it in up brilliant satirical style. To this day I think he could have been a great comedy writer (he also scripted an excellent monologue featuring the Hary Enfield character “Loadsamoney” for a 5th year school assembly, in which the cash-flashing tradesman was played by the present author), but I believe he’s now based in Westminster and doing rather well in the civil service.
I first became seriously interested in Sherlock Holmes at the age of 14 or 15 in 1988 or 1989 I think when the centenary of Conan Doyle’s character was being celebrated through various TV and radio documentaries, newspaper articles and the like. My unhealthy anorak-like obsession with Doctor Who was coming to a natural end (after all this was during the era of Sylvester McCoy when the show was at all-time low point) and the more mature and rational Holmes became the natural replacement. I devoured Silver Blaze, The Yellow Face, The Solitary Cyclist, The Engineer’s Thumb and The Hound of the Baskervilles with relish.
When I heard that the ex-Mr Madonna Guy Ritchie, he of the East End gangster film was making a new version of Holmes I was somewhat skeptical. I haven’t seen any of Ritichie’s previous works as the mockney hard bastard genre of film doesn’t generally butter my bread. Plus anyone who marries Madonna needs their head examined.. Although having said that it hasn’t done Sean Penn’s career any harm.
On hearing that Holmes was to be played by the high profile Hollywood actor and rehabilitated hell-raising former jailbird and ex-junkie Robert Downey Jr I had my concerns. Although Jude Law as Dr Watson seems like a safe choice, Downey marks a notable break in tradition considering that Holmes has traditionally been played by old school English character actors from the theatrical tradition. The most memorable is arguably Jeremy Brett who played the great detective in the Granada TV series during the 1980s and early ’90s. The Dreaming Arm’s occasional contributor Phil “the Austro-Hungarian empre got all the best cities” Larkin has described him as the definitive Holmes. I can see his point here as Brett’s interpretation of Holmes as a brooding misanthropic, asexual character with a brilliant mind, suggesting he’s autistic is remarkably close to the perfection of Doyle’s creation. Brett as the genuine article could thus be to Holmes what Sean Connery is to James Bond and what Tom Baker is to Dr Who – although the chances are that anyone 25 reading this will argue that the latter accolade should go to David Tennant. Nah – Tennant’s a great actor, but his Who couldn’t hold a candle to Baker’s Who.
Other fine thespians who have darkened the doorstep of 221B Baker Street include Ian Richardson (probably best known for his role as machievellian politician Urquart in the BBC drama House of Cards), Hammer Horror veterans Peter “Dr Frankenstein/Prof Van Helsing” Cushing and Christopher “Dracula/Lord Summerisle” Lee and even a certain curly-haired, goggle-eyed toothy-grinned, long scarf-wearing, rich mellow chocolatey-voiced former Time Lord and occasional voiceover artist known as Tom Baker.
Nevertheless I’m prepared to make the trip to my local picture house at some point over the Christmas/New Year period with an open mind and give “Sherlock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” a chance.
So watch this space for the verdict!