Peter’s Retro Reviews: Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

January 6, 2012

Young Sherlock Holmes - Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

”It was a cold, snowy day in early December. Lack of funds had forced my old school to close. I was being sent to a new one in the middle of term. I was accustomed to the opened, relaxed expanse of the country, and now, I was in the heart of London at the height of the Victorian Era. The streets were teeming with every activity imaginable. I was very taken by what I saw. As I stepped from my carriage, the sight of my new school filled me with fear and apprehension, yet I was swept with a wave of curiosity. However, nothing could prepare me for the extraordinary adventure that lay ahead, or the extraordinary individual who would change my life.”

With this opening narration begins the story of two men who would become life-long friends and partners in crime. It’s kind of like a fictitious story within a fictitious story-line, if you know what I mean? This is the story about Sherlock Holmes’ and John Watson’s first meeting and their first adventure together, and none of this is mentioned in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books. And since they in term are also works of fiction, that’s what I mean by the “fiction within fiction” comment above. Does that make any sense to you?

I love the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and re-read them from time to time. There have also been some pretty decent adaptations made, both for the big and small screen. Some of the old Basil Rathbone ones are good and there’s one called Without a Clue starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley that takes a more humorous approach to the characters and adds a little funny twist too. Highly recommended! But my absolute favorite adaptation is the British TV-series starring the fantastic Jeremy Brett as Holmes and this series is the most faithful of them all.

Murderous Egyptian sect in underground pyramid.

Murderous Egyptian sect in underground pyramid.

I haven’t seen the two new ones, but judging from the few scenes I have watched, they seem to be a little too much. Too many gadgets and a little too “James Bond-ian” for my taste. To me that’s not what Sherlock Holmes is about, but as I said… I haven’t seen them yet, so I’m not going to cast judgment here.

Young Sherlock Holmes from 1985 is also a grand adventure, but more in a toned-down Indiana Jones kind of way, if that makes sense. It starts with Watson, played by Alan Cox (An Awfully Big Adventure), arriving at his new school and meeting Holmes for the first time. Holmes immediately dazzles him with that brilliant mind of his and before Watson can introduce himself, Holmes does it for him. He’s able to tell him his name, where he’s from, his father’s profession, that he has an affinity for writing and even that he’s fond of pastries.

Hmm, looks like some sort of time-telling-device...

Hmm, looks like some sort of time-telling-device...

Watson is, of course, impressed! As are we… Holmes’ “abilities” makes him both loved and despised at school and one classmate even succeeds in having him expelled. Jealousy is an ugly thing, isn’t it? Holmes isn’t particularly upset about having to leave though. He’s more concerned about leaving Elizabeth behind. Elizabeth, played by the beautiful Sophie Ward (The Hunger, Wuthering Heights) is the love of his life and also the niece of his friend professor Waxflatter (Nigel Stock), who’s an eccentric inventor living at the school. We later find out that he has more to do with the main story than we initially thought.

So, what is the main story then? Well, there’s been a series of mysterious deaths around London, but Scotland Yard writes them off as suicides and accidents. The victims seem to be random and completely unrelated, but Holmes doesn’t believe that and suspects that there’s some connection between them. And he’s right of course! The victims are all shot with some sort of poisonous thorn which causes them to have horrible hallucinations which leads to them panicking and jumping out of windows or throwing themselves in front of horse-carriages to get away from the terror.

Hey! You forgot your crackpi... I mean blowpipe!

Hey! You forgot your crackpi... I mean blowpipe!

Further investigations unravel a murderous Egyptian sect, an underground pyramid, human sacrifices and all sorts of nastiness. Holmes, Watson and Elizabeth soon find themselves fighting for their lives.

Sherlock Holmes is played by Nicholas Rowe, an actor who’s had small parts in a lot of different British TV-series and movies, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels for instance, but his only starring role was in Young Sherlock Holmes. He does this very well, I might add.

His mentor and also protector, if you will, at school is professor Rathe, played by Anthony Higgins (Vampire Circus, Raiders of the Lost Ark), a man who has more up his sleeve than you first think and who will come to have a profound impact on the rest of Holmes’ life. Watch all the way to the end of the credits for a little surprise and you’ll know what I mean.

The movie is directed by Barry Levinson (Sleepers, Rain Man, Diner, Good Morning Vietnam), the screenplay written by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and the executive producer is Steven Spielberg, but does having these prominent names tied to it automatically mean it’s good? Well, no… not automatically perhaps. Too much of a good thing and all that, but… in this case it works. Young Sherlock Holmes is a great adventure-movie that I enjoyed just as much now, as I did when I first watched it many years ago.

It can also boast about being the first feature film to have a completely computer-animated character in one scene. It’s the one where a knight made of stained-glass comes alive to terrorize a poor victim. Not bad at all for a movie released in 1985. The effects over-all look great, and the scene where Watson is attacked by pastries is hilarious, but you’ll have to check that out for yourselves.

Until next time my friends…

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