SHERLOCK HOLMES * * * *
Cert 12A, 128 mins
Can I really be about to praise a Guy Ritchie film? As the great sleuth Sherlock said: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
So, improbable as it is, here goes – I like this movie.
I can even go as far as to say it’s my favourite Ritchie film, though that’s not saying a great deal as I hated Swept Away and Revolver and wasn’t keen on RocknRolla.
The former Mr Madonna’s forte is London gangster movies, so eyebrows were raised when it was announced he was taking on such a traditional and iconic figure as Sherlock Holmes – and casting an American as a British hero.
By and large, he’s done a surprisingly good job. Purists might dispute some of his touches, but Ritchie claims every creative decision was inspired by Conan Doyle’s writing.
Still, there are rather too many fights for my liking. As well as a penchant for topless bare knuckle boxing, Holmes spends less time deducing and more time brawling with baddies in this violent production.
Robert Downey Jr plays him as scruffy and unshaven, but his English accent is flawless and he has the charisma and energy for the role.
He’s ably supported by Jude Law as Dr John Watson, a war hero who can look after himself in a punch-up. He is more of an equal partner than a bumbling sidekick – their entertaining banter is reminiscent of a married couple, though Watson upsets the balance of their relationship by getting engaged to Mary (Kelly Reilly), much to Holmes’s annoyance.
Even better is Mark Strong as mesmerising villain Lord Blackwood, who has butchered five women using black magic.
Holmes catches him and he is sent to the gallows, with the words “death is only the beginning”.
His prophecy comes true when he appears to come back from the dead, with a plan to create a new world order. The explosive action builds to a denouement in the Houses of Parliament and on an under-construction Tower Bridge.
One of the film’s main strengths is its script, with plenty of clever and amusing lines. For that we have to thank Guy Ritchie for avoiding meddling with the writing process.
I’ve never been a particular fan of his dialogue in films like Revolver and Swept Away, so I’m glad he allowed others to write this, and devise a straightforward plot, while he concentrated on making an exciting film to look at.
He stylishly recreates Victorian London, with a particularly good action scene set in a dockyard.
The strong British cast also includes Clive Russell, James Fox, William Houston and Geraldine James, who makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance as housekeeper Mrs Hudson.
And Rachel McAdams plays con woman Irene Adler, a worthy adversary who has managed to capture Holmes’s heart.
NOWHERE BOY * * * *
Cert 15, 97 mins
Artist Sam Taylor Wood makes her feature film directing debut with this interesting look at the early years of John Lennon.
We meet him as a cocky, mischievous 16-year-old, told by his headmaster that he’s going nowhere. “Is nowhere for the geniuses, sir?” he asks, “because I probably belong there.”
Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is brought up by his strict and prim Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas) rather than her younger sister, his mentally unstable mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff).
When he decides to get to know his mother, he’s shocked to discover she lives around the corner.
Flighty Julia is thrilled to have her son back and delights in buying him a guitar and introducing him to rock ‘n’ roll.
While Mimi says “not exactly Bach though, is it?”, Julia encourages him to form a skiffle group with school friends called The Quarrymen.
It’s fascinating to watch the birth of The Beatles as John meets 15-year-old Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster) at a garden fete.
I would have liked to have seen more scenes with the future Beatles and less repetitive angst about Lennon’s family situation.
But what makes it worth a look are the moving performances, especially from Thomas and Duff.
ST TRINIAN’S 2: THE LEGEND OF FRITTON’S GOLD * *
Cert PG, 106 mins
The first St Trinian’s film two years ago was a fun romp which zipped along, but this sequel struggles.
Its main selling point is the addition of David Tennant to the cast. That man really is everywhere this Christmas.
Here he is grey-haired, sneering, sexist villain, Lord Pomfrey. He lights up the screen whenever he’s on, but sadly that’s not nearly enough. And we have to wait 45 minutes for Colin Firth to appear.
Tennant also plays his own 16th century ancestor, from whom pirate Captain Fritton steals a hoard of treasure.
Fast forward four centuries and Fritton’s descendant Camilla (Rupert Everett) is headmistress of St Trinian’s boarding school, while Pomfrey wants his family’s treasure back.
Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding is clearly 10 years too old to be a school pupil but joins the cast as Roxy. She shouldn’t give up the day job.
There are a couple of amusing lines and I liked the train station flash mob. The soundtrack’s not bad either, but ultimately it’s pretty tedious stuff.