Sherlock Holmes: How Far Is Too Far When Adapting A Book For Film?

16 Jun

The Mazarin Stone

In this mystery, Sherlock Holmes encounters a diamond thief, Count Negrettu Sylvius. After some wrangling, Sherlock manages to evade the Count’s attempts to kill him and pins the theft on him. In this mystery, we learn a great deal about Holmes. He is a bit eccentric and somewhat of a lone wolf, but extremely clever, using science as his crime-solving tool.

The Film

This wildly entertaining film follows the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in an onscreen adventure. His portrayal by Robert Downey Jr. Is exciting and comedic. Hijinks ensue in this fast-paced mystery, and Downey never misses a beat. The villain, Lord Blackwood, tricks the town into thinking he’s a skilled satanic warlock, but Holmes uses various scientific methods and the help of Watson to reveal the science behind the tricks. With this, Blackwood is proven to be nothing more than a charlatan.

The Adaptation

The movie is a little bit different than the book. The book is pure mystery, but the movie puts a comedic spin on it. There also exists Rachel McAdams as the love interest and sex symbol. There is a similar emphasis on science, but much more in depth than the book.

The Critics

The critics are fairly divided on this movie. Samuel B. Prime, certainly disliked this adaptation of Doyle’s classic character, Sherlock Holmes. He argued that Downey’s portrayal of Holmes was far too perceptive and almost omniscient. He also felt that the film resorted to sophomoric comedy at times, citing the dogfart as an example. Prime argued that, since “Holmes is so self-consciously aware of establishing his own legend as he’s living it[,…] there is no growth, only perfection ad nauseam” (Prime, 2009). Prime is not alone is his assessment. Michael O’Sullivan finds this film adaptation just a bit too ridiculous to take seriously.Other writers, including Vejvoda, were less critical. Vejvoda lauds the film as “the most exciting, eccentric and accessible film version yet of the world’s greatest detective”. He encouraged audiences to watch it.

The Critical Argument

The success of this film rests nearly entirely on casting and the heightened relationships between characters – the most convincing and interesting of which was the bromance between Holmes and Watson. While some may argue that this was beyond the original plot, it is handled well by Ritchie who, faced a horde of “Sherlockians” as he “[elevated] … the Holmes/Watson relationship from clubby friendship (with homoerotic undertones) to full-blown bromance” (Shoard, 2009).  Downey and Law are well-matched in this film with wonderful “banter between Mr. Downey and Mr. Law, who is looser and more mischievous than he’s allowed himself to be in quite some time” (Scott, 2009). Scott also alluded to the pleasing Rachel McAdams. He noted her “pretty, flouncy red dress” but notes that this was likely done to “dispel a few hints of homoerotic subtext” (Scott, 2009).  In the end, the bromance works far more powerfully (and easily) in this film than any romance possibly could. Sorry, Rachel McAdams, most movie-goers liked Watson best – perhaps, Sherlock too!

Works Cited

Bahn, Christopher. “Gateways to Geekery: Sherlock Holmes.” Books. AV Club, 17 June 2010. Web. 11 June 2015. <,42196/>.

Doyle, Arthur C. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Kindle Edition.

Lee, Patrick. “Does the New Sherlock Holmes Film Honor or Ignore Doyle?.” Arthur Conan Doyle. BLASTR, 22 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 June 2015. <>.

O’Sullivan, Michael. “Movie review: Robert Downey Jr.’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ isn’t for the Doyle faithful.” Movies. Washington Post, 25 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 June 2015. <>.

Prime, Samuel B. Sherlock Holmes. Museum of the Moving Image: Reverse Shot, 26 Dec. 2009. Web. 16 May 2015.

Ritchie, Guy, Michael Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg, Lionel Wigram, Joel Silver, Susan Downey, Dan Lin, Michael Tadross, Bruce Berman, Philippe Rousselot, Robert Downey, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Fox, Hans Matheson, Geraldine James, Sarah Greenwood, James Herbert, Hans Zimmer, Jenny Beavan, and Arthur C. Doyle.Sherlock Holmes. , 2010.

Roberts, Sheila. “Guy Ritchie Interview, Sherlock Holmes.” Movie Forum. MoviesOnline, n.d. Web. 11 June 2015. <>.

Scott, A O. “The Brawling Supersleuth of 221B Baker Street Socks It to ‘Em.” Movies. New York Times, 25 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 June 2015. <>.

Shoard, Catherine. “Sherlock Holmes – Cinematic Mystery that Baffles in all the Wrong Ways.” Review of Sherlock Holmes. The Guardian, 15 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 June 2015. <;.

Vejvoda, Jim. “IGN investigates the Case of the Roaring Return.” Sherlock Holmes Review. IGN, 23 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 June 2015. <;.


4 Responses to “Sherlock Holmes: How Far Is Too Far When Adapting A Book For Film?”

  1. wbradbur June 16, 2015 at 1:57 am #

    I would argue that the book is anything but dry. Sherlock is rich with satire, sarcasm, humor, and jest. He practical jokes his employer and takes every opportunity to make a joke. He also does not work alone in the book. Sherlock has a companion in some way at all times and relies on their help to not only solve the crime but survive. If anything, the characterization is the most accurate aspect of this adaptation. I also think the bromance is overstated in many of the reviews attempting to dig deep for any hint of romance that may or may not exist. Although very fond of each other, Sherlock is losing his one companion in life to marriage, an institution he does not altogether find a need for nor understand. His attempts at sabotage are merely an attempt to retain what little companionship he has in his life.

    • Bibi Ajayi June 19, 2015 at 1:40 am #

      I would agree that the bromance between Sherlock and Watson was more convincing that Sherlocks romance with Irene. From the beginning of the film, the relationship between Sherlock and Watson was defined and from there we saw them struggle, help one another, and come together. Those are important parts of any relationship, which made it believable on the big screen. Sherlock and Irene’s relationship on the other seemed underdeveloped and at times forced, as if it was necessary to for Sherlock to have a love interest, I could have done without their relationship, honestly. It didn’t add or take away from the film.

  2. ellenback329 June 19, 2015 at 4:09 am #


    I also agree that the bromance between Holmes and Watson is stronger and more apparent than the romance between Holmes and Irene Adler. Not only was their on-screen chemistry evident throughout the film, but according to the director, their off-screen bromance was also very alive and real. I remember reading a behind-the-scenes article about the movie’s making about how Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law hit it off when they reviewed their roles for the movie. When asked about his perspective of the term, Robert Downey Jr. told MTV, “I think the word bromance is so passé. We are two men who happen to be roommates who wrestle a lot and share a bed.” I thought his response was funny and interesting because he kinda leaves the viewers to decide what he means by that.

  3. Joseph E. Byrne June 25, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    I’m a little disappointed with this entry. Almost everything reads like a review. That is you spend most of your time evaluating the success of the film, the acting, the characterizations, rather than analyzing the themes of the book, film, and adaptation, and addressing some of the problems and complications with the adaptation. In your student research links, PLEASE separate the three descriptions and include a title and link for each source. RE: your critical argument. So the film shows a bromance, it’s a buddy film, but what does this have to do with the adaptation? How does it reflect cultural and historical differences? Those kind of questions will get you to a point of contention, something that forces you to take a position and defend it.

    It’s kind of late in the game, but in order to escape a tendency to be a reviewer rather than a critic, I suggest you review the “frequent problems” blog entry (particularly parts 1, 2, and 5):

    9/10. Joseph Byrne. ENGL329B.

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