Sunday Afternoon Movie: Young Sherlock Holmes

It’s that time of the week again, the Sunday roast has been eaten and the sofa is calling your name beckoning like a sirens call. This week’s choice was easily made. Before Robert Downey Jr stepped into Baker Street or Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss brought him to the modern day, Barry Levinson, Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg brought us Young Sherlock Holmes.

Relocating Holmes as a teenager living in a boarding school, he takes new student John Watson under his wing and the pair investigate their first mystery together. It’s not a perfect movie by any stretch, Barry Levinson is a skilled director but I have often found his movies a bit flat, Rain Man is perhaps his most rounded film to date.

The script by Chris Columbus is pitch perfect, his dark touch on Gremlins and fellow 1985 movie The Goonies work wonders for this film. Steven Spielberg might only serve as Executive Producer but the finished product retains that Spielbergian feel that was present in both previous Columbus/Spielberg collaborations.

On release it was subtitled ‘Young Sherlock Holmes and The Pyramid of Fear’ referring to the Egyptian cult our plucky young heroes are up against. This was subsequently removed as it didn’t make enough money to get a sequel made, which is a shame as the post credit scene reveals the identity of Professor Moriarty and sets up part 2 beautifully.

Sherlock is played by Nicholas Rowe, he’s a bit too smug for his own good but it’s kind of how I would of imagined Holmes to be as a teenager. Watson is played admirably by Alan Cox who is the son of noted British actor Brian Cox. The pair work really well together and the bonds that make them lifelong friends are well executed. There’s also a love interest for Holmes in the shape of Elizabeth Hardy (Sophie Ward), the granddaughter of on campus inventor Waxflatter played by Nigel Stock who sadly died the following year.

The special effects might not of aged brilliantly, but it’s worth remembering that this was the 80’s. Industrial Light and Magic spent close to four months to create the Stain Glass Knight effect, which still looks good for it’s 26 years. There are also several hallucination scenes which for a PG are quite strong, the first is the man that settles down to his chicken dinner only to find it still alive. The other hallucination scene has stayed with me vividly all my life, Watson is set upon by an army of cakes and baked goods who force him to eat them. A cake shouldn’t have a happy face on it, this made me sad to eat cakes for a while as I was convinced they were alive.

Young Sherlock Holmes is a perfect Sunday afternoon movie, it’s a little bit Christmassy (likely because it’s been shown umpteen times on bank holidays), it’s an adventure, quite charming and a fun origins story of a beloved character. Often overlooked as a disaster it’s a bit of a hidden gem. Although it’s tag-line was woefully cringeworthy “Before a lifetime of adventure, they lived the adventure of a lifetime’

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