Winter Cometh

Hello, I hope we all had a productive NaNoWriMo this year. I certainly did: I wrote 195,000 words, which is almost certainly my new record, and while part of me wants to try for the nice round 200,000 next year, a largely part of me is reminding me of how few of those 195,000 from this year have really pleased me in terms of quality. 195,000 words, and about 5 of them worth reading!

In addition to writing another novel, my “shamefully not updating my blog at all” time has been spent attending a variety of parties, including my own 34th birthday: I also went to the Last Ever White Mischief Halloween Ball (I went to the first: it seems appropriate that I attend the last, too) and met some lizards; attended a ghost walk on Halloween which ended in the prison cells below the Viaduct Tavern in Holborn; I went to the last Hunterian Museum Late before refurbishment, which featured the opportunity to drink gin while pickling a plasticine penis (not a sentence easily uttered after the gin), and cheerfully ghoulish lecture on the anatomical effects of hanging; visited an absolutely splendid bar in an air raid shelter, called Cahoots, which sells incredible cocktails and contains a converted Tube carriage; went to the stunning Museum of Last Parties for cocktails, a Cockney knees-up, a 1920s disco, a Morris dancing demonstration, a conga line featuring a guru with light-up shoes, and the opportunity to cover myself in so much glitter that my dry cleaner complained about it later; shot down to Brighton for a half-remembered night of dancing which has left me covered in mystery bruises; had brunch at Dishoom with the latest Ben Aaronovitch book, and tried, on the whole, to ignore the fact that the world is burning down around my ears.

As a recent dining companion said, if we’re going to have the last days of the Weimar Republic, we shall have to have the parties, too.

In addition to all this riotous behaviour I have been recovering from surgery, but that really does require its own post.

In the meanwhile, as a placeholder, please feel free to watch me and m’companion Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool reviewing Dr Strange back in October, sitting outside Balans Cafe in Soho and occasionally making new friends while I slag off Marvel’s most recent movie offering and Rich tries to be slightly more positive about a film neither of us paid to see.

It’s my face, and voice, together at last!

What on earth have I been doing?

Well, I finished writing the first draft of another book, which took up a lot of my brain power if not strictly speaking all of my time (and which I may have used as an excuse not to do a great deal else).

I’ve had a collaborative work published, by someone who isn’t me, at a place where people can read it for free rather than having to pay out their hard-won beer tokens to judge me.

I’ve finally seen 2001: A Space Odyssey at the BFI’s NFT1 (for the acronym-allergic: the British Film Institute’s National Film Theatre 1 – there are three at the Southbank arm of the Institute). I have to say I’m not overly impressed. It was very pretty, but I think I’d have enjoyed it more if more of popular culture hadn’t gone in with the idea that it is in some way a narrative rather than three arthouse movies stitched together for no discernible reason. The movies in question: Tapirs In Africa (Yeah Okay Then); Space Travel Is So Boring Even Computers Go Mad (With Preceding Conspiracy Drivel That Goes Nowhere); and finally I Took Acid Let Me Tell You About It For An Inexcusably Long Time (The Universe Is A Baby I’m Deep).

However, it was not an entirely wasted trip – the view on the walk to the BFI from King’s Cross was beautiful, and the BFI Riverfront bar have brought back their exemplary Hot Apple Pie cocktail.

Pride: There Is Power In The Union

Ordinarily, the more I like a current release, the less I want to write about it. Not through superstition or a kind of hipster snobbery – “no one else should be into this thing because they’ll only like it wrong” is stupid, and with small films actively damaging – but through a kind of fear that, should I express enthusiasm for the thing, ten thousand people will descend at once to explain to me that I am wrong, bad, and On Some Kind of List for having liked it.

However, I feel that the only people likely to be pissed off by Pride are the kind of people I should relish pissing off.

Pride, 2014

Set almost exactly thirty years ago, Pride tells the story of L.G.S.M; “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners”, the 84-85 miner’s strike, and the power of the union; not the miner’s union but the union between two groups of people persecuted by the red-tops and Thatcher’s government.

In some ways it reminds me a little of The Full Monty, which I rewatched recently and which I discovered still has the power it had when it was released, to lift my spirits and provide a sense of warm, familiar welcome in a canon of film dominated by American releases and aspirations that enter the realms of the delusionally glossy. It relates to the UK’s lost industries, too, and to the ability of unusual friendships and activities to raise people from the gloom and horror of external/financial depression.

Because the subject matter is very hard – the attempt by the privileged and wealthy to break the backbone of the hard-working and supposedly powerless – and because of when it is set – right at the first peak of the AIDS crisis – there are some terribly bleak and sad moments in this comedy. There are some terribly dignified and heartwarming ones too, amid the laughter, and the acknowledgement that fear brings out the best in some people and the worst in others.

A slew of familiar locations, character types, and class coding, as well as the very faint and nascent memories of the time, formed in an extremely young mind, made this feel as if the film had been made especially for me. As the Resident Australian commented: “It’s about queer history and socialism, it’s like they wanted you to come and see it”.

I don’t think I’ve been made this happy by a film in a long, long time: it has a perfect blend of established talent and new stars, it has the perfect mix of triumphs and bitter failures, it has humour and kindness and warmth by the bucketload, and it has a great deal of pride in the union between working men cast down by their callous government, and queer men and women cast out, in many cases, by their families.

Definitely worth watching more than once.

Review: A Dangerous Man – Lawrence After Arabia

Long-term readers will be aware that I have an unsightly emotional weakness for all things relating to one Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 — 19 May 1935).

T E Lawrence
this guy

Having revisited the infamous/famous/Oscar-winning/definitive (if factually wildly inaccurate) David Lean movie of 1962 while on holiday recently, I was already awash with renewed fervour for depictions of the man’s life, and when the same woman who led me back into my Lean/O’Toole/Sharif/Guinness  rewatch informed me that she’d found another film: this one relating to his exploits in the diplomatic kerfuffle after the war … I scrambled over myself to find a copy to watch.

The content of that period is a surprisingly painful watch or read in any case. Knowing, as the participants could not at the time, just how much deceit was taking place, and what continued trouble would arise as a result of France and Britain dividing up the Arabian Peninsula willy-nilly as if they had any business to do so, it can lead to melodramatic book-hurling or film-pausing if there’s no pressure to keep going. I was fortunate this time to have someone to watch with me and not let me stalk off muttering angrily about the idiocy of history and slide into a funk about how little anything has truly changed

A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia
A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia, starring Ralph Fiennes and Alexander Siddig

A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia was released in 1990, as a sort of sequel to the re-release of the 1962 film, and while it is in part based on false information (Col. Meinertzhagen’s diaries), it could be argued that it takes a stronger basis in factual events than the more fanciful David Lean epic. However, as has been noted by a friend (G. Ragovin) writing on the mythology of Oscar Wilde, the purpose of biopics is not necessarily to render documentary truth but, as the original films of Lowell Thomas which brought Lawrence to the public imagination initially (and whose screening Lawrence attends in this film,both bookending the events and providing a flashback for the audience), to sell a legend. What people take from depictions of established cultural heroes is not the actuality of events nor the truth of the man or woman themselves but a sense of greatness and aspiration/inspiration: in the case of Lawrence (and indeed Wilde) this greatness is tempered and highlighted by tragedy and hubris. The element of the tragic hero provides Lawrence the status of Queer Icon regardless of his own sexuality, in the same way that at the time his exploits in the desert provided him with the status of “Hero of the Empire” regardless of his own allegiance.

Ralph Fiennes as T E Lawrence
At the beginning of the film, Lawrence is drafting Seven Pillars, and is taking very little care of his own well-being.

In this particular depiction of a difficult chapter of Lawrence’s life, the man himself is portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. Prior to watching this I would never have picked Fiennes as a candidate for the role, but there is no question that he carries it off masterfully. He incorporates, as the film incorporates, elements both of the Lean epic (and O’Toole’s performance) and of historical footage of Lawrence, bringing about the soft-spoken, upright, erratic, and incredibly driven Col. Lawrence in a touching and very believable fashion. Over the course of the negotiations in Paris – and the codicil to this diplomatic failure – he demonstrates the oft-discussed facets of Lawrence’s personality: not only the showmanship of spontaneous translation (and the accompanying spontaneous round of applause), the effete-seeming self-containment, the nervous explosions of laughter, but also his impish schoolboy humour, and the depth of affection for Prince Faisal (فيصل بن حسين بن علي الهاشمي – I’m not getting satisfactory answers on the Romanisation of his name). Considering that this performance is required to weave through potentially tedious political manoeuvring, moments of high stress (a probably-invented attempted seduction by Polly Walker’s Madam Dumont and several frustrated altercations with Faisal, for example), considerable sadness (“I arrived too late to see my father alive and left too early to see him buried. What more could I do for you?”), and bittersweet reconciliation between dear friends, with lashings of emotional instability, strength, and frailty throughout, it is of infinite credit to Fiennes that it is hard to imagine anyone else handling it as well.

During the negotiations, Faisal’s growing irritation with the stalling, deceit, and racist colonial attitudes of the countries which were supposedly his allies during the war had to be plausibly performed about from a position of initial optimism. His anger with the distracting accolades and media circus surrounding Lawrence and the damage this unwanted intrusion did to their friendship also had to be shaped from an opening in which the two men trusted each other so intimately that Faisal allowed Lawrence to speak for him and Lawrence allowed Faisal to repeatedly stab a knife between the spread fingers of his hand. Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi, credited as Saddig El-Fadil and known better to most as Alexander Siddig (or to me as “Dr Bashir from DS9” because I am a nerd), expertly guides the relationship between the two men through its nadir and out to the seemingly positive conclusion, in the aftermath of all the betrayals, of They are watching us.” In this single line, perhaps, the film moves from historical fiction/documentary fiction into meta-commentary: after all, we are watching Lawrence and Faisal, and will doubtless continue to do so.

A dramatic narrative needs a solid antagonist, and while in Lean’s epic of the war the antagonists presented to Lawrence were rather faceless, in Lawrence and Faisal’s post-war fight the multitude of obstacles (Gen. Harry Chauvel, Clémenceau, Gertrude Bell with her favouring of Ibn Sa’ud, Valence) are memorably headed by Lord Dyson. Nicholas Jones does exceptional work in providing a singularly unlikeable Dyson, and steeps potentially dragging scenes of debate and negotiation with such animosity towards his character that it’s impossible to stop shouting “YOU UTTER SHIT” at the screen for long enough to be even the slightest bit bored.

The structure of the film bears a number of superficial similarities to – or homages to, if you prefer – the Lean epic. Like the Lean film, it begins at the end, with Lawrence watching the Lowell Thomas illustrated lectures which are mentioned throughout. He is clearly unwell, and from my estimation this is meant to take place during his post-Paris breakdown wherein he shut himself in an attic, lived on chocolate, and drafted and redrafted Seven Pillars of Wisdom while trying to hide from the press. The structure is a classic in media res, as with the Lean epic: in A Dangerous Man, it is clear when a full circle has been reached and the coda arrived at by the return of the Lowell Thomas lecture and the shabby, exhausted iteration of Lawrence spawned by his furious writing.

In the coda, reconciliation and the conclusion of Lawrence’s oft referred-to book are reached, in a touching scene between Faisal and Lawrence (the former of whom left in anger, the latter in disgrace). Of particular note is the dishevelled appearance of Lawrence, matched by Faisal’s lack of finery: throughout the film Faisal has donned the suits of the European delegates “Because if he dresses like them, he might be treated like them”, and Lawrence the garb of his friend’s delegation (because it is distracting to his enemies, comforting to him, and ensures that he will be underestimated). They have traded finery, Lawrence has worn uniform in varying degrees of identification with “his” country, but in the conclusion Faisal is dressed for prayer and Lawrence for writing. They are humbled, and acknowledge each other’s gifts as a hollow but emotionally sound gesture. Faisal, recognising the futility of the campaign to retain Syria, wryly calls them both “uncrowned kings of Arabia” (the press’s wince-inducing epithet for Lawrence), and Lawrence – in what is both a heartbreaking lie that they both understand is a lie, and a statement of their friendship – says, It’s not over.

At which point, the film ends.

In any depiction of the events of Lawrence’s life, the narrative shape is already set: triumph, hubris, despair, cautious optimism, with the eye of history wreathed in tears at the understanding that no matter how visionary the dreams of the dreamers in the day, their attempts to change the world for the better met with nothing but obstacles, and a state of murderous conflict that continues nearly a hundred years later.

A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia
A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia

An Education In Your Own History

As previously mentioned, in my late teens I became quite fixated on queer history and in particular in the erratic contents of a specific book. There were several films mentioned, with stills included, and for a while I made it my mission to hunt them down and watch them: this was a mission in which I was repeatedly thwarted, and in fact most of the queer cinema I encountered I stumbled across wholly by accident: the best example of this was Martin Sherman’s heartrending and stagey Bent, which I encountered because of insomnia and Channel 4’s insomniac-friendly schedules in the very early days of the 21st Century.

Recently I’ve been catching up on those films whose stills I poured over ten or so years ago, and finally managed to watch both Maurice (1987, Hugh Grant, James Wilby, and Rupert Graves) and Another Country (1984, Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Cary Elwes). Both films are set in the prelude to a World War, although as Maurice belongs in the run-up to the First it is technically more relevant to me as my giant emo obsessiveness about the First World War and associated Sad Gay Soldiers (according to my boyfriend this is a cinematic and literary genre to which I am wedded without exception). Then again, Another Country is a very lightly fictionalised account of the younger days of Guy Burgess (they changed his surname to Bennett, that’s about it) and ever since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came out I’ve had a soft spot for spies. The films even have an attractive Rupert apiece: Graves for Maurice, Everett for Another Country (the latter does boast a second, back-up Rupert in the form of Rupert Wainwright, not to be confused with Rufus Wainwright).

The sex scenes in Maurice are slightly more abundant, and I could very probably talk at disturbing length about Rupert Graves’ penis, which makes an appearance – but I did promise myself this wasn’t going to be that kind of a blog even though it is a jolly nice penis. Instead, though: the comparison of time period, the comparison of idealised England, and the comparison of relationship.

For all that Judd, in Another Country, invokes cynicism and dissatisfaction and talks about the pointlessness of the war that preceded his school days, he is wrapped in the very serious and passionate belief in the ideals of Marx, and of Communism. Meanwhile the protagonists of Maurice are all of them without ideals: they adhere to a sense of propriety, of place in the order of things (and good grief but Clive Durham is a pompous, self-important ass at Cambridge), but without any real ideology to hold onto: they are older, and if not wiser then a good deal less convinced of the importance of clearly-delineated concepts.

Both films involve the notion of sacrifices made for love, which rather neatly explains my interest in them beyond the acknowledged passion for queer history; although in each case the sacrifice is rather central to the denouement of the plot, and therefore should be left for the viewer to discover themselves.

Maurice is the softer of the two. It dwells in a gentler time, before the last remnants of a specific social order were torn apart by years of mechanised war and the wholesale slaughter of a generation: in Another Country Judd mocks this and Bennett disdains it, each unimpressed with the boy soldiers lined up to commemorate the dead that have yet to fall in the narrative of Maurice.

There is almost a sense of continuity between the two, but if there is it’s a sad one: the line, “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature,” from Maurice still holds true some fifteen, twenty years later in Another Country: there is a disinclination in the upper classes of English society, still, to allow schoolboy romance or its adult incarnation, and an angry, humiliated Guy Bennett spells it out: “Because in your heart of hearts, like Barclay and Delahay and Fowler and Menzies, you still believe, in spite of your talk of equality and fraternity, you still believe some people are better than others because of the way they make love.”

After all that I’m rather in need of some happier viewing, so I’d welcome suggestions of gay and lesbian films (preferably historical in genre) with happy endings: and be aware, I’ve already seen But I’m A Cheerleader so many times that I can quote it line-for-line!

The Three Worst Cinemas I Have Ever Been In

Good grief, why would anyone want to write about this? Well, a friend was reminiscing about the qualities of her home town (Clevedon, Somerset) and the rather beautiful old custom-built cinema there, and I countered with the tale of woe that was my home town (Tavistock); no cinema until the mid-90s, and that one only dealing in films which had finished their run in all the main cinemas. Hardly what any teenager gorging themselves sick on teen magazines full of new releases wants.

The conversation turned to other cinemas I’d been to; in my teens I went to a boarding school in Somerset, and one of the ways to escape the tedium of sitting in a brick building in the middle of sheep fields was the regularly-organised trips to various cinemas. As a result of this, I saw some truly abhorrent films between 1994 and 1999, on the big screen, which these days I wouldn’t watch on the screen of an iPod after torrenting them if you actually paid me (alright, that’s a lie, I was paid to review The Village and that was about as bad).

Some of these films I hated because I was a teenager and didn’t really appreciate them (The Crucible, The Scarlet Jacket, the latter of which has given me a lifelong disdain for Thomas Hardy’s prose), some I hated because they were unequivocally rubbish (Forces of Nature, a deeply forgettable movie starring possibly Sandra Bullock and someone else and I don’t remember very much beyond it being bad and the leading lady had cool lavender streaks in her hair). Some were actually rather good, and most of them I watched in Yeovil’s perfectly serviceable cinema, or Poole’s swish-seeming out-of-town complex.

Then there were the films we saw in … slightly less magnificent buildings.

These reviews haul from the recesses of my teenage memory, and I fully expect the cinemas in question to have either improved or shut down by now, so don’t take them so much as warnings as whatever the opposite of nostalgia is.

1. Cinema Town: Wells

Film Watched: Fierce Creatures (a pleasant enough comedy featuring the cast of A Fish Called Wanda and very recognisably the environs of Marwell Zoo, which I visited a lot as a child).

Why it was horrific: It was like the worst kind of Scout hall. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but the village I lived in from 6 to 13 seemed to delete in stashing all of its social activities in “temporary” structures which were upwards of 30 years old: long, low-ceilinged bunkers which always contrived to be colder than the outside air. This was more or less one of those, with a concession stand amounting to the ticket sales person reaching under a desk for some bags of priced-up cornershop popcorn and sad-looking M&Ms. Possibly the first time I had ever been grateful for the school’s usual “no tuck” rule with cinema trips.

The floor was flat rather than sloped, meaning that it was more or less impossible to see past anyone’s head and everyone got a crick in their neck; it was freezing cold, and the place smelled of something we couldn’t quite place until half-way through the film when something large and furry ran past my dorm-mate’s foot, she screamed and clutched at me, and we realised that the smell was rat urine.

Unlike the next two cinemas, I have actual evidence that Wells is no longer like this: the extras of the Hot Fuzz DVD show the premier of the film (which was filmed mostly in Wells) taking place in Wells cinema, which in the clips is a beautiful little thing with proper staggered seating and red upholstery and a distinct absence of large rodents. Wells also holds the dubious honour of housing the most horrifying public toilets I’ve ever set foot in and then dived out of immediately afterwards, but I should stress this was in the 90s. I am pretty sure it’s now a picturesque holiday destination and it has always been populated by friendly people although possibly not towards me after I’ve written this.

2. Cinema Town: Weymouth

Film Watched: Dracula: Dead and Loving It (a largely poor parody of vampire films by Lesley Nielsen et al which nevertheless amused the rag-tag selection of juvenile delinquents given the treat of watching it).

Why it was horrific: Not so much “horrific” as just “totally unsuited to be a cinema”. The floor was damp, we could hear traffic outside all the way through, and were a couple of times convinced the screen was going to fall on us. From what I remember they began closing the cinema almost before we’d walked out of the screening, and the entire place smelled of off milk.

That said, I do have a vendetta against Weymouth anyway: my father took me there on holiday when I was 7, whereupon I suffered quite a severe head injury at the hands of some lovely children on a campsite with a concrete playground, and I spent my teens being dragged through the town after dark by various “friends” who were very enthusiastic about the possibility of hooking up with one of the multitudinous boy racers who used the town centre for demonstrating twin exhaust pipes. Perhaps it would be unfair to be rude about Weymouth’s cinema when there was so much else about it to make me steer clear of it for the rest of my life.

3. Cinema Town: Salisbury

Film Watched: The Crucible (we also watched Hercules, Ghost Rider, and Daylight here, along with a British movie about rugby so utterly unmemorable that I can’t Google anything about it, but it was only the screen in which we saw The Crucible to which this applies).

Why it was horrific: Because I couldn’t bloody see. Aside from that, it was colder than a witch’s tit, creaky, lopsided, and rumoured to be full of mice – but then “freezing, creaky, lopsided, and definitely full of mice” also applies to my flat so I can’t really complain about that. However, when we went to see The Crucible we ended up shoved into a selection of seats toward the back of a screen so steeply banked that we were somewhere above the screen, as if looking down on the stage of a theatre (in fact, without Googling, I can’t be sure that’s not what the building originally was). Directly in my line of sight and blocking most of the screen was a large wooden chandelier which, to my untrained teenage eye, looked approximately a million years old, and was held in place by a chain made of something the colour of tar.

To my perennial annoyance, our teen-herder wouldn’t let me sit in the aisle to watch it (something about a “fire hazard”, ho hum) so I watched almost all of The Crucible at a ninety degree angle from that usually considered optimum for film viewing. The question of “why the bloody hell was that chandelier there” was never addressed, but in hindsight I can only assume it was a listed building.

It’s fair to point out that none of the other screens in the Salisbury Odeon produced quite such a deleterious effect on my back and neck muscles, and also to speculate that this experience made me a little unimpressed with the possibility of “doing” The Crucible as our school play the following year…

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows

Aside from a persistent temptation to refer to this as “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Thrones“, which rolls off the tongue for a combination of reasons involving HBO and rhyme, this is an untidy but entertaining calvacade of nonsense continuing Guy Ritchie’s determination to change Sherlock Holmes from the stentorian deerstalker-sporting droll and heavy-lidded clue-fondler of vague popular consciousness into Steampunk Action Hero. Being as I am a fan of the very solid, unshowy Granada-produced Sherlock Holmes adaptations (or some of them, as The Three Garridebs is just bloody weird) and a firm holder of the belief that Jeremy Brett was the One True Holmes, I ought to be strongly against Ritchie’s meddling. However, as a fan of Guy Ritchie’s noisy, adolescent flailing films and apparently endless barrage of homoerotic subtext (which frequently breaks free of the bounds of “sub” to become merely loud, gun-wielding text), I have an iron in the fire.

Watson in a Game of Shadows
Manly, gun-shooting heterosexuality

Game of Shadows has not hit the same chord of novel delight in me that its predecessor did, but I am pleased to say that it did not disappoint, either – and I went in expecting to be disappointed.

In fact, I went in convinced that it was going to be irritating bilge, and largely in a foul mood, and came out much cheered and gigglingly praising Ritchie to the cloud-strewn skies, so I would say it went rather well.

Although the film begins with an action sequence it, for me, took a while to take off. I found myself bored with Irene Adler by the end of the previous film, and uninterested in her supposed role as the Holmesian love interest (lest we forget, in the Granada adaptation she was not his femme fatale but instead merely a woman of a jaded past who was as smart as he was, which has in more recent adaptation become some sort of infuriating mash-up of Mata Hari and Lara Croft); happily Guy Ritchie took care of that, and in doing so raised the stakes.

I find Guy Ritchie’s Moriarty a lot less annoying than Gatiss/Moffat’s changeable manic pixie lunatic, and his demonstration of his mastery over Holmes is – despite involving an explosion and an assassination and an honest-to-God opera (Game of Shadows is if nothing else a lavish affair) – more subtle.

Before I raise a few matters about new cast members I should point out that this is a very action-heavy film. There is almost always something happening, and as a result of this relentless forward motion it seems almost as if the film itself is rather short, plunging away to its conclusion without really pausing for breath. There are some magnificent set pieces, some harrowing scenes – the level and intensity of violence has been raised considerably, along with the stakes – and I wish to make prolonged and passionate love to the wardrobe department over the course of several days.

And of course, the slash fans are not only well catered-to but almost overly pandered to, which guarantees the film’s success in many circles. As a friend of mine (the delightful Bostonian cabaret artiste Amy Macabre) put it, “If this film were any more gay it would just be two dicks kissing each other.” Mainstreamer reviews have been quick to comment on it, largely in tones of great delight, for it’s hard to feel particularly resentful of the barely subtextual sexualisation of the Holmes/Watson friendship in the face of such glorious silliness.

Holmes and Watson in Game of Shadows
I can't imagine where they're getting this "bromance" from

On to the cast. In the previous film I felt that Rachel McAdams was the weak link in an otherwise shining cast; in Game of Shadows she returns, briefly, and is summarily dealt with. Her replacement is Noomi Rapace, who hurls knives and kicks Cossacks and shoots rifles in a refreshing change from the elegant poise and coyly sexualised tedium that has become de riguer for Irene Adlers; Sim, her character, is not presented as a potential love interest for Holmes but rather as a capable and intelligent woman trying to rescue a loved one and very much in command of her own destiny wherever possible.

It is a shame, then, that this film also fairly oozes with (period-appropriate) racial stereotypes and cringe-inducing racist notions. It would have been entirely easy to swap Holmes’s horrendous yellowface performance for something less directly ripped from the annals of 1891, considering how much else has been borrowed from the future (as a former student of sound technology I was more than a little peeved by some details of reproduction, although it is a small drop in a large ocean of deliberate and accidental anachronism); most gallingly, however, there is the depiction of the “gypsies”.

Holmes and Watson’s attitudes could easily be written off as attitudes representative of the time, were they not then immediately supported by the text as realistic. This is sad, because alongside the painful moments of stereotypy there is also an overall intent to push the “gypsies” (a word I am using because it is used in the film; it is generally speaking a racial slur on a par with “negroes”) as being brave, resourceful, loyal, skillful, and intelligent without falling into the irksome “noble savage” trap. It is all the more twitch-making because it’s not the first time Ritchie’s danced around trying to say something admirable about a travelling people and fucked it up and said something unpleasant in the process instead (please see Snatch).

Returning to the cast; I’ve mentioned the formiddable Moriarty and a burgeoning admiration for Noomi Rapace, and I think due mention must also go to Stephen Fry, not least for his exceptional ability to play himself in every film role he receives. Although this is very clearly Mycroft-by-Fry, it is Mycroft-by-Fry in the same way that his brother is Sherlock-by-Downey, and thus their hammed sketches complement each other. Tethering Fry and Downey, Law injects as much level-headedness into both the plot and the performances as he can be expected to, and turns a very touching final scene or two.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

So, Game of Shadows is silly, exotic, entertaining, and quite, quite gorgeous to look at, and even if it has only a passing relevance to any Holmesian plot (rather like its predecessor) it retains an essence of the original; its significant flaws are almost certainly an overreliance on Victorian racial attitudes which stand out rather starkly.