SMH: Crime of Your Life

SMH
Published: December 11, 2009

Sherlock Holmes faces the one woman who outwitted him, writes Donna Walker-Mitchell.

Perhaps only true fanatics of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes crime-solving tales are acquainted with Irene Adler, an American opera singer with the distinction of being one of the few to outwit the brilliant 19th-century London detective.

Doyle wrote four Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories but Adler appears in just one, although there are references to her in others. Guy Ritchie, the director of Hollywood’s new Sherlock Holmes feature film starring Robert Downey jnr as the pipe-puffing detective and Jude Law as his crime-solving partner, Dr John Watson, saw some value in opening up the story to include Adler as Holmes’s foe, partner and love interest.

Canadian actress Rachel McAdams was cast to play Adler.

I had to educate myself on the story that Irene is in,” McAdams, 31, and star of The Notebook, Mean Girls and State of Play, tells Metro.

‘I hadn’t read any of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories before. Irene is in one story but it is a great story. It is A Scandal in Bohemia. It explains how they met and how they fell apart, how volatile their relationship is and how much destruction they have in their past.”

There’s a lot of emotion between these two people. In the film, they are coming back together after a long time apart, so it is really rich ground for complications and adventure and chasing each other around London.”

Set in 1891 in London, Sherlock Holmes is billed as action-adventure as Holmes and Watson try to foil a plot to destroy Britain. There is also a supernatural twist as Holmes’s nemesis, Lord Blackwood, played by English actor Mark Strong, is the leader of a cult. The film opens with Holmes arresting Lord Blackwood. Before he is taken to the gallows, Lord Blackwood vows to return from the dead.

Ritchie’s take on Doyle’s iconic detective differs from most others as his Holmes is not only a highly intellectual crime solver but a lethal bare-knuckled brawler. Holmes finds himself in plenty of life-and-death struggles with colourful characters cooked up by Ritchie.

We are not talking about 20th- or 21st-century guys in a rough part of town,” Downey jnr explains. ”We are talking about Victorian London, 1891. You were either predator or prey there and … there was a very serious class distinction. Watson and Holmes, they don’t live in a bad neighbourhood but they interact with the seediest of the seedy as is required by their profession.”

McAdams and Sherlock Holmes producer Joel Silver say Downey jnr is a real-life Sherlock Holmes when it comes to deciphering people.

Being a great actor is being a great detective,” McAdams says. ”You are uncovering a person inside and out. Robert does that better than anyone I know.”

Silver adds: ”Whenever things happen in the world, whatever it may be, I always seek out Robert Downey jnr to say, ‘What happened? Explain it to me.”’

Downey jnr, whose past includes much-publicised drug addiction and brushes with the law, says he is a little uncomfortable with the praise.

In a very, very specific arena of activity I am the grand poo-bah,” Downey jnr eventually concedes. ”If somebody is off the rails or behaving erratically I can probably tell you exactly what is going on. If there has been contact with law enforcement, I can tell you where they are located and what their thought process is.”

The person who knows Downey jnr best, his wife, Susan Downey, who is also one of Hollywood’s top producers, is not so complimentary of her husband’s detective skills.

He is masterful in understanding the inner workings of people’s heads and breaking down other people’s irrational, psychotic behaviour,” she says. ”As far as being a detail-oriented observationist like Sherlock Holmes, I think that is where Robert is a very good actor.”

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