Sherlock Holmes is one of the best known detectives in the world -- so famous in fact, that 221B Baker Street in London continues to get mail addressed to this fictional character almost a century after he would have died had he been a real person. There are groups of people -- Sherlockians and Holmesians, the distinction between which is rather subtle -- who delight in retelling the tales; it has become somewhat traditional to try to fill in the gaps, things left out of the 'canonical' stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- 56 short stories and 4 novels. The official tales allude to happenings beyond them -- some authors take up the point there, and others create fanciful tales altogether. These have been made into films, television programmes and radio programmes for most of the history of their publication.
This film, 'Young Sherlock Holmes', derives from the mid-1980s film of the same name, produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Barry Levinson as an homage to Holmes and Holmes fans. The screenplay, written by Chris Columbus, was adapted into novel form by Alan Arnold. This story fills in the gaps of Holmes' childhood and education.
There are many wonderful pieces here -- it breaks with the canon in that it introduces Holmes (then 16 years old) and Watson as school mates at a private school. Holmes is struggling to learn to play the violin (a canonical piece), and already displays prodigious powers of observation and deduction. He is a loner for the most part, a bit of trouble with authorities and often underestimated. Lestrade is also introduced here, as a junior policeman.
The game is afoot in short order when Holmes' favourite, highly-eccentric professor dies mysteriously; this death mirrors in a fashion several other deaths, which leads Holmes and his new sidekick Watson on a merry chase, along with Elizabeth (this early relationship and its outcome is meant to explain the later absence of women in Holmes' life). The headmaster is generally supportive of Holmes, but is his support all that it seems?
The chase leads Holmes through the London underworld he will later come to know very well, tracking down a mysterious cult with Egyptian origins. Arnold's researching into the Egyptian lore, as well as details about London and Holmesian detail is impressive. Arnold holds Holmes as an ideal, stating in an author's epilogue that Holmes is as much the chivalric medieval knight as a Victorian and Edwardian gentleman.
This is a mystery very much in the spirit of Conan Doyle. The clues are there -- one merely needs to follow them to a logical conclusion. Some purists may balk, but this is an intriguing addition to the body of post-Conan Doyle literature, a worthy pastiche.
The lead is played by Nicholas Rowe, an actor deserving of more recognition. Alan Cox plays John Watson - had the Harry Potter stories come about twenty years earlier, he might well have been cast in that role. Sophie Ward plays the love interest for Holmes - Holmes is noted in the stories for not being particularly amorous of nature, and this story attempts to explain that. Anthony Higgins is the villain (do be sure to see the final bonus scene after the credits for the transformation of the villain), assisted by Susan Fleetwood as his 'moll' of sorts. Rounding out the cast is Freddie Jones as Cragwitch and Nigel Stock as Waxflatter, an eccentric (possibly mad) scientist/academic who is friends with Holmes.
The CGI graphics stand up with to time - the walking stained-glass window knight is reminiscent of the knight in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'. The sets, costumes and other effects of the film are really well tended, as is the care taken to add elements faithful to the original stories of Holmes.