Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
Warner Bros has released 30 production photos (some of which we’re seen before) for Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t really looking forward to this film, but I know a lot of people who have seen the final cut, and LOVED IT. So this might be the movie to see this Christmas. Check out the photos after the jump.
Sherlock Holmes has made his reputation finding the truth at the heart of the most complex mysteries. With the aid of Dr. John Watson, his trusted ally, the renowned “consulting detective” is unequaled in his pursuit of criminals of every stripe, whether relying on his singular powers of observation, his remarkable deductive skills, or the blunt force of his fists.
But now a storm is gathering over London, a threat unlike anything that Holmes has ever confronted…and just the challenge he’s looking for.
After a string of brutal, ritualistic murders, Holmes and Watson arrive just in time to save the latest victim and uncover the killer: the unrepentant Lord Blackwood. As he approaches his scheduled hanging, Blackwood–who has terrorized inmates and jailers alike with his seeming connection to dark and powerful forces–warns Holmes that death has no power over him and, in fact, his execution plays right into Blackwood’s plans.
And when, by all indications, Blackwood makes good on his promise, his apparent resurrection panics London and confounds Scotland Yard. But to Holmes, the game is afoot.
Racing to stop Blackwood’s deadly plot, Holmes and Watson plunge into a world of the dark arts and startling new technologies, where logic is sometimes the best crime-fighting weapon…but where a good right hook will often do the job.
In a dynamic new portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character, Robert Downey Jr. plays the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. Revealing fighting skills as powerful as his famous intellect, Holmes employs his own unique methods to get to the heart of a case, traveling where no one else would think to go to find what others cannot see.
Jude Law portrays Watson, Holmes’s longtime colleague, who is joining him in what may be their last case before the doctor starts a new life as a married man. Rachel McAdams is Irene Adler, a woman from America, who is as alluring as she is dangerous, and whose tempestuous relationship with the detective has become the one puzzle he cannot solve. Mark Strong plays Lord Blackwood, whose own intellect, combined with merciless ambition, makes him a formidable adversary. Eddie Marsan appears as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade, who is both impressed and frustrated by the great Sherlock Holmes.
The film has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material.
A TIMELESS CHARACTER
IN AN ALL-NEW ADVENTURE
“Crime is common. Logic is rare.”
For generations, Sherlock Holmes has embodied the gift of seeing beyond the obvious–of discerning the truth from within the haze of deception. Created in the late 19th century, in a series of stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the brilliant detective has become one of pop culture’s most enduring figures, whose adventures are among the most widely read in the history of the English language.
“He was probably the first superhero, an intellectual superhero,” states Robert Downey Jr., the Oscar®-nominated actor who takes on the title role in “Sherlock Holmes.” “He was, and probably still is, one of the most recognizable icons on Earth, so much so that a lot of people actually thought that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. The more you look into Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, the more you see what a rich character Sherlock Holmes is. He’s very adept at so many things: he plays violin, he’s a martial artist, a boxer, an expert single stick fighter and a swordsman of sorts. He has a strong moral code in helping good guys catch bad guys, so he has dedicated his life to being a consulting detective. He doesn’t do it to show everyone how smart he is, or that he has figured everything else out when they haven’t; he’s actually a crusader.”
In this spirit, the cast and filmmakers of “Sherlock Holmes” set out to delve deeper into Conan Doyle’s four novels and 56 self-contained short stories to peel back the layers on Holmes. “We’ve tried to take him back to what we believe to be his origin, which is essentially a more visceral character,” says the film’s director, Guy Ritchie, who has been a Holmes fan since childhood. “We’ve tried to integrate that and make him more streetwise. He is inquisitive about chemistry, martial arts, and the human condition. Yet he managed to percolate through all the different echelons of English society, which was tremendously complex. But then, as now, Sherlock Holmes is unique; there’s really no one else like him. I think that’s why his appeal has stuck. And while our story is rooted in London of the 1890s, we have tried to make it as contemporary as we possibly can.”
“This film brings out qualities in Holmes that are relatively unknown but incredibly cinematic and true to the character and the adventures that Conan Doyle created,” producer Joel Silver offers. “The previous adaptations of Sherlock Holmes turned the stories into something a bit more detective noir on the big screen over the years, but at their core, these were action novels. Holmes really is an 1890s man of action, with insight and intelligence that eclipse everyone else around him, including Scotland Yard.”
The screenplay for “Sherlock Holmes” is by Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, from an original story by Lionel Wigram and Michael Robert Johnson. Wigram, who is also a producer on the film, has been a fan of Holmes since reading the stories as a child. “When I became a producer, I reread all the stories and realized that there was a new way to do Sherlock,” he says. “Initially, I made a comic book, which was really a way to show how cool and fun Sherlock could be. I also wanted to explore his humanity and vulnerability and the issues he has to deal with because of his genius; he’s as modern a character now as he was back when he was originally created.”
Wigram spoke to members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of Holmes experts from around the world who meet once a year in New York to exchange notes and ideas and discuss their hero. “Meeting them was a humbling experience,” Wigram recalls. “I thought I was a fan and knew about Holmes, but it’s nothing compared to the expertise and knowledge of these people. They were also completely supportive of the film, which was an immense relief. Les Klinger, one of the Irregulars’ trustees and noted scholar of Sherlockiana, even advised us on language and factual details.”
The filmmakers hoped to make “Sherlock Holmes” a movie-going experience that would create the kind of excitement that made the original works so popular and enduring. “We really felt that we had an opportunity, with today’s technology, to do justice to the story in bringing this incredible vision to life,” says producer Susan Downey. “There is a whole generation that doesn’t know much about Sherlock Holmes beyond the name. And there are longtime fans that have an affection for the deerstalker hat and the ‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ which are not in this movie. But we hope to be truer to the source material by bringing out the action in the stories. We were able to take the scope of the stories, as well as what is suggested in the books, and put that on screen.”
“It’s certainly an adventure, just as the stories seemed to me when I first read them,” adds Jude Law, who plays John Watson. “There’s still the cerebral intrigue and science and suspense of the original stories, but there’s also the brawling and mayhem that is faithfully brought in from the novels. My great hope is that Conan Doyle fans really enjoy it because I’ve become a huge fan myself and am very respectful of the legacy. I do think we’ve been faithful, but we’ve also injected our characters with dimensions that have never been brought out before. Guy Ritchie is brilliant at making drama physical and incredibly skilled at keeping the energy high.”
Silver agrees, noting, “Though this film takes place in the Victorian period, Guy’s edgy sensibility and fresh approach to the material give you all the rich layers of mystery and drama you’d expect, but with unexpected action and humor that make ‘Sherlock Holmes’ an exciting and incredibly fun cinematic experience.”
FRIENDS & ADVERSARIES:
THE CAST AND CHARACTERS OF “SHERLOCK HOLMES”
“Mr. Holmes, you must widen your gaze. I’m concerned you
underestimate the gravity of coming events. For you and I are
bound on a journey that will twist the very fabric of nature.”
“Sherlock Holmes” unfolds against the backdrop of London in 1890, when the city seems at the center of the world, with technology extending mankind’s reach and all things new racing to replace the old. “There’s a growing engagement in technologies of the near future, and this sense of wonderment,” Robert Downey Jr. observes. “They’re verging on all these incredible things.”
But for all the polish and prestige, 1890s London is also a cesspool into which all the criminals of contemporary society drain…which makes it the ideal city for a man like Sherlock Holmes. Downey continues, “You have this incredibly fascinating yet dangerous city, and Holmes knows every inch of it. He feels that this is his city in which to engage the enemy. And he knows what he’s up against.”
For Guy Ritchie, having Downey in the title role became the key to unlocking a new interpretation of “Sherlock Holmes.” “In my opinion, Robert is the perfect Holmes,” says the director. “He’s American, but his English accent is flawless and he has an international feel to him. In his own way, Robert’s also a bit of a genius. He’s tremendously smart and quick-witted, and is very comfortable playing a character like Holmes without any artifice or pretension.”
Producer Susan Downey agrees. “The eloquence of Holmes, his use of words and language, seems to come very naturally to Robert. There is also real physicality to the role in our film. Holmes participates in bare-knuckle boxing fights and practices martial arts, which Robert has been doing for the past six years. So, it was a very natural progression to immediately think of Robert as Holmes.”
Holmes’s unconventional quirks and understated idealism resonated with the actor. “He’s an archetype,” Robert Downey Jr. asserts. “There’s something so monastic about him–his intentions are so pure, and his moral code is strengthened by his resolve and his actions. When he feels he’s not inspired or motivated by some creative charge, he’ll fall into a state where he barely speaks a word for three days, and when he’s engaged, he has incredible amounts of energy, super-human energy. He says, ‘There’s nothing more stimulating than a case where nothing goes your way.’ And, in the end, Holmes’s passionate curiosity and his ability to not only see but interpret these details are what make him so unique.”
Holmes would not be who he is without Watson, his enabler, his collaborator, his friend. As with Holmes, the filmmakers felt that the Dr. Watson of the books is far more of a dynamic character than the one depicted in past movies and television series. “Watson has sometimes been portrayed as a sort of bumbling fool against Holmes’s great, lofty genius,” says Ritchie, “but that really isn’t the case. Watson is a much more significant individual than that. They really are a team.”
In “Sherlock Holmes,” Watson is as tough as they come. “He’s a war veteran just back from the Afghan war; he’s been wounded and has been through hardship,” Wigram describes. “He’s a strong, physical man and he knows how to handle himself. Although he’s not a mad genius like Holmes, he’s a very clever man.”
In many ways, the casting of Jude Law as Watson was every bit as crucial as that of Downey as Holmes. “It seems impossible to imagine anyone else being Watson once we cast Jude,” says Ritchie. “I wanted a good-looking Watson. I didn’t want him to be subservient or inferior, but rather a bit of a hero with an equal partnership with Holmes. I believe that’s to a degree what Conan Doyle was really after.”
Jude Law was familiar with Holmes and Watson since reading the stories as a child and marveled at how much of Watson has been unexplored up until now. “He’s been in a brutal war and has experienced horror and physical pain,” says the actor. “With that military background in mind, I really wanted him to represent the slightly more buttoned-up, polished professional, with Holmes being the slightly more wayward, eccentric dilettante. But Watson is far from just bumbling along; he’s in the middle of the action–sometimes tearing in ahead of Holmes.”
In addition to joining Holmes in his investigations, Watson is also the storyteller in the Sherlock Holmes canon. “If there wasn’t Watson, there would be no Holmes because Holmes never talks about what he does, but Watson is with him every step of the way,” says Downey.
“Watson has always been, and remains, the eyes of the audience watching this great man unravel these extraordinary knots of clues,” Law explains. “He definitely gets his hands dirty in their cases together, but he is also in awe when Holmes just lets loose with his incredible photographic memory or ability to decipher exactly what transpired and how it was done.”
Their friendship plays an important role in both their work and their private lives. “They’re tremendously close and we show how that manifests itself,” Ritchie notes. “There’s a lot of humor in it, some jealousy, but a real affection and sincerity about the partnership. They need each other for balance; Holmes is the creative genius and Watson’s the more temperate and disciplined of the two.”
From the moment Downey and Law met, the two actors began a rich collaboration that was reflected in their performances. “Robert and Jude became great friends,” says Silver. “Their chemistry onscreen is powerful. They have an almost telepathic ability to be in sync, and create this wonderful dynamic that drives their partnership.”
“Jude has a huge intellect and love of the game,” Downey adds. “The second we met, we just started bouncing ideas off each other. We were very much on the same page, which is a pretty eccentric page. He really knows what he’s doing and yet he’s also very open to letting things flow. We really worked as a team to do justice to these characters and their friendship.”
“I think the essence I wanted to bring–and what I know Guy and Robert looked to me for–was a yin, if you like, to Holmes’s yang,” Law comments. “Robert and I talked a lot about how we could balance out each other’s characters so that together they make a perfect whole, and many of the descriptions of the two of them in the books convey that they are incredibly powerful together because they support each other so, and their friendship is so deeply rooted. We could also at times be incredibly humorous because there’s a part of Holmes that infuriates Watson and vice versa.”
Nonetheless, Holmes’s mastery of detection renders him both ally and foil of Scotland Yard and its lead inspector, Lestrade, played by Eddie Marsan. “Lestrade is a public official and does things by the book, which is the exact opposite of Holmes,” says Marsan. “They work side-by-side, and not always comfortably. But there is no shortage of criminals in London in Lestrade’s time, and while he doesn’t approve of Holmes’s methods, he wants to see the crimes solved and the bad guys caught, and, more often than not, Holmes helps him get there.”
“Holmes knows that nobody is as far out as he is in their methodology, so it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to get the results he does,” Downey remarks. “And I think he prides himself on that. That’s the root of his self-esteem–the pains he takes are great. He really wants to be of service.”
But the successful partnership of Holmes and Watson takes a surprising hit when Watson falls in love with, and plans to marry, Mary Morstan, played by Kelly Reilly. “Mary loves Watson very much, and she also admires Holmes, who sees her as a bit of a threat,” says Reilly. “He believes that if Watson gets married and moves away, it will jeopardize their partnership…and that may be the case.”
Holmes is shaken by the notion that Watson is so determined to make a new life with Mary. “Holmes can’t understand why Watson would want anything other than what they already have,” says Susan Downey. “Over the course of the film, we come to understand what they need in each other. Watson provides the balance for Holmes. In many ways, he’s his touchstone to the real world.”
“Holmes leads a solitary life and is dedicated to the art of detection,” says Wigram. “He doesn’t really believe in love because it might interfere with his work. And he isn’t interested in marriage or having any kind of typical relationship with a woman. He’s too unconventional for that.”
The exception is Irene Adler. An American from New Jersey traveling abroad, she is a daring woman ahead of her time who lives on the edge of the law. Though not a regular in the Sherlock Holmes collection, Irene made a highly memorable appearance in Conan Doyle’s short story “A Scandal in Bohemia” as the only woman to have bested Holmes. “I imagined her as a secret agent of sorts who seduces men and steals from them, very Mata Hari,” comments Wigram. “I thought it would be a great idea to bring her into the story as someone who broke Holmes’s heart and got under his skin.”
To play Holmes’s great love and Achilles’ heel, the filmmakers cast Rachel McAdams. “Rachel struck me as the ideal Irene,” says Ritchie. “She portrays her with this fantastic benign facade under which is the serpent of the most nefarious nature. She’s not to be trusted at all. Even when she’s got a blade to your throat, she smiles. Her sweetness is a front she uses to be as efficient in a man’s world as she is.”
“Irene is a bit of a mystery, so it was fun getting to unveil her layers,” offers McAdams. “The relationship between Irene and Holmes is so volatile and unorthodox; they walk a fine line between loving each other and distrusting each other. She’s had many lives and she lives in the moment. Really, she’s a woman living like a man, which was very uncommon for the period, so I had to balance the elegance of her femininity with her reckless, dangerous nature.”
As much as Irene distracts Holmes, she also presents him with a puzzle akin to the kinds he unravels in his work. It is in this capacity that Lord Blackwood attracts his singular focus. Though Blackwood’s initial crimes–murdering young women in apparent ritual sacrifices–proved little challenge to Holmes, Blackwood’s apparent “resurrection” from the dead is, for Holmes, the perfect case.
Utilizing spiritualism, Blackwood casts himself as a powerful dark lord who will use the forces of evil to take over the world. “In the late Victorian period, there was a lot of interest in the spiritual world,” comments Wigram. “Around that time, there were people like Aleister Crowley and Rasputin, who followed the occult and were very good at convincing people that they had access to a power beyond our world. Holmes is very attracted to the idea of debunking someone like Blackwood.”
“Lord Blackwood is a wonderfully arcane, evil counterpoint to Holmes,” says Mark Strong, who takes on the role of Blackwood. “He dabbles in the occult and would have people believe that he can come back from the dead. In doing so, he’s terrorizing the people of London, making them believe he’s become a supernatural being. At the same time, he’s also inventing a number of things before their time. He creates an interesting dilemma for Holmes, who is a scientist and a pragmatist. I wanted Blackwood to be a mysterious character, and he is a dangerous threat. He has his reasons for doing the terrible things he does. I hope that I’ve made him a worthy opponent for Holmes.”
“Sherlock Holmes” marks Ritchie’s third collaboration with Strong, having worked with him on “Revolver” and “RocknRolla.” Ritchie felt the actor brought the gravity needed for Blackwood to provide a formidable challenge for the detective. “Mark is a fantastic chameleon,” says the director. “He’s one of the very few actors who can turn what could otherwise be a rather theatrical line into something that’s credible, which was needed with the character of Blackwood, who is quite dramatic and imposing.”
In spite of the cloak of the supernatural Blackwood draws over the proceedings, “Holmes will err on the side of logic every time and believes the stranger something is the simpler the explanation will be,” Downey says. “He believes that whatever Blackwood is doing can be explained in the larger scientific world. He says, ‘Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ The purity of reasoning is what sets Holmes apart, and makes him possibly the only man on Earth who can stop Blackwood.”
FIRST POINT OF ATTACK:
THE ACTION OF “SHERLOCK HOLMES”
“It does make considerable difference to me having
someone with me on whom I can thoroughly rely.”
In the film, as in the books, both Holmes and Watson know their way around a fight and their skills are frequently tested. Holmes is a skilled martial artist; this propensity links him with both the star and director of “Sherlock Holmes,” as Downey and Ritchie have practiced martial arts for years, and worked together to create Holmes’s distinct fighting style. “Doyle called it Baritsu in the novels, which is tied to a 19th-century hybrid of jujitsu that is actually called Bartitsu, created by Edward William Barton-Wright,” Downey explains. “Jujitsu is Guy’s chosen martial art. Mine is Wing Chun Kung Fu. So, we developed our own combination of martial arts styles for the movie.”
As efficient as he is at neutralizing an enemy in the course of his work, Holmes is also known to blow off steam in a boxing ring at a working class pub called the Punch Bowl. Here, in front a raucous crowd, Holmes takes on a massive boxer named McMurdo, played by David Garrick, in a brutal bare-knuckle fight which showcases the detective’s prowess and physical strength.
“The bare-knuckle boxing ring is the only place where Holmes doesn’t think,” says Downey. “But even there he does think; he thinks about how to win the fight, but doesn’t think about all of these ongoing concerns of life. Interpersonal relations don’t enter into it. It’s just you and your opponent.”
“The Punch Bowl is where Holmes goes to hone his skill, to make mistakes, and test out techniques against very powerful opponents,” comments fight consultant Eric Oram, who for years has trained with Downey in Wing Chun Kung Fu and helped prepare the actor for the fight sequences. “He starts by using the least amount of force in the first half of the fight. It’s only after his opponent crosses the line that he wants to teach him a lesson.”
More out of necessity than choice, Watson too knows his way around a street fight, though he is more of a brawler compared to the fluid combat style of Holmes. “Watson is used to the up-close-and-personal fight-for-your-life stuff,” Downey attests. “He has a much more accessible but no less effective style than Holmes. As a matter of fact, there are often times when Holmes over thinks in order to come up with the best deduction, where Watson will just strike with any tool that’s handy.”
“Watson is a war veteran and used to thinking on his feet,” says stunt coordinator Franklin Henson. “He can throw a wild punch in reaction, and, like a street fighter, he’ll use whatever it takes–his head, knees or elbows–to bring an opponent down.”
Law relished participating in the fight sequences. “When you’re in the hands of someone like Guy, who shoots with such a unique eye, you know you’re not shooting a standard fight scene,” says the actor. “He’s always looking for a new way to reveal the story behind the fight, and he knows exactly what he wants. So it’s good fun.”
Director of photography Philippe Rousselot utilized lighting and camera to make the textures palpable and the fights a truly physical experience. “Guy wants the film to feel to the viewer as if you’re there,” Rousselot states. “A good example is the Punch Bowl fight. It was crucial to bring in every detail, from a miniscule drop of sweat to the effect of each blow on the opponent’s body to the sea of movement and tussling in the crowd.”
Ritchie also used these sequences to deconstruct Holmes’s thinking over the course of a fight. He and Rousselot accomplished this moment-by-moment technique using a high-speed digital camera called the Phantom, which creates an ultra-slow motion effect. “The Phantom takes one second of filming and strings it out over 40 or 50 seconds,” says the director. “The camera takes in a great deal of information in a very short period of time, which is the perfect lens through which to illustrate how Holmes’s mind operates. He is able to condense an enormous amount of information into a fraction of a second.”
For a key action sequence–on a multi-story set representing the half-constructed Tower Bridge–Ritchie rehearsed extensively with the actors, along with Oram and Henson, as well as fight coordinator Richard R. Ryan. “We worked very closely with quite a big stunt team,” notes co-producer Steve Clark-Hall. “They knew Robert’s capabilities, which are considerable, and were able to play to his strengths. Pulling off this degree of high intensity action in these stunt sequences was quite a team effort.”
Ritchie sought a strategic blend of rehearsal and spontaneity to ensure the chaos of fighting was reflected in the sequences. “I made the creative decision to make the film gritty, so I didn’t want things to be too choreographed,” he says. “We discussed everything, but we also made sure to leave room for improvisation. I didn’t want it to look too perfect.”
This sensibility appealed to Rachel McAdams, who had extensive stunt work in the Tower Bridge sequence. “Guy liked to keep things messy and keep the truth within this fantastical world,” she notes. “There’s always the temptation to get too refined when dealing with this period, but Guy made sure it was also rough and tumble and modernized. Doing this movie with Guy taught me to be really quick on my feet and precise, yet always open and flexible.”
Of course, humor was an important ingredient in the action and found its way into all the action scenes. “There needed to be moments of levity and other moments of gravity,” Ritchie offers. “So the funny bits got funnier and the darker bits got darker as we went along.”
FROM 221B BAKER STREET TO THE HEIGHTS OF TOWER BRIDGE:
PIECING TOGETHER SHERLOCK HOLMES’S LONDON
“Are you aware that is the first combination of bascule and suspension bridge?
What an industrious empire!”
In creating a tangible feel of Sherlock Holmes’s London, Guy Ritchie wanted to portray a city at the crossroads between the past and a newly dawning future–an expansive and gritty place with bold new architecture being layered over the old. “As the center of the Industrial Revolution, London really was throbbing with enthusiasm and creative energy,” Ritchie observes. “Tower Bridge was being built, one of the many very ambitious things the Victorians were undertaking at the time.”
“The film is set when the British Empire is at its height,” adds Robert Downey Jr. “There was a sense of being on the cusp of the modern age, with a real interest in technological developments.”
The directive on all levels of design was to be at once authentic and grounded in the reality of the times while also creating a fresh look for Holmes’s world. “That was the key to this film,” says costume designer Jenny Beavan. “My instruction was to avoid the infamous deerstalker hat that has become emblematic of the old Holmes,” she continues, noting that the deerstalker hat did not come from Conan Doyle’s words but from an early illustration of one of the stories. “Our Holmes has a rumpled, scruffy look. You get the sense that he throws his clothes on the floor when he’s done with them and picks anything out of the pile when he gets dressed. For example, he wears a dinner jacket for the meal with Watson and his fiancee Mary but gets the shirt and cravat just slightly wrong. There’s a bit of a vintage store feel to his clothes.”
“In the books, as in the film, we know that Holmes can spend weeks at a time holed up in his rooms, lying on the sofa, doing nothing,” comments Wigram. “If so, chances are he’d look a bit of a mess. He’s something of a Bohemian, so we took a more unconventional, romantic view for his wardrobe. We imagined he’d dress more like an artist or a poet than a businessman or gentleman of the era–I was thinking along the lines of the Rolling Stones in their Victorian phase,” he smiles.
In stark contrast to Holmes, Watson’s wardrobe is neat and smart, pristine and highly groomed. As a former soldier who has recently returned from the war in Afghanistan, his dress code is defined by his military background. “Thick Harris tweeds give Watson a solidity, a man-of-the-Earth look,” says Beavan. “His three-piece suits are in browns and blues and he dons a square crown bowler, which is very proper and masculine and felt very Watson-like.”
Irene Adler’s costumes were particularly detailed, as well. For Irene, Beavan took authentic 19th-century costumes and gave them a twist. “The cutting and patterns are contemporary to the era, but I decided to use accents of strong colors–shocking pinks and blues–to lift them,” Beavan explains.
She also dressed Irene in some softer colors, such as the blue suit with black lace blouse in the Punch Bowl scenes, and a practical Donegal tweed suit for when she goes on the run. Fabrics for Irene’s dresses included duchess satin shaped into highly sculptural swirls and twists, and silk velvet. One of Beavan’s most inventive creations was Irene’s coat which splits to accommodate the bustle on the dress and features large sleeves to conceal weapons. She also has a number of hats, including two small bowlers.
To show Irene’s softer side, as well as her international style, Beavan created a beautiful silk kimono in shades of mauve and gold. “I was fortunate to find the perfect material in my own shop,” she recalls. “It was a silk damask with a slight floral weave. What made the material really striking was when we dyed it, the pattern separated, giving it a lot of dimension.”
The jewelry worn by Rachel McAdams’s character, Irene Adler, and Kelly Reilly’s Mary Morstan were not costume jewelry reproductions, but rare and priceless antique jewelry pieces provided by Martin Travis of Symbolic & Chase, located on Old Bond Street in London. Among the pieces chosen from their private collection were a 47-carat fancy yellow diamond, which, in the story, Irene purloined from a prince; a 19th-century spinel diamond pendant, also worn by Irene; and a 19th-century diamond necklace, worn by Mary, which Holmes correctly assesses she borrowed from her employer.
“The costumes were phenomenal,” McAdams declares. “It was great just to take in all the details, which give you answers to some of your own questions about your character. I could see what kind of jewelry Irene wore and the perfume she wears. And the clothes themselves were all so beautiful. The details and the time and painstaking energy people put into them were remarkable.”
Production designer Sarah Greenwood likewise parted from traditional depictions of Victorian England to reflect Ritchie’s vision. “This movie is funny, it’s visceral, it’s fast-paced and it’s energetic,” she says. “Our mandate from the beginning was to always keep those elements in mind in our design process.”
Greenwood worked with her team to create sets that looked and felt completely authentic. “Holmes is eccentric enough without being surrounded by fantastical sets,” she says. “That said, we could stretch the design a little. Really, it’s about encapsulating the period and using the environment to help tell the story.”
The overriding challenge for the production designer and her team was the tremendous scope of the film. “We go from the gutter to the grandeur of the Houses of Parliament, to the shipyard in Chatham Docks to the creepiness of the crypts, to the intimacy of Holmes’s rooms,” Greenwood describes.
This tremendous scope was achieved using a combination of authentic locations, specially adapted sets in the UK, and CGI. Later, production would move to New York City for soundstage work on some of the film’s more elaborate interior sets.
“Guy is used to getting out and shooting on location and has become very efficient at it,” says Clark-Hall. “You get a lot from being out on the streets. It’s tougher in a lot of respects, the control on the locations and all that. But you’re able to achieve so much in terms of sheer scale on location, especially in a big city like London with so much built-in history.”
The filmmakers used locations in London, Liverpool and Manchester to recreate what London would have looked like at the end of the 19th century. “It was quite a big challenge because Sarah was looking for big-scale areas around the Thames, the old city and Parliament. It turned out to be very tough because there are so many modern developments,” Clark-Hall recalls. “So, we shot in Liverpool and Manchester, as well as London, and were able to patch together all these details to create our Victorian London.”
“The locations on this film are a bit amazing,” Law states. “I was born and raised here and we went to places I’ve never been or even seen–really beautiful Victorian and Edwardian cobbled corners of London, Manchester and Liverpool. I learned so much about my home country over the course of this shoot.”
In the film, Holmes and Watson traverse through every echelon of London culture–from the gritty and industrial to the formal and opulent. The film commences within the depths of the 12th-century church of St. Bartholomew the Great, where Holmes and Watson close in on Blackwood to stop him from a brutal ritual sacrifice of a young woman. Other distinguished British structures used by the production included St. Paul’s Cathedral; the Reform Club, one of the city’s oldest and most famous private clubs (Conan Doyle was even a member); the Old Naval College in Greenwich; Somerset House overlooking the Thames; and Brompton Cemetery in Kensington, where a sole witness to Blackwood’s resurrection makes his startling claim.
One of the most ambitious set pieces–a chase through an operating 19th-century slaughterhouse–took place within a disused warehouse in London’s East End, where Greenwood and her team constructed a believable and brutal maze of moving machinery. The set was replete with blades, saws, and huge hooks hung from chain belts throughout the structure.
In the course of their investigation, Holmes and Watson find themselves in a makeshift laboratory where Blackwood’s operative, Luke Reordan, played by Oran Gurel, conducts ingenious but mystifying experiments. A building in London’s Spitalfields was transformed into a physical representation of Reordan’s tortured mind, with scrawled notes and biblical Latin and Hebrew notations pinned to the wall, crucifixes and pagan charms hanging from the ceiling, and dissected frogs and rats littering the surfaces.
“There’s a method to the chaos of Reordan’s lab, but it takes someone like Holmes to figure it out,” says Greenwood. “I didn’t want the lab to look too fantastical, like something from Jules Verne. It was about making sure everything looked real.”
An epic fight and chase that begins in Reordan’s lab spills over to a working dock, where a massive ship is in the midst of construction. In the course of this face-off, Holmes and Watson confront Blackwood’s giant-sized cohort Dredger, played by actor and professional wrestler Robert Maillet.
This major set was constructed at Chatham Historical Docks, outside London. The construction crew built the left half of the full-scale ship that, once assembled, spanned 230-feet-long by 15-feet-high, with a 15-foot section in the middle at full height of 30 feet. The ship would then be extended in height using computer-generated images in post production.
The ship pre-build took five weeks, then another five weeks at the Chatham location to put the jigsaw together. Greenwood’s team worked closely with the special effects department, who were creating collapsing walkways, juddering platforms and breakaway wooden tree trunks onsite for use during the sequence.
Once production wrapped in the UK, the team crossed the Atlantic to shoot on soundstages at the Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Inside the cavernous space, three key sets were built: the attic of the Punch Bowl, the interior of Sherlock Holmes’s living quarters at 221B Baker Street, and a portion of London’s famed Tower Bridge as it appeared while under construction in 1890.
The attic room above the Punch Bowl, where Holmes participates in bare-knuckle boxing matches, is a small and dingy space where Holmes meditates as he works to decipher the mystery surrounding Lord Blackwood. Greenwood explored with the director the kinds of imagery that would emanate from Holmes’s study of Blackwood’s spiritualism. “We’ve had a lot of symbolism, and a lot of imagery to do with the Temple of Four Orders, which is the secret sect that Blackwood uses in his plot,” she explains.
The team created one of the most important sets in the interior of Holmes’s rooms at 221B Baker Street, within a flat he shares with Watson and their landlady, Mrs. Hudson, played by Geraldine James. “It’s Mrs. Hudson’s room, decorated maybe twenty, thirty years ago, so it’s become slightly tatty since Holmes moved in,” Greenwood describes. “It’s not a conventional Victorian parlor at all; it’s the antithesis of that. Holmes has come in and has completely messed it up.”
Period furniture, drapery and a multitude of items found in flea markets, antique stores and rental houses were shipped from England to New York to decorate the inside of the Baker Street residence. “We brought all of the props here from England because British Victorian is very different from American Victorian,” set decorator Katie Spencer says. “It has a certain style and is very hard to get.”
In its clutter and chaos the apartment reveals both Conan Doyle’s depiction of Holmes’s disorganized personal habits and the detective’s brilliant, complex mind. “Everything is supposed to represent his journeys, his travels, his inquisitive nature into the human condition and the human anatomy, chemistry, and photography…frankly, anything that’s worthy of Holmes’s interest,” explains Ritchie.
Dog-eared books, newspapers, paintings from the Near East, unpaid bills, maps of Britain, anatomical drawings, Oriental carpets and a tiger skin rug, and half-eaten food from forgotten meals, not to mention Watson’s rather tolerant dog, Gladstone, can all be found in Holmes’s living quarters. In keeping with his profession, there are also wigs, mustaches and false noses for disguises, and a padded post for Holmes’s martial arts practice.
“It’s just minutia, but to him it’s really engaging,” Downey explains. “It’s those touches that really help you feel comfortable on this set. The reality of his job is that it entails long amounts of time spent in isolation, but when he’s not stimulated, it’s a fate worse than death. So, hopefully Baker Street embodies everything it takes for him not to be bored to death.”
“It was great to have an actor like Robert who cares about his environment, who will use the props in a way we didn’t imagine,” says Katie Spencer. “Something Robert very much wanted was that everything was here for a reason, as opposed to just being decoration.”
Greenwood, Spencer and the design team also placed numerous “Easter eggs” on the set, which Sherlock Holmes aficionados will recognize from the stories of Conan Doyle, including lemon juice that Holmes uses for secret writing, a glass-covered diorama of bee hives, and an area for Holmes’s phrenology studies, another popular area of interest among the educated classes during this period. “There are so many Doyle-isms in this film,” says Robert Downey Jr. “We’ve infused the film quite a lot with them, not just in the set design, but also in the script.”
Watson’s office, also housed in Baker Street and constructed on the stage, was far more ordered than Holmes’s, with the doctor’s diplomas lining the wall, along with patrician paintings, candlesticks in the shape of swords, and medical accoutrements all neatly displayed.
The sets built on the stage were not all interiors. By far the largest set was the setting for the climactic fight sequence in the film: Tower Bridge. Now an iconic symbol of London, Tower Bridge took its name and the design of its twin 200-foot towers from the Tower of London, which is situated at the northern end of the eight-hundred foot-long bridge. In 1890, Tower Bridge was only half-built, its steel frame and walkways still open to the elements, creating a visually fascinating and unpredictable setting for the film’s final clash.
The Tower Bridge set was built against a green screen background, which the visual effects team would later fill in with huge vistas of 1890 London and the River Thames. “With modern-day technology, we were able to really recreate London as a character,” says Wigram. “It will feel like a real place. We had an incredible team, and we hopefully built a period London that we’ve never seen before on film.”
“Guy knows London very well and that means he isn’t too reverential about it,” Mark Strong asserts. “Even though the film has a very specific time and place, Guy brought his own vision of the city, which gives it an incredible energy. I think it’s a stroke of genius bringing together Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie. Guy brought something so new and dynamic to the mix.”
The final design element was the music of Hans Zimmer to accompany and enhance the drama, playfulness, action and intrigue. “It was such a joy to work with Guy to capture the different tones of the worlds Holmes and Watson navigate, ranging from the halls of Parliament to a bare-knuckle boxing ring to the shadowy crypts beneath a cathedral,” comments Zimmer, who was working with Ritchie for the first time. “This story has so many textures and personalities, that it really gave us the opportunity to create a diverse language of music for the film.”
Ritchie offers, “Hans and I are very much on the same page about taking a fresh approach to the music. The music has taken on its own identity and become a significant part of the creative process in giving ‘Sherlock Holmes’ a contemporary feel.”
Silver concludes, “We set out to make a movie that would resonate with fans of Holmes and bring the Holmes style of adventure to a whole new generation. And I think everyone delivered magnificently. It’s a fantastic, wild ride.”