Monday, 4 January 2010

Sherlock Homo?

As Avatar passed the $1 billion mark in just seventeen days, it's easy to forget that there's another blockbuster doing brisk trade in your local multiplex (two if you count Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel). The ex-Mr. Madonna's Sherlock Holmes managed the biggest Christmas Day opening of all time, and has been packing them in ever since.

But despite the film's huge success at the box office, there are concerns that there may not be a sequel, thanks to the suggestion that Holmes and Watson knew a thing or two about 'packing them in'. Whilst on the publicity circuit for the Victorian-era action thriller, Robert Downey Jr and his co-star Jude Law frustrated studio executives by playing up their own burgeoning bromance, so much so that there were concerns that it might put off some more traditional movie-goers.

It didn't help matters when RDJ appeared on 'The Late Show With David Letterman' and suggested that the characters were engaged in 'the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its name-so-leaves-obvious-clues-instead'. The exchange went as follows:

Letterman: “Now, from what I recall, there was always the suggestion that there was a different level of relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson.”
Downey: “You mean that they were homos…”
Letterman: “In a manner of speaking, yes…that they were closer than just out solving crimes. It’s sort of touched on in the film, but he has a fiancĂ©e, so we’re not certain. Is that right?”
Downey: “She could be a beard. Who knows?”
Paul Shaffer: “What are they, complete screamers? Is that what you’re saying?”
Downey: “Why don’t we observe the clip and let the audience decide if he just happens to be a very butch homosexual. Which there are many. And I’m proud to know certain of them.”

All very chuckle-worthy, I'm sure you'll agree. But Andrea Plunket isn't laughing - she owns the US copyright to the characters and has said that she will not allow any follow-up films to be made if Holmes takes Watson up the Bakerloo.

She said “I hope this is just an example of Mr. Downey's black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future."

There's no doubt that Robert was joking with Letterman about Sherlock's proclivities, but there's an interesting point here. Guy Ritchie's film is not the first to observe the symbiotic, borderline co-dependent relationship between the sleuth and his sidekick - so it's not as though he's adding a subtext that wasn't there all along.

As attitudes and morals change with time, sometimes the significance of a word, phrase or scenario can evolve accordingly, affording readers and viewers alike a fresh insight into the context of the characters. That there are few literary examples of the gay experience dating from Victorian England is not to say that there was no such thing. Like most elements of human sexuality in that era, it simply wasn't spoken or written about explicitly.

Instead, writers relied upon hints, clues and inferences. You know, the sort of thing that Sherlock would have picked up in an instant...

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