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Peter’s Retro Reviews: Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Young Sherlock Holmes - Movie Posterby Peter Nielsen

”It was a cold, snowy day in early December. Lack of funds had forced my old school to close. I was being sent to a new one in the middle of term. I was accustomed to the opened, relaxed expanse of the country, and now, I was in the heart of London at the height of the Victorian Era. The streets were teeming with every activity imaginable. I was very taken by what I saw. As I stepped from my carriage, the sight of my new school filled me with fear and apprehension, yet I was swept with a wave of curiosity. However, nothing could prepare me for the extraordinary adventure that lay ahead, or the extraordinary individual who would change my life.”

With this opening narration begins the story of two men who would become life-long friends and partners in crime. It’s kind of like a fictitious story within a fictitious story-line, if you know what I mean? This is the story about Sherlock Holmes’ and John Watson’s first meeting and their first adventure together, and none of this is mentioned in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original books. And since they in term are also works of fiction, that’s what I mean by the “fiction within fiction” comment above. Does that make any sense to you?

I love the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and re-read them from time to time. There have also been some pretty decent adaptations made, both for the big and small screen. Some of the old Basil Rathbone ones are good and there’s one called Without a Clue starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley that takes a more humorous approach to the characters and adds a little funny twist too. Highly recommended! But my absolute favorite adaptation is the British TV-series starring the fantastic Jeremy Brett as Holmes and this series is the most faithful of them all.

Murderous Egyptian sect in underground pyramid.

Murderous Egyptian sect in underground pyramid.

I haven’t seen the two new ones, but judging from the few scenes I have watched, they seem to be a little too much. Too many gadgets and a little too “James Bond-ian” for my taste. To me that’s not what Sherlock Holmes is about, but as I said… I haven’t seen them yet, so I’m not going to cast judgment here.

Young Sherlock Holmes from 1985 is also a grand adventure, but more in a toned-down Indiana Jones kind of way, if that makes sense. It starts with Watson, played by Alan Cox (An Awfully Big Adventure), arriving at his new school and meeting Holmes for the first time. Holmes immediately dazzles him with that brilliant mind of his and before Watson can introduce himself, Holmes does it for him. He’s able to tell him his name, where he’s from, his father’s profession, that he has an affinity for writing and even that he’s fond of pastries.

Hmm, looks like some sort of time-telling-device...

Hmm, looks like some sort of time-telling-device...

Watson is, of course, impressed! As are we… Holmes’ “abilities” makes him both loved and despised at school and one classmate even succeeds in having him expelled. Jealousy is an ugly thing, isn’t it? Holmes isn’t particularly upset about having to leave though. He’s more concerned about leaving Elizabeth behind. Elizabeth, played by the beautiful Sophie Ward (The Hunger, Wuthering Heights) is the love of his life and also the niece of his friend professor Waxflatter (Nigel Stock), who’s an eccentric inventor living at the school. We later find out that he has more to do with the main story than we initially thought.

So, what is the main story then? Well, there’s been a series of mysterious deaths around London, but Scotland Yard writes them off as suicides and accidents. The victims seem to be random and completely unrelated, but Holmes doesn’t believe that and suspects that there’s some connection between them. And he’s right of course! The victims are all shot with some sort of poisonous thorn which causes them to have horrible hallucinations which leads to them panicking and jumping out of windows or throwing themselves in front of horse-carriages to get away from the terror.

Hey! You forgot your crackpi... I mean blowpipe!

Hey! You forgot your crackpi... I mean blowpipe!

Further investigations unravel a murderous Egyptian sect, an underground pyramid, human sacrifices and all sorts of nastiness. Holmes, Watson and Elizabeth soon find themselves fighting for their lives.

Sherlock Holmes is played by Nicholas Rowe, an actor who’s had small parts in a lot of different British TV-series and movies, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels for instance, but his only starring role was in Young Sherlock Holmes. He does this very well, I might add.

His mentor and also protector, if you will, at school is professor Rathe, played by Anthony Higgins (Vampire Circus, Raiders of the Lost Ark), a man who has more up his sleeve than you first think and who will come to have a profound impact on the rest of Holmes’ life. Watch all the way to the end of the credits for a little surprise and you’ll know what I mean.

The movie is directed by Barry Levinson (Sleepers, Rain Man, Diner, Good Morning Vietnam), the screenplay written by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and the executive producer is Steven Spielberg, but does having these prominent names tied to it automatically mean it’s good? Well, no… not automatically perhaps. Too much of a good thing and all that, but… in this case it works. Young Sherlock Holmes is a great adventure-movie that I enjoyed just as much now, as I did when I first watched it many years ago.

It can also boast about being the first feature film to have a completely computer-animated character in one scene. It’s the one where a knight made of stained-glass comes alive to terrorize a poor victim. Not bad at all for a movie released in 1985. The effects over-all look great, and the scene where Watson is attacked by pastries is hilarious, but you’ll have to check that out for yourselves.

Until next time my friends…

Peter Nielsen Bio


About Peter Nielsen

Peter was born in Denmark in 1968, but moved to Sweden at the age of six, (not by himself of course), and has lived there ever since. He’s married and has five children, so spare time is somewhat of a luxury. His main interests in life, apart from his family, are long walks, books and movies. Any movie! He has preferences, but he’s not particular as long as it's good or... so bad it's good... he just LOVES MOVIES!

15 comments for “Peter’s Retro Reviews: Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

  1. Shannon
    January 6, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I don’t know if you have heard or seen it, but I recommend the BBC series “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson.

    • January 6, 2012 at 7:42 pm

      Hi Shannon, That’s a great recommendation and one I’ve Ben meaning to check out for some time. I’ve heard a lot of great things about it. Thanks!

  2. Hammond
    January 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I really love this movie. I watch it about every six months or so. It is a great example of a well written and executed film.

  3. Mags
    January 7, 2012 at 5:57 am

    They show this movie on UK tv quite often. I remember being quite scared by some of it when I was little (can’t remember which bits now though) but actually it’s a great movie and I think stands up well against other kids adventure films that came out around teh same time- I’m more likely to sit and watch this all the way through than I would with, for example, The Goonies, which I think you can dip in and out of as it’s more a series of set pieces. You have to pay attention to Young Sherlock to keep up with all the plot twists. I always thought it was a shame they didn’t make more, as the post credit sequence set it up perfectly.

  4. Mags
    January 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

    Oh and Peter I really liked the first Guy Ritchie film, worth a look as a good adventure film, I don’t know how faithful it is to the Conan Doyle books though. Haven’t seen the second one yet.

  5. Gail
    January 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    This has been in my Netflix list forever. I’m moving it to the top of the list now. Thanks for the nudge.

  6. Gail
    January 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Another good Sherlock Holmes movie is Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle. Dr. Bell is said to be the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. It’s a 2000 BBC production. I saw it a few years ago. I don’t remember much but I gave it 4 stars in my Netflix rating.

  7. January 9, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Great review, Peter! I haven’t seen this one in YEARS but I watched it regularly as a kid. I’ve probably seen it 20-30 times, if not more. I love your description of how it is fiction within fiction, and I think this is one of the few prequels I will accept wholeheartedly. They are really true to the spirit of the source material and the characters and everyone in it is just superb. I’m somewhat afraid to re-watch it and tarnish it’s legacy for me, but I have a feeling it will hold up well as it did for you.

  8. Peter Nielsen
    January 9, 2012 at 4:33 am

    Thank you all for your kind words and also for the recommendations. I’m glad that I can maybe make you go back and watch this little gem again or maybe make you watch it for the first time if you haven’t seen it before.

  9. February 12, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I liked your retrospective review of Young Sherlock Holmes. It’s one of my personal favorites from growing up in the 1980s, and it has the nice bonus facet of being not so well known to most which makes it extra cool.

    By the way, I would say the best overall Sherlock Homes adaptation overall is the one that BBC Radio 4 did in the 1990s with Clive Merrison acting out as Sherlock in well done audio adaptations. Merrison’s voice is beyond perfect in opinion. The series starring Brett and Rathbone were good and worth viewing though. I also recommend trying out the movie Murder By Decree, which is a pastiche of Holmes investigating the Jack The Ripper murders, and also the movies starring Peter Cushing as Holmes.

    • February 18, 2012 at 6:32 am

      Thanks for commenting. Obviously, you know your Sherlock Holmes! 🙂

    • Peter Nielsen
      February 24, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      Thank you very much! 🙂

  10. March 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    This is a great little film that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, and preceded the trend of prequels by a number of years. My only gripe is that it fell into having a “temple of doom” that seemed to plague a number of movies made in the ’80s.

    • April 6, 2012 at 6:48 am

      Full disclosure on this one, I tried watching it recently and was bored by it. I know a lot of people love it though. I’m wondering if that’s a case of CND or if I’m just missing something. Thanks for commenting!

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