The Delightful Sherlock Potter

See that kid shopping for wands across there…?

2017.12: Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

I never got around to watch this movie, one of those that slipped through the net even over so many years (thirty-plus years, where have they gone?!), and as a Spielberg-produced Amblin film from the mid-eighties, it’s always been on my to-watch list. So when it was screened over the Christmas holidays I took the opportunity to record it on the tivo and have finally gotten around to watch it.

And you know what? I’m watching it and I’m too distracted to really enjoy it on its own merits, and why? I’m watching it thinking I’m watching a Harry Potter movie.

Its all there. Sherlock and Watson, two boys in a fancy English boarding school, forming a trio with a young girl, Emma. There’s a fellow schoolboy with blonde hair who is a sneak and no-good rival to Holmes. There is a central mystery that unfolds that only our daring trio seem to be aware of or willing to tackle. The schoolboys have meals at long tables in a grand hall with the teachers at the head on a special table, and one of those teachers turns out to be the main bad guy. With all respect to J K Rowling, this was a surreal and bizarre experience. Young Sherlock Holmes is like some prototype Harry Potter movie.

On its own merits, Young Sherlock Holmes is a delightful old-school kind of movie, the kind we had so many of back in the ‘eighties that we took them for granted, back when Lucas and Spielberg and Dante and Donner were making family movies. Blockbusters with intelligence and heart. The music score is bold and full of melodic material giving the film a sense of self-identity that music scores so seldom do these days,  and the setting is lovely and full of character. The pacing is steady and the effects rather restrained in hindsight (at the time, they may have seemed a bigger deal, but it pales in comparison to the number of effects shots thrown into so many blockbusters these days). The acting is pretty fine throughout the cast. I can well understand why it has its fans, and it’s sad that it didn’t gain enough of an audience at the time to justify what was no doubt intended to be a series of Young Holmes movies. If only the studio had risked another film, they may have had better success- indeed, these days I’m fairly certain, given Hollywood’s keenness for franchises, that the film would have gotten a sequel whatever its lacklustre box-office. Maybe sequels were a tougher sell back in the ‘eighties.

But that Harry Potter thing. Its weird.

sherl2One last note, and this regards the cast. You know how it is, watching a film, particularly one a fair few years old as this,  you see someone’s face, and you think, ‘where have I see that face before..?’  It’s the kind of thing that could drive you crazy in the old days, but thanks to IMDB its a mystery easily solved. During Young Sherlock Holmes, it was the actress playing Mrs Dribb, a school nurse and (apparently) minor character in a neat piece of misdirection that I won’t spoil here. Anyway, the actress was Susan Fleetwood, likely familiar from Clash of the Titans and some tv work during that decade. Unfortunately my discovery was one tinged with some sadness, as I learned the actress died in 1995 aged just 51 years old. This kind of thing has happened before to me, watching films and looking names up on the IMDB. You see a fine performance frozen in time like that and then discover the person has died in the years since, and you can read their entire life in a biography of a few paragraphs. Its a terribly sobering thing.

5 thoughts on “The Delightful Sherlock Potter

    1. Thats a good question, and something I didn’t address in my post. I think it’s clear that Young Sherlock Holmes, sincere as it was, isn’t a ‘pure’ Sherlock Holmes adaptation. I’d put it in the same category as Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films- hardly genuine Sherlock Holmes films but none the worse for that, Certainly there are likely many people who prefer them to the more ‘authentic’ and faithful Holmes adaptations.

      For the record, possibly my favourite Sherlock Holmes film (and I’m certainly no expert) is the Hammer Film’s version of Hound of the Baskervilles, if only because I’m a big fan of Peter Cushing and I think he deserved to make more Holmes films.

  1. Every time I watch this (which is only two or three times in my life, to be fair) I enjoy it while it lasts and then later can’t seem to really remember it, other than a few bits & bobs. I think part of the problem is I believe the plot has distinct similarities to Temple of Doom and they became somewhat merged in my childhood brain.

    1. I was surprised by all that ‘Temple of Doom’ vibe. So on the nose it must have been intentional, which makes me wonder which script actually predates the other? Unlikely as it seems, maybe the YSH script was doing the Hollywood circuit for years, and Temple of Doom lifted that cult stuff from that? Stranger things have happened in Hollywood.

      1. What’s even weirder, in a way, is that Spielberg produced this. It would make sense if someone was like, “sod Temple of Doom, I’m making this Sherlock script anyway!”, but, what, did Spielberg think no one would notice?

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