Sherlock Holmes pastiches are often a scary affair when they're on the printed page; Sherlock Holmes pastiches on film--not to mention adaptations of the original stories--tend to be beyond redemption. That being said, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking considerably exceeded my low expectations. After the agony that was the Case of the Computerized Hound, this Holmes pastiche proved welcome, if trifling, relief: the production values were slick, the acting was above competent, and the script adequate (if unevenly plotted).
If nothing else, the film has the perhaps dubious distinction of introducing modern audiences to Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), combined with a light dose of Freud. Strictly speaking, Sherlock Holmes cum psychoanalysis is not new. The Seven Percent Solution put Holmes in the same room with Freud, while one of the later Jeremy Brett adaptations included a brief discussion of Freud's dream theories, courtesy of (rather improbably) Dr. Watson. In this case, Watson's American fiancee, a professional psychoanalyst named Mrs. Vandeleur, provides Holmes with the necessary diagnostic tools to identify the serial killer as a "sexual sadist" and foot fetishist. (Doyle, this isn't.) While the film ends with a depressingly hackneyed genre moment, in which the detective conveniently manages to keep the killer talking, the writer, Allan Cubitt, is nevertheless consistent: Holmes engages in a little bit of talk therapy with our friend the foot fetishist, working in a few reflections on addiction along the way.
A light dollop of Freud and random sexual perversions aside, the film has no particular intellectual pretensions. It does pay some attention to class, which partly motivates the murderer's behavior and also affects how the police relate to Holmes and the aristocratic characters. While the film is deerstalker-free, Cubitt stitches in quotations from both the Canon and Holmesian pop culture ("elementary, my dear Watson!") ; Cubitt reminds us, in other words, that we're watching the film because, at least in part, we want to encounter the familiar, not something altogether new. (Purists, for example, are already gnashing their teeth at the sight of Holmes smoking in an opium den.) Which, of course, raises the ever-present question: how are Holmes and Watson?
Rupert Everett is a rather odd choice for Holmes: he's too conspicuously well-muscled, too attractive. (It's hard to see why Watson feels so concerned about Holmes' eating habits.) Nevertheless, Everett's performance is really rather good, free of the distracting mannerisms that marred Brett's work in post-resurrection mode. His Holmes is elegant with a suitably bohemian overlay, languid but given to fits of energy, and (of course) equipped with offhand, biting wit. Ian Hart's Watson, meanwhile, should look familiar, since Hart also played Watson in the aforementioned adaptation of the Hound. (Like another Watson, Edward Hardwicke, Hart has also played Doyle.) Not surprisingly, given that Cubitt wrote the earlier script, this is the same Watson, albeit older: intelligent, a good physician, but hot-tempered, and showing little inclination to worship the Great Detective. Since Cubitt's version of Watson was one of the Hound's very few redeeming characteristics, it's nice to see it again here (with considerably better direction). Nobody else stands out from the scenery, although there are perfectly good turns from Everett's old school chum, Julian Wadham, as the father of one of the murdered girls, and Eleanor David as the adulterous Duchess. Overall, this is not a bad way to spend ninety minutes or so.