Sherlock Holmes is, without a doubt, one of the most famous detectives in all of literature. Part of the sleuth's success was due to a group of street kids known as the Baker Street Irregulars. They were often Holmes' eyes and ears during an investigation. The new BBC production Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars centers on these six kids and their relationship with Holmes.
As the film opens, the Irregulars' leader, Jack (Benjamin Smith), disappears while eluding an unknown assailant. The evidence suggests that he might have drowned in the Thames. His sister, Sadie (Mia Fernandez), doesn't want to believe he's gone. Eventually, she convinces Sherlock Holmes (Jonathan Pryce) to take on the case. He agrees but only on the condition that the Irregulars help him solve the murder of a Scotland Yard inspector. No sooner does Holmes begin to sift through the clues than another policeman is murdered. Soon the evidence points to Holmes as the culprit and he is placed under house arrest. It's then up to the Irregulars to gather the evidence necessary to clear Holmes' name, rescue Sadie and Jack, and at the same time foil the sinister plot of Holmes' one-time acquaintance (and possible love interest) Irene Adler (Anna Chancellor).
The filmmakers have done a terrific job of capturing the essence of Sherlock Holmes and yet focus on the Irregulars who up to now have only been considered minor supporting characters in the novels. The film focuses on the relationships between the kids and Holmes. In a sense, they are the only family they have. Holmes, for better or worse, is a father figure (and on balance a fairly respectable one) and in the end demonstrates that he wants to take care of the children after he is gone. After Jack and Sadie disappear, it's up to Finch (Aaron Johnson) to take matters into his own hands and pull the Irregulars together to clear Holmes' name. It's clear from the interaction between Finch and Holmes that theirs is much more than simply a business relationship. Finch sees Holmes as a mentor and proves that he has learned much from the master as the story unfolds.
The casting of this movie was perfect. Jonathan Pryce does a marvelous job as Holmes. He shows that Holmes is brilliant and at the same time very human. This is perhaps the first time that we see Holmes vulnerable to the charms of a woman. It's clear that Irene Adler gets under his skin and that it's difficult for him to send someone to jail that he clearly cared for. Anna Chancellor is marvelous as Irene Adler. She is both incredibly charming and yet evil at the same time. There is no doubt that her character is fully capable of cold-blooded murder and would not hesitate to kill anyone who would stand in her way. Michael Maloney was the perfect choice to play the inept Inspector Stirling. Stirling's detective skills are dubious at best and he clearly depends on Holmes to save his career on more than one occasion. Bill Paterson's Dr. Watson is perfectly understated and a great sidekick for the brilliant Holmes.
The film will certainly provide ample material for discussion between parents and children since the Irregulars are far from heroic characters. They will lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their goals. But they also show a great loyalty to each other and to their boss. When one of them is in trouble, the others don't hesitate to come to their rescue.
Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars is a great family-friendly introduction to the world's greatest detective. Although the heroes of the film are flawed there are still elements of their character to be admired. Hopefully this won't be the last last we see of the Baker Street Irregulars.