On a frigid November morning, as steam rises from train engines burning fiery coal in a century-old rail depot, Sherlock Holmes is in trouble. Blood on the side of his face, he’s fleeing the staccato rat-tat-tat of 19th century gunfire. Fortunately, his loyal friend Dr. Watson is at his side, as is a rifle-toting gypsy. Outside the depot, Watson and Holmes fumble with their guns to get a bead on their assailants, but the gypsy woman, Sim, beats them to it. She confidently cocks her rifle. Boom! A man falls dead. On beat, Watson and Holmes look at each other with surprise.
The sequence, unfolding on the grounds of the train museum in Didcot, 40 minutes by rail from London’s Paddington Station, is from the as-yet-untitled sequel to director Guy Ritchie’s 2009 “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s signature literary creation and Jude Law as Watson. The new film is due for release in December.
This time, though, the compatriots are joined by the feisty Sim, played by actress Noomi Rapace, perhaps still best known to audiences for originating the role of punk rock computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish movie adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Also making an appearance is Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, played by actor Stephen Fry, a character who producer Susan Downey describes as “stranger and perhaps even more brilliant” than the English detective.
Set in 1891 — a year after the last film’s events — the sequel shows Holmes continuing his pursuit of Professor Moriarty (played by Jared Harris), who, if the investigator’s instincts are correct, might be the world’s first supervillain. Watson, meanwhile, is still trying to be a good partner to his love, Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), while keeping Sherlock alive.
From the looks of things, that latter task won’t be particularly easy, given that Ritchie appears to be continuing with the gritty, stylized approach he adopted for the first movie. “I think one of the most exciting things in this one is the fear level,” says Law. “We get pretty kicked around. Just look at the state of us.”
“Unlike last time, where Holmes kept getting Watson into trouble,” adds actor Downey, “this time Watson is getting Holmes out of trouble, and they’re both in deeper trouble than I think the audience could have imagined we could go…. All manner of nastiness has just occurred.”
Later in the day, Downey and Law are positioned behind a cargo crate on the edge of the depot for another scene in which their characters are again under fire. A battered-looking Holmes fires his meek little pistol, but then Watson, who carries what appears to be a portable Gatling gun, dishes out an awkward volley (with the herky-jerky movement of a 1980s-era bass player). What he lacks in precision, he makes up for in bullets fired.
“They get their hands on a few things that were a little ahead of their time,” Susan Downey, who is married to the actor, observes. A short time later, in a small heated tent along the rail side, Law — wearing a 19th century handlebar mustache — expressed hope that audiences who took to the first film will keep up with the next stage of the serial. “We have no intention of going back and patronizing people by re-covering the same ground,” says Law.
Actor Downey, like a good partner, continues the thought. “Look, I’ve done a sequel or two now — I feel like I should be in a recovery group for sequel-itis survivors. First, there is a bit of inflation. Then, you say, ‘We have to work harder.’ Then you work harder, but not smarter.”
— Eric Pape
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