When I was a kid I was obsessed with two things: Sherlock Holmes and the dubbed English language version of the Japanese TV show, Monkey. Seemingly, these two things have nothing in common; one is about an aloof, analytical, brilliant English detective – while the other is about an Asian guy in make-up doing bad karate. However, it’s clear from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows that director Guy Ritchie has made a connection between these two, and the resulting film is exactly the kind of escapist nonsense that defined British television back in the eighties. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is like magician David Blaine crossed with Chuck Norris, he’s a cross-dressing bohemian Kung Fu master who also dabbles as a sleuth.
Guy Ritchie’s true subject has always been London; the moneyed, brutish boxer’s fist that knuckles the Thames. London, that city of thieves, scoundrels and massively over-priced hotels, where the air turns your snot black and the weather drives a shiv into your bones. Like New York, but without the iconic silhouette, London is known more for its streets than its skyscrapers: Downing Street, Fleet Street; Carnaby Street. Even London’s most famous detective has a famous address: 221b Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes. In Guy Ritchie’s new movie, the cerebral sleuth returns to a city rank with wrongdoing. London’s tourists will know it well.
“Swagger” isn’t a word readily associated with British movies. We’ve come a long way from The Italian Job… through the 80s; the decade of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach; that sober, serious, socially-conscious hell that movie-goers watched from behind their Guardian newspapers. But in 1998 “swagger” re-entered the lexicon, and despite a few minor wobbles, “swagger” has remained – in the form of Guy Ritchie’s movie resume – ever since. His latest, RocknRolla, is pure swagger; a giddy, Technicolor two-fingers to his detractors, suffused with such love of self and London that it’s like a French-kiss from Kate Moss.