HOLMES & WATSON
Sherlock returns in Holmes & Watson. Can Ferrell and Reilly make Baker Street’s finest fresh and funny?
The Will Ferrell/john C. Reilly reunion that asks the question: what if Holmes and Watson were both idiots?
Here’s a pub quiz question: who is the most portrayed literary character in film and television history? It is, according to Guinness World records, sherlock Holmes; in the last five years alone, there have been seven separate screen adaptations, including modern Holmes (Sherlock and Elementary), elderly Holmes (Mr. Holmes), and even animated garden-ornament Holmes (Sherlock Gnomes). Holmes & Watson, a comedic take on arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective, might seem like it’s entering a saturated marketplace. but this has been cooking for over a decade — well before the current Holmes goldrush.
“We started [writing the script] before the first robert Downey Jr film,” explains director etan Cohen, “and they beat us to the starting line.” as it goes, the sheer volume of Holmes adaptations could work in the film’s favour. “These characters have been done so many times in so many different variations,” says Will Ferrell, who here dons the deerstalker cap opposite John C. reilly as Holmes’ long-suffering assistant. “In terms of the audience’s knowledge, it’s already in place. It’s a great leaping-off point to explore the comedy.” so while delivering a classic tale of mystery and deduction, the film ramps up the buddy-comedy elements — and stays surprisingly true to its source.
“people aren’t going to believe this,” says Cohen, “but we’re trying to keep things really true to the sherlock canon, in a counterintuitive way. What’s always funny, and true to the Holmes canon, is that the buddy relationship in the books is only one notch less comedic than the
one you’re going to see on screen. The way Holmes treats Watson, the way he abuses him, it’s basically a buddy comedy. We’re trying to stay honest about the way he looks at clues, the way he looks at logic.” He smiles. “No-one is going to expect that from what they might think is Step Brothers 2.”
It’s true: despite the goofy approach, these characters are worlds away from Step Brothers’ Brennan and Dale — the last film to feature this occasional double act. When Empire visits the lavish set, both Ferrell and Reilly are fabulously garbed in Victorian waistcoats and cravats, with the opulent backdrop of Hampton Court Palace playing host to an elaborate, historically precise ‘Anglo-american Fair’. Onlookers might be forgiven for thinking this is some austere period drama, and not a comedy in which a man body-slams a marrow. The scene we witness — in which Holmes expresses farcical horror that another character has dared to muscle in on his deduction — suggests they have authentic takes on the British accent, too.
“We’re two American comedic actors taking on the most beloved characters in English literature,” says Reilly, from behind a magnificently bushy moustache. “That’s already pretty absurd. So like the period costumes and locations, we’re trying to do the accents as correctly as possible — without stepping on us being funny.” It’s the same Sherlock and John we’ve seen a dozen times before, then. Only this time, it’ll be hilarious, too. JOHN NUGENT
Empire visited Holmes & Watson’s opulent set at Hampton Court Palace, London, on a chilly February day in 2017.
Clockwise frommain: A seemingly levitating Watson (John C. Reilly) and Holmes (Will Ferrell) encounter a comedy marrow; This version of the sleuthing pair have time for the beautiful game; Will Watson never knock it off?