Andrew Collins: how a man on a phone ruined Sherlock Holmes

Deducing why I didn't like the first film, but loved the second one...

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I really enjoyed the new Sherlock Holmes film from Guy Ritchie, A Game of Shadows. This ought not to be news. But it is for me, as I didn’t enjoy his first Sherlock Holmes film. In fact, I had to drag myself to the sequel, fearing a repeat experience. Common consent is that the second is better than the first, but the first was a massive hit, grossing over half a billion worldwide. So why – I now ask myself – did I not like it?

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The same director, the same principal cast, the same stylish slo-mo and “steampunk” look, both released at Christmas…what fundamentally changed between the first Sherlock in 2009 and the second in 2011? I’m not much of a detective, but I have looked again at the evidence and here’s my best deduction…

I didn’t enjoy Sherlock Holmes in 2009 because I was sitting next to a man who spent much of the film’s running time talking on his mobile phone. I saw the film at a cinema, you see, and not at some exclusive, subterranean press screening. I often choose to do this, as I actually think there is value in seeing a film in its natural habitat, among other cinemagoers. But there are hazards, not the least of which is the distracting glare of someone’s mobile phone screen, as the offending idiot taps out a text while the film is playing.

This nasty habit always strikes me as counterproductive and bad value for money: why pay to see a film on a big screen and allow a smaller screen to distract you when it can be – and should be – switched off?

Anyway, the man at Sherlock Holmes in 2009 wasn’t just texting, or checking his texts, his phone actually rang and he took the call. He did not get up and leave the auditorium to take it either – rather, he just shrank down in his seat a bit, and lowered his voice to a stage whisper. He’d already proven a fidget who obviously didn’t really want to be there and had perhaps paid the extortionate West End ticket price just to get out of the cold, and he’d spoken to his companion right through the trailers (law: when the trailers have started, you shut up), but even I was shocked by this latest demonstration of rudeness.

That which was already annoying me about the film – Robert Downey Jr’s accent, mostly, and the resulting incomprehensibility of dialogue – annoyed me even more. Maybe I should have escorted the noisy patron from the cinema, but he was young, and I feared he might remonstrate in a way that was, shall we say, unpredictable. (By the way, I don’t think that all young people will kill you, but in the dark, one fears the worst.)

Instead, I zoned out, but the experience of watching Sherlock Holmes in a large, West End cinema was tainted. I must watch it again, as it may not be the film’s fault. I might even enjoy it this time – after all, as stated, I really enjoyed Game of Shadows. (I still couldn’t understand a lot of what Downey Jr was saying, but I didn’t mind, swept along by the stylish action.)

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It just goes to show that context counts when you watch a film. A more uplifting example: I vividly remember seeing Moulin Rouge in a West End cinema a couple of days after the 11 September attacks in 2001, and enjoyed it all the more for the blessed relief from global doom it provided. Others around me clearly felt the same way, as many of us clapped at the end, and nobody spoke on their phone. Perhaps you have examples of films ruined, or enhanced, by context? If so, let us know.