Part 2 of Clothes on Film‘s sartorial rundown of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, directed by Guy Ritchie), complete with exclusive input from the film’s costume designer Jenny Beavan. Assume spoilers within, and lots of them. We join the story for its second act, as Professor James Moriarty’s (Jared Harris) dastardly plot slots into gear…
Departing respectfully early from Dr. John Watson’s wedding, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) arrives to meet Moriarty for the very first time in a black velvet frock coat with frogging (visibly looser than his previous coat), clean but un-pressed striped shirt with plain collar, dark brown silk scarf and grey check waistcoat. Conversely Moriarty is even scruffier in his lecturer’s work uniform of green academic cape, light grey linen lounge jacket, dark grey tweed trousers, light brown cashmere waistcoat, white striped soft collar shirt and wine plaid wool necktie, “It was a sort of nutty professor type idea” notes Jenny Beavan. Evidently Moriarty has adapted Holmes’ mantra of “So overt, it’s covert”, i.e. the best way to remain above suspicion is to hide in plain sight.
Watson (Jude Law) and his new wife Mary (Kelly Reilly) leave Holmes behind to catch the Brighton train for their Honeymoon. Mary wears a taupe corduroy walking dress, matching long sleeve coat with ruche velvet neckline and narrow brim floral hat. Perhaps an unusual choice of cloth, Beavan acknowledges corduroy had a practical application, “It is a good sturdy travelling fabric and cotton so not too heavy – she had to be able to swim in it!” Watson is customary in single breasted grey Harris Tweed 3 piece suit, white striped stiff collar shirt, brown silk necktie, brown coachman’s bowler and long grey tweed overcoat with raglan sleeves. And not to forget that knitted scarf, “I chose colours Mary would have thought he (Watson) would like, and he loves it because she made it for him”.
The newlyweds are not on the train for long before Holmes stumbles back into their lives. He is in drag, an idea that Robert Downey Jr. was apparently keen to pursue. Of course drag has a long and misunderstood association with homoerotism in Hollywood. Some commentators insist that these two terms amount to the same thing, much like the common misuse of sex and gender. For Holmes however the matter is rudimentary; this is the best camouflage he can manage at short notice. That it is gradually torn away to reveal Downey Jr.’s naked chest and midriff confirms this disguise is all about reaffirming feral masculinity, not taking it away.
After Watson and Holmes do battle with some heavily armed soldiers (and Holmes has thrown Mary from a train carriage into a river), the duo agree to partner up one last time and take a ferry to France to foil Moriarty’s plan. Watson chooses his gabardine slip-on, coachman’s bowler, grey herringbone tweed suit, brown leather gloves, and brown and blue striped scarf; Holmes a 3 piece brown Harris Tweed suit with upturned spread collar shirt and brown wool necktie.
If Holmes’ suit seems familiar, that is because it actually belongs to Watson, “It was Watson’s from the first Sherlock film as due to the train accident Holmes, dressed as a woman, lost his case (if he ever had one)” Beavan confirms. “You are supposed to realise that the suit is Watson’s but I think the explanatory dialogue went in the editing. Watson kindly lends the suit to Holmes so he doesn’t have to go through the whole film dressed as a woman until he meets the gypsies”. The suit in question can be seen briefly on Watson at the end of Sherlock Holmes 1, worn beneath a polo style overcoat. The jacket is long like a frock coat, rather unusual for a tweed suit of the era.
At this point it is worth noting Moriarty’s right hand man, Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson), who carries off tweed remarkably well. Trousers high in the waist and loose through the leg; the top button of his jacket secured then splayed open in the ‘Richmond’ style to reveal a matching waistcoat. Anderson may even wear a tweed suit better than Jude Law.
Inside the gypsy camp we get a clearer reveal of Holmes and Watson’s suits; Holmes has customised his as much as possible without a needle and thread (loose collar up, one button fastened), while Watson’s scarf causes aggravation when a mocking gypsy attempts to procure it from around his neck. This is change 2 for Noomi Rapace as Madam Simza ‘Sim’ Heron, again a conscious Romani homage in short jacket and embellished green skirt. Describes Beavan:
“The skirt length was based on a print of a hunting outfit in the 1880s or early 90’s from Harper’s. A woman in a short skirt with boots seemed entirely practical, and she actually had a pair of breeches underneath for riding although they were in a rather fancy ‘gypsyish’ fabric, probably never actually seen on screen”. Nonetheless this detail is far from wasted, allowing Sim to stand out as rough and ready feminine in contrast to Holmes, Watson and the dishevelled male Romanis.
As the group make their way to Paris in hope of locating Sim’s missing brother, Holmes has acquired a gold and brown paisley silk scarf with fringing tucked in around his shoulders like a cape. Sim is particularly visible throughout these scenes, mainly due to her trampled brim fedora adding framing and height. Unlike sturdier Watson, and unlike his own guise during the first film, Holmes forgoes a hat (generally a Homburg) for an unruly mop of wavy hair.
During the subsequent opera scene we see Moriarty, correct in stand collar, white tie and tails, before Holmes and Watson attempt ‘incognito’ for their rural pilgrimage to Germany. Watson hands off his scarf (“Too English”), while, typically for Downey Jr., Holmes morphs into a mish-mash of the Cosprop dressing up box: wool overcoat with fur collar, red double breasted waistcoat, crumpled leather fedora, and stand collar moleskin jacket with tapestry braiding. “Jude Law was very happy to put on an overcoat,” Beavan explains “But underneath, just by taking his stiff collar off, he immediately made the tweed suit look ‘gypsyish’. Then he and Noomi traded hats and we were there!”
Watson abandons his overcoat to break into a German munitions factory, and obviously has no need to replace the stiff collar. Interesting that this collar is a construct barrier to Watson becoming a fully fledged man of action. Although this is what separates him from Holmes; they are opposites who despite themselves meet in the middle. Holmes hangs onto his waistcoat and brown fedora, further revealing a striped grey wool shirt, dark brown moleskin trousers and long burgundy leather boots when impaled on a hook and tortured by Moriarty.
There is only one more costume change for Watson before the group’s escape in the forest; he briefly dons a newsboy cap to disguise himself as a telegraph operator. Holmes later wears Watson’s hand-knitted scarf while injured on the train. It is a tiny detail that brings the duo closer together again. When Holmes, Watson and Sim rendezvous with Mycroft (Stephen Fry) at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, both men have swapped their tweeds for silk embossed dressing gowns – red floral and deep blue respectively.
The trio’s final ensembles are all to help gain access to the peace summit. Sim wears a deep red satin and lace ball gown with umbrella skirt, large bustle and long sleeves – decorative but not showy. “They were all supposed to be disguised as dignitaries to fit in with the others who had sashes a go-go” confirms Beavan. Holmes cannot resist rebelling against full ceremonial attire in a purple velvet waistcoat and spread collar instead of the traditional stand version sported by Watson, Mycroft and Moriarty.
After Moriarty and Holmes dramatically disappear over the falls, and following a quick glimpse of the latter’s funeral (keep watch for the return of Eddie Marsan as bowler hat sporting Inspector Lestrade and Clive Russell as Captain Tanner), the story rejoins Watson and Mary in their London home. Mary wears a blue patterned walking skirt with Edwardian-esque cream blouse; Watson is back to the man we know best in grey herringbone tweed waistcoat, white striped stiff collar shirt and brown block necktie. For Holmes’ miraculous reappearance, there is a pay off to his chameleon gambit in the first act. As ridiculous as his disguise is (he’s essentially invisible), it is no more ridiculous than we expect.
A Game of Shadows is far more travelogue than the first film, in which Jenny Beavan brought to life a Bohemian Victorian London, with new Sherlock Holmes verging on a proto-hippy. This time there has been far more tweed, less hats and a vibrant explosion of ethnicity via Sim the gypsy. With the 19th century’s final decade ticking away, an even grander scale of dress waits around the corner for Holmes to indulge in the sequel.
With thanks to Jenny Beavan.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 14th May.
You can watch Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes at LOVEFiLM.com.
© 2012 – 2021, Lord Christopher Laverty.