Starring: Matt Frewer, Kenneth Welsh, Liliana Komorowska, R.H. Thomson and Robin Wilcock
Director: Rodney Gibbons
Rating: Five of Ten Stars
Sherlock Holmes (Frewer) is retained to recover compromising photos of one of Europe's crown princes (Wilcock). The case is complicated by the fact that the photos are in the possession of Holmes' old love/adversary Irene Adler (Komorowska) and that the British government and Holmes' brother Mycroft (Thomson) want to get their hands on the photos as well.
"A Royal Scandal" is a so-so Holmes tale that merges "The Bruce-Pardington Papers" with a loose adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia." It's a made-for-TV movie that wastes no time in getting started and keeps the pace nice and brisk as it unfolds and makes sure that the viewer is never bored--assuming the viewer is in the mood for a Holmesian-style mystery. The way Holmes deals with betrayal and dishonesty by those he cares about (and whom he thought he could rely on) is an interesting aspect of the story. That, along with the Victorian espionage intrigues--echoes of last week's Sherlock Sunday entry, "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes"--is one of the more entertaining aspects of the film, but it isn't enough to make up for the weaknesses.
The film's problems lie primarily with the casting, and, to a lesser degree, with the scripting.
As fun as Matt Frewer usually is to watch in most roles he's played, he makes a weak Sherlock Holmes. He doesn't have the arrogant intensity of Basil Rathbone or Peter Cushing's Holmes, he doesn't have the boyish exuberance of Ronald Howard'd Holmes, he doesn't have the emotional intensity of Robert Downey Jr or Christopher Plummer's interpretations, nor even the limpwristed feyness of the one presented by Robert Stephens. He doesn't bring any larger-than-life qualities to the character, something which seems to be a necessity for a successful screen-portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. A giant such as Holmes need to have something to seperate him from the masses of humanity, and Holmes as portrayed by Frewer has nothing.
The script is also something of an issue. Holmes is one step behind his adversaries for the entire story. Although many cinematic tales of Holmes deal with him being bested--especially when Irene Adler is involved--few have him so completely in the dark as he is during this tale. Even after the case has been resolved, it's clear that although Holmes figured out the puzzle and mostly identified all the players correctly, he at no time had the initiative and he was successfully manipulated from beginning to end. All in all, a disappointing adventure both for Holmes and for the viewers.
The rest of cast is as bland as Frewer. Kenneth Welsh's Watson has very little screen time, but what he has is forgettable. Not only does Watson have very little to do in the story, but Welsh is completely unremarkable in the role. Liliana Komorowska makes an attractive Irene Adler and brings enough sexy charisma to the role to make it believable that Holmes might fall in lust with her, but the part itself feels underwritten and empty--and her tendency to carry around an unloaded gun is a very silly habit for a character who deals with lethal criminals and spies on a daily basis.
"A Royal Scandal" is a forgettable entry in the Holmes. The Five I am giving it is about as low a Five as possible without making it a Four. I'm being generous with the film because it did keep me entertained, but only just, and because it's all-around technically competent. But it's a film you can safely skip.