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Social and political issues have always been a well known theme for Hollywood directors to create realistic movies. Generally these movies which are based on the social or political context reflect the society and the political image that prevailed during that time. In this research study the researcher attempts to reflect this trend of Hollywood movies through the analysis of a period Hollywood movie and examination of the movie with regard to the social and political context (Righetti and Boschetti, 2007). In order to explore this trend of Hollywood the researcher analyses the movie Sherlock Holmes (2009) which is a British American mystery movie that is based on the fictitious character Sherlock Holmes created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This movie was directed by Guy Ritchie and role of the protagonist was played by the Hollywood actor Robert Downey Junior.

Social and Political context in Hollywood

Movies are nothing but the reflection of the society. The manner in which the society behaves it what is generally depicted in the movies. It acts like a mirror showcasing the conditions of the society and bringing out the hidden truths of the society and the cultures. Hollywood movies also have been doing this for ages (, 2015). Innumerable movies are being made that reflects different social structures and political incidents that have been taking place around the world at different time periods. In most of the cases social issues have a positive impact on the movies as there have been a number of movies which have received the greatest honor of Oscar mainly due to their theme (Cantor and Levy, 1988). Hence social as well as political issues have always been a great way to make the people aware of the existing realities of their times or of the previous eras (Oscar fever: the history and politics of the Academy Awards, 2002).


Critical Analysis of the movie with regard to the social and political context

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels on Sherlock Holmes are based on the neo- Victorian movement that merges the Victorian era with that of the artistic sensibilities of the Edwardian era (Welsh, 2012). The Edwardian era was more popular because of the modern principles and technologies. There exist a number of sources that are devoted to the culture, clothing, family decoration and morality of the neo- Victorian era. There lie very few characters that tend to have accurately portrayed the Victorian era, their culture, their thoughts, disciplines, rationality etc. as Doyle has portrayed in his novels on Sherlock Holmes (Kalinowski, 2013). Guy Richie in his movie Sherlock Holmes has abided by this concept while he made the movie. The movie depicts the Victorian era profusely in the movie.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) – The story

The movie depicts a 19th century England and the story is based on the events that took place in the life of Sherlock Holmes in the year 1891. Detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend and partner Dr. Watson try to stop the ritual murder of a woman by Lord Blackwood. He has by then already killed another five women in a similar manner. They were successful in their attempt and the culprit was caught. The movie moves forward for three months, where Lord Blackwood had been sentenced to death and before his death he requested to meet Holmes. On their meeting Blackwood warned Holmes of three more deaths. Later Blackwood was hanged and Dr. Watson had pronounced him death. Holmes’ adversary suggest him to look for a man named Luke Reordan who Holmes finds out that this man was the key to the plans made by Blackwood. The events took a turn when Blackwood’s grave was found to be destroyed and instead of his body the body of Reordan was found in that grave. Also people witnessed a dead Blackwood roaming the streets. Holmes and Watson search the home of Reordan and found out that he used to carry out experiments that attempted to inter-relate magic with science.


Holmes was taken to the secret society named as the Temple of Four Orders where he some well known world political leaders to significant parts of that secret society. Here Holmes was ordered to prevent Blackwood from committing any more murders. Two of the political leaders were later killed by the supernatural powers of Blackwood. Blackwood’s plans were finally revealed and it was that they intend to conquer the Government in Britain, take over the United States and the world (Andrews, 2009). In the movie Holmes was later arrested as a result of the arrest warrant issued by Lord Coward. Holmes finds out that Blackwood plans for the Parliament. The plan is to kill everyone in the Parliament by releasing cyanide gas in that area. Blackwood then arrives at the Parliament and threatens. A huge fight takes place between Blackwood and his men and Holmes and Watson. At the end Blackwood is hanged by Holmes from the Bridge in Thames.

Critical Analysis

This movie by Guy Ritchie commences with a fast moving camera that attempts to capture the vague shots along with fascinating music. The protagonist Sherlock Holmes appears while narrating the vivid details of how the movements should be made in order to defeat the opponents within seconds.

At this very moment Dr. Watson enters and attacks the man who was about to stab Holmes form behind. The essence of the scene lies in the manner in which both characters attack the man simultaneously and jointly kill him. Ritchie in the very first scene provides the vital elements of the movie. The expertise and capabilities of the detective is proven in the beginning itself and this gives Sherlock Holmes a super-hero like status. Also the proximity of the relationship between Holmes and Watson is portrayed well in this scene (Gillespie and Harpham, 2011).

It must be remembered that the movie was a period film based on the 19th century England. It was during this time that life was gradually transformed by the industrial revolution. During this time most of Britain was ruled by the elite even though around eighty percent of the people in Britain was the working class. Also during this time, as a result of the growing number of industries there was a huge demand for labor (Business Insider, 2015). Female and child labor also become prevalent during this time. However, Britain immediately made laws that gradually had put a stop on this practice. These factors have been well depicted in the movie. The background of the movie usually showed the working class people that included the women (Baker Street Wiki, 2015). In many of the scenes it can be witnessed that a lot of women workers were observed. This particular social aspect had been well depicted in the movie (Ebert, 2009).


Further the living condition of Britain was not at all up to the mark during the 19th century. Most of the cities were in a very dreadful position. Even though there were gas lights on the streets most of the cities in the country were dirty, unhygienic and extremely overcrowded.  The streets during this century were also not paved properly and they neither were generally nor cleaned properly. Most of the time rubbish accumulated in the streets and was kept in the streets only. Gradually they turned black and were later used as fertilizers. Moreover, during these times, usually the people was earlier said was of the working class they often used cesspits or earth closets. During these times only the elite section had proper well maintained toilets. But during the late 19th century slowly these become more and more common (7. Foreign Film Making, 2012).

With regard to the Sherlock Holmes movie of 2009 by Guy Ritchie, it needs to be mentioned that even though all the aspects of the living conditions of the 19th century Britain was not vividly depicted in the movie, some of the common features were visible. The hygiene conditions of the streets in Britain were very much visible in the movie. The streets shown were untidy and unclean. The working class people could be easily distinguished from the elite people from their clothing, mannerism and behavior. Even though accumulation of garbage was specifically shown the roads were generally shown to be not well-kept unlike present day United Kingdom.

Further poverty was high during this time. During the 19th century it was estimated that around twenty-five percent of the people lived below the poverty lines. The houses during this time were also very poorly maintained. In most cases, the houses of the poor were not well- ventilated and extremely small. Sometimes these houses were shared amongst a number of dwellers. In the 2009 movie there were not very poor houses shown but the houses that were shown highly reflected the Victorian era. The houses along with the furniture of Sherlock Holmes and the other characters depicted well of the Victorian era.

The dressing of the men and women of the 19th century was also extremely well depicted in the movie. The minute details of the Victorian fashion were abided by in the movie. The use of puff sleeves and hats by the women were shown in the movie along with the tight fitting frock coats of the men (Ratner, 2012).


One more crucial thing of that was depicted in the movie was that of the occult practices. However, the entire credit for the depiction of the occult practices cannot be given to Guy Ritchie. The creation of the characters and the plot was done by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Even though the movie does not mention about the secret societies, there is a mention of a number of symbols and references in the entire movie which has been taken from the real life stories of existing occult societies. All of these scenes have been very cleverly implanted and they are also not explained anywhere in the movie. This shows that the movie has been greatly inspired by the real life stories on secret societies (, 2015).  

It needs to be mentioned here that during the 19th century there was a huge revival of the occult practices especially in England. During this time there was an also enormous volume of work that was published by the Masons on occult practices. From the very beginning onwards the movie depicts of these occult practices. Firstly when Holmes and Watson go to save the life of the woman from a black magic ritual was being carried out. Again when Holmes visits Blackwood’s cell there were engravings of different occult symbols that were apparently made by Blackwood (, 2015). Further when Watson and Holmes searches the laboratory of The Dwarf, there were again occult engravings on the wall. And finally the book that belonged to Lord Blackwood named as the spellbook. This book was also a good depiction of the occult practices.

 It may be noted that the movie depicts of the political leaders to be associated with the secret societies. This however still remains a fictional fact. However, the corruption existent in the political framework is also evident in the movie which depicts the hunger for power that existed in the 19th century.


The movie Sherlock Holmes is firstly a period film and more importantly it is a screen adaptation of one of the best selling fictions of all times. It is indeed a difficult task to maintain the same enigma that the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had. However Guy Ritchie in this 2009 movie has made a very good attempt to portray all the essence of that period in this movie. With regard to the social and political context, Guy Ritchie has made all possible attempts to depict the culture, the lifestyle, the clothing and moralities of the people of the Victorian era. The depiction of the social cultures is however comparatively much higher than the political nuances in the movie.



7. Foreign Film Making. (2012). Communication Booknotes Quarterly, 43(4), pp.182-184.

Andrews, C. (2009). Sherlock Holmes. 5 to 7 Educator, 2009(60), p.iv-v.

Baker Street Wiki, (2015). Sherlock Holmes (2009 film). [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jun. 2015].

Business Insider, (2015). Robert Downey, Jr. Says Another 'Sherlock Holmes' Movie Is In The Works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jun. 2015].

Cantor, M. and Levy, E. (1988). And the Winner Is...: The History and Politics of the Oscar Awards. Contemporary Sociology, 17(1), p.85., (2015). Sherlock Holmes (2009) …review and/or viewer comments • Christian Spotlight on the Movies • ChristianAnswers.Net. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jun. 2015].

Ebert, R. (2009). Sherlock Holmes Movie Review & Film Summary (2009) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jun. 2015].

Gillespie, M. and Harpham, J. (2011). SHERLOCK HOLMES, CRIME, AND THE ANXIETIES OF GLOBALIZATION. Critical Review, 23(4), pp.449-474.

Kalinowski, S. (2013). The Sign of Four. Arthur Conan Doyle. The Comments.Decyzje, 10(20), pp.141-156.

Oscar fever: the history and politics of the Academy Awards. (2002). Choice Reviews Online, 39(06), pp.39-3295-39-3295.

Ratner, M. (2012). The Elusive Truth. Film Quarterly, 66(2), pp.74-76.

Righetti, P. and Boschetti, E. (2007). Sherlock Holmes and the proteome − a detective story. FEBS Journal, 274(4), pp.897-905., (2015). History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jun. 2015]., (2015). FILM3017 Hollywood in the 1930s: Classical Style, Industry and Social Change | Humanities | University of Southampton. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jun. 2015].

Welsh, I. (2012). Sixties Radicalism and Social Movement Activism: Retreat or Resurgence?. Social Movement Studies, 11(3-4), pp.469-470.

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