If you enjoyed the unabashed bromance of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, and pondered whether Irene Adler and Mary Morstan were there just to make them seem less gay, keep those naughty thoughts to yourself, especially if you want to see a sequel. Because if Holmes gets any more homoerotic, then Holmes' copyright holder will prevent another film from ever being made.
It all started with Robert Downey Jr.'s quips to David Letterman. EW had the transcript, which I'll post in full so we have the proper context:
Letterman: "Now, from what I recall, there was always the suggestion that there was a different level of relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson."
Downey: "You mean that they were homos ..."
Letterman: [Laughs.] "Well ..."
Downey: "That is what you're saying?"
Letterman: "In a manner of speaking, yes ... that they were closer than just out solving crimes. It's sort of touched on in the film, but he has a fiancée, so we're not certain. Is that right?"
Downey: "She could be a beard. Who knows?"
Paul Shaffer: "What are they, complete screamers? Is that what you're saying?"
Downey: "Why don't we observe the clip and let the audience decide if he just happens to be a very butch homosexual. Which there are many. And I'm proud to know certain of them."
Total Film apparently caught up with Andrea Plunket, who holds the stateside rights to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brainy deducer. Those quotes didn't sit well with her, nor did she take them in the spirit in which they were probably intended.
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"I hope this is just an example of Mr Downey's black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future," says Plunket. "I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books."
Now, I'm sure Ritchie and Lionel Wigram have absolutely no intention of remaking Brokeback Mountain with our Victorian detectives, but there's always the possibility that they could toy with the relationship in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of way. If the film became more bromantic, would Plunket really yank the rights? Total Film neglected to ask her what she thought of the current overtones, so it's difficult to say how sensitive she might be. (As for those rights -- the Doyle estate has a trademark on the characters, but most of the stories are in the public domain except in the U.S., where they are held by Plunket. You can see the breakdown at the official site of Doyle's literary estate.)
It's all so very sad and arising largely (I think) out of a misunderstanding, though Downey has been making the gay quips for awhile. Perhaps he truly believes Holmes is gay and plays him as such, which is perfectly fine by me. I wouldn't want to see the character actually declare himself as gay, purely because it's not historically accurate (this is the era where open orientation could have you locked up in prison) and Plunket's right in that it's not being faithful to the character.
However, there's nothing wrong with examining those themes. Scholars have played the guessing game with Doyle's characters for decades -- Holmes' opinion of women is curious to say the least -- and it's illuminating from a literary and historical perspective. Same-sex friendships have always been a mystery to historians and literary critics. People were a lot more openly affectionate in past centuries, but many accounts of kissing, hugging, and sleeping together are a puzzle. Were these people gay? Were they straight, and social mores were simply different and more accepting? No one really knows without a time machine, and you'll find people arguing passionately one way or another.
I don't expect or desire Ritchie to tackle the subject head on, but I certainly think that portrayals of male friendship and love -- or "bromance" as it's cutely labeled -- is a positive thing. The less "That's so gay, you're gay, you love him, gross!" that gets flung out, the better it is for everyone. These kind of relationships have been common onscreen since, what, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? It's time to quit snickering about them and just let them flourish for what they are -- gay, straight, or somewhere in between -- and not get hot and bothered as to whether Holmes and Watson (or Riggs and Murtaugh, or Butch and Sundance, or the 300 Spartans .... ) are or aren't.