Sherlock Holmes

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Short takes

Not recommended under 13, PG to 15 (Frequent violence, Scary scenes and themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Sherlock Holmes
  • a review of Sherlock Holmes completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 26 December 2009.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not suitable due to frequent violence and scary scenes
Children 13-14 Parental guidance recommended due to frequent violence and scary scenes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Sherlock Holmes
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Violence
Length: 128 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

The film begins with Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) rushing through the back streets of London while fighting off numerous villains in a bid to save a young woman from ritual murder by Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Apparently Lord Blackwood is high ranking member of a secretive order known as The Temple of Four Orders, an organisation that has been employing the dark arts for centuries, and whose patrons include high ranking government officials. Blackwood is found guilty of the murder of several young women and sentenced to death by hanging, but before the sentence is carried out Blackwood tells Holmes that his execution is part of his grand diabolical plan.

Blackwood is Watson’s and Holmes’s last case together as Watson is about to marry his fiancée Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) and move out of Baker street. With no new case Sherlock becomes bored and depressed until he is paid a visit by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) an adversary out of Holmes’s past. Irene claims to be working for an anonymous employer who wishes to find a missing man. Intrigued by both Irene and her anonymous employer, Holmes agrees to take up the case with Watson going along.

Following his visit from Irene Adler, Holmes receives a visit from Scotland Yard who require Holmes’s assistance to investigate claims that Blackwood has come back from the grave and the pair find out that their battle with Blackwood is not over.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Secret societies; the supernatural

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The film contains segments of intense and stylised action violence with minimal blood and gore depicted. Some of the violence is depicted in slow motion with accompanying narration by Holmes and the scene then repeated at normal speed. Examples include:

  • While waiting to attack a villain, Holmes visualises (we see slow motion images and hear narration) how he will assault the man. We see Holmes punching the man in the throat, the chest and the leg. Following the slow motion images, we see the same sequence played back at normal speed.
  • Watson grabs a man by the neck and Holmes punches a man to unconsciousness. We see a man elbowed in the face and kicked in the stomach. Watson uses his cane to break a man’s arm. A man is kicked in the stomach while lying on the floor.
  • A woman dressed in white lies on a sacrificial altar holding a large knife in both hands as though she is about to stab herself with the knife. She is stopped from stabbing herself at the last minute.
  • Sherlock Holmes. shoots holes in the wall of his apartment while bored.
  • Mary Morstan  throws a glass of wine in Holmes’s face and storms out of a restaurant. Watson punches Holmes in the face in response to Holme’s verbal attack on Mary.
  • We see Holmes in a boxing ring fighting an opponent bare knuckle style. The scene contains both slow and normal motion sequences with Holmes narrating the slow motion segments. Suring the scene we see Holmes punching his opponent in the jaw and face dislocating the man’s jaw (we see the jaw being dislocated in slow motion), head butting the man’s chest, punching the man in the back slapping the man across the ears. We see Holmes’s opponent bitting Holmes on the ear and punching Holmes in the side of the face.
  • We see a prison guard lying of the floor of the prison holding his throat as if choking; the assault appears to be the result of supernatural forces.
  • One scene contains images of Lord Blackwood being hanged. We see Blackwood hooded with his hands tied behind his back drop through a trapdoor to dangle at the end of a rope while his body twitches slightly. Later we see Blackwood’s dead body laid out on a table.
  • Four men attempt to assault Irene Adler in an alleyway. Irene pulls out a baton and strikes out at her attackers, knocking down three and holding a knife at the throat of the fourth before sending them on their way.
  • A fight between Holmes and Watson and a giant man. Involves knives, an electric cattle prod like device, hammers and a large chain.
  • Holmes wakes up stripped naked and tied to a bed head after drinking drugged wine.                            
  • An old man is sitting in a bath when the bath begins to bubble and boil by itself as if caused by supernatural forces. The man turns dark around the eyes and begins to die as a second man pulls a ring from his finger.
  • A man holding a gun attempt to shoot a second man, but when the man fires his gun he explodes in flames, the cause of the flames appearing supernatural. We see the burning man run and then jump out of a second story window to crash down on top of a carriage.
  • Holmes and Watson go to a slaughter house to find Irene Adler hanging by her hands from a meat hook with flames shooting out from gas pipes around her as though she is about to be cremated. Holmes clings to Irene and wraps a protective sheet around them both as they pass through the flames uninjured. Irene still tied to the meat hook, which is attached to an overhead conveyer belt travels toward a band saw in the process of sawing pig carcases in halves with the machine being stopped only when Irene is centimetres from being spliced in two.  After leaving the slaughter house, Watson triggers a trip wire that causes a series of explosion that totally destroys the slaughter house with Holmes, Irene and Watson engulfed in flames. Later we see Watson with a bloody wound to his side and hear that he removed pieces of shrapnel from the wound himself.
  • Holmes is engaged in a stylistic martial arts fight
  • Watson uses his cane to fend off a number of assailants. He pulls out a sword hidden within the cane, using the sword to assault his attackers. After subduing his attackers, Watson takes them prisoner and we see him firing his revolver to move the prisoners along.
  • Watson uses his legs in a scissor-like manner to put a hold on a man
  • In one scene Holmes, Blackwood and Irene Adler are standing on top of London Bridge, we see Blackwood slap Irene across the face and push her off of London Bridge; Irene is uninjured. Blackwood falls from the bridge himself and becomes entangled in chains that wrap around Blackwood’s neck, strangling him.           
  • Watson and Mary walk into Holmes apartment to find Holmes dangling from a rope as if he has just hanged himself. However, it is a mock attempt by Holmes to imitate the manner in which Blackwood faked his execution. 

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Images of a dead corpse in a coffin with its front teeth missing and maggots crawling over its face.
  • While Holmes and Watson search a dead man’s laboratory we see dead frogs dissected and pinned to the bench top, human and animal skulls, occult like drawings and images.
  • One of the film’s villainous characters is a giant sized man with a badly scarred face.
  • Younger children may be scared by the images of an older man dying in his bathtub under supernatural circumstances. We see the bath water boiling in an unnatural manner and the man with a look of fear on his face with his eyes sockets becoming darker the more the water boiled. Later when the man’s death was being investigated we see a secret room full of all manner of dark black-magic like objects including pieces of bone and hair etc.
  • While Holmes and Watson search a slaughter house we see images of numerous pigs’ heads lying on a counter and numerous headless pig carcases hanging from meat hooks. We see images of a bandsaw splicing pigs’ carcases in two with the two halves falling to the ground.    

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the violence and scary scenes described above

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the violence and scary scenes described above.

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

The film contains some occasional low-level covert sexual references. Examples include:

  • Sherlock Holmes accuses Irene Adler of marrying a man for his money asking her how much she got for a ring he gave her. Irene replies that the man was boring and he snored.
  • When Irene Adler is accosted by several men in an alley they tell her that they will cut her a deal because she is so pretty.
  • When a chamber maid walks in on a naked Sherlock handcuffed to a bed, Sherlock says “The key to my release is under the cushion”, and she runs out of the room. Later when Holmes is relaying the story to a police officer, he says, “Chamber maids used to be such a liberal breed”.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some partial nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • Irene Adler wears low cut tops that reveal her cleavage.
  • Irene kisses Sherlock Holmes on the lips while he is unconscious.
  • We see Sherlock sitting on a bed naked with his legs crossed in front of him. His hands are handcuffed to the bed head and there is a cushion placed strategically in front of him        
  • Holmes drops the key to handcuffs down the front of Irene Adler’s top.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Holmes smokes a pipe.
  • People in restaurants, including Holmes and Watson, drink wine.
  • After participating in a boxing match we see Holmes swiping a bottle of unknown alcohol from a counter and drinking from the bottle. We also see people watching the boxing match consuming alcohol straight from the bottle.
  • Watson arrives home to find Holmes in a slightly intoxicated state with Watson telling Holmes “You know what you are drinking is meant for eye surgery?”
  • Sherlock drinks wine that had been drugged and falls to the ground unconscious.
  • On several occasions Holmes tests the effects of various drugs on Watson’s dog; the dog recovers on all occasions.

Coarse language

The film contains one or two instances of low-level coarse langue and name calling. Examples include:

  • Good god, what the hell, proper idiot, human canoe, bloody panic. 

In a nutshell

Sherlock Holmes is an entertaining action drama that targets a wide ranging older audience, although the plot is somewhat predictable.      

The main messages from this movie are:

  • The supernatural can always be explained by logical deduction.
  • The war against evil and crime is ongoing.

 Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • friendship
  • self sacrifice
  • fearlessness and bravery

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

When bored, Holmes is depicted as a self-destructive manic depressive. Parents may wish to discuss how mental health issues impact on those inflicted as well as those around them.