>It has been a busy few weeks for British film-making. Firstly, filming in London started for the forth-coming "The Picture of Dorian Gray", an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s infamous novel, and last week, Guy Ritchie and his cast held a press conference revealing details of "Sherlock Holmes". Both original books were written in the late 1800s, which prompts me to ponder upon the appeal of the late Victorian novel to current movie making? "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is directed by Oliver Parker, and stars Ben Barnes (of Prince Caspian in Narnia fame) as the eponymous, beautiful Dorian, and Colin Firth as the way-ward, decadent debauchee Lord Henry Wotton. Producer Barnaby Thompson has identified "stardom as one of the main themes", and indeed it seems that Oscar Wilde’s unsettling tale of self-obsessed fame, and the importance of eternal youth and beauty, seem all too relevant in today’s image and celebrity obsessed culture. Although written in 1891, it seems that in 2008 we are living in a very Dorian Gray-esque era, which is why the film  could potentially do well with such a contemporary audience. The apparent importance of external appearance and style over any sort of substance - the central theme of Wilde’s novel - is a concept that today’s modern media promotes as a main manifesto – just look at the endless barrage of celebrity gossip magazines.

The news that Guy Ritchie is to take on Sherlock Holmes for a 2010 release has provoked some controversy. Whilst we can look forward to seeing a revamped (and I imagine vampy), sex-ed up Sherlock, it is disappointing that Richie’s film is not based on the original books (!?) but on Lionel Wigram’s forthcoming comic book – this seems to do Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a huge amount of injustice. Robert Downey Jr is to play Sherlock, and Jude Law to play Dr. Watson, and such pretty-boy casting choices already enhance the film’s image of a sexier Sherlock and Co. It has already been identified by Downey Jr that Watson will be "no bumbler", and there is to be more action, with Holmes even dabbling in martial arts – definite new direction in the Sherlock Holmes legacy. Sherlock Holmes was also a bit of a dabbler in cocaine, and if Ritchie’s previous cinematic offerings are anything to go by, it seems not unlikely that the film might feature Sherlock as a dapper dandy in his trademark deer stalker hat and pipe, albeit with a penchant for trouble, cocaine, and martial arts. In other words, Ritchie’s Sherlock will probably be rather rock and roll.

It seems strangely coincidental that these two films, essentially rooted in the writing of late Victorian Britain, should emerge at the same time. Both Dorian Gray and Sherlock Holmes, as characters, are products of such an epoch, but it also seems that they are hugely relevant today. Dorian, to a hugely destructive extent, and Sherlock, to a lesser extent, are decadent characters, who both seek out, and revel in, excess and danger. Such description does not seem a million miles away from the image of the various rock and pop stars, actors, and models, who constantly hit our headlines for demonstrating similar penchants. However, there is some notion of escapism, in the sense that the films will be set in the Victorian period. Perhaps in today’s climate of constant credit-crunch doom and gloom, escapism into such seemingly carefree past worlds is what we, as viewers seek, what we desire: as Liza Minnelli’s character Sally Bowles in Cabaret quips, everything in Weimar Berlin is saturated with "divine decadence, darling". Perhaps today we look to that allure, to the "divine decadence", of these bygone ages: the Victorian setting of these forthcoming films will re-create the mystery of an eerie and perpetually dark, fog-and-smog smothered London, as well as recreating the dangerous, debaucherous, and glamourous life that the late Victorian novel depicted. Such by-gone settings should essentially enable us to escape, if only momentarily.