This is a little bit different post for me, though it is related to writing and literature. I have mentioned in previous posts that I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. This is true of almost every incarnation I have seen. Having just finished season 3 of Elementary, I thought I might take a survey review of the various portrayals of the character. Hopefully this will give you a rough idea which versions you may enjoy.
Let’s set the scene. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know who Sherlock Holmes is, and maybe you’ve even read the tales, or at least some of them. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a master storyteller who created the preeminent literary sleuth of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sherlock Holmes and his partner and chronicler, Dr Jonathan Watson, work as consulting detectives for Scotland Yard. It is clear from the stories that Holmes is unmatched in deductive reasoning and crime solving skill, and the stories are extremely engaging. He is also deeply eccentric (which appeals to an eccentryc dragon), a master of disguise, and quite fond of coca leaf and pipe tobacco while ruminating on a case. It is a must read for any fan of literature, but especially those who enjoy mysteries. What follows is my review of the various movie and television incarnations of the master detective that I am familiar with, so it is not exhaustive list, but it will serve its purpose.
Though there were other black and white adaptations prior to it, my first exposure to Sherlock Holmes in visual media was Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon with the brilliant Basil Rathbone in the lead role. Rathbone starred in thirteen other films as well. Nigel Bruce is equally talented as Dr. Watson. Though the storylines and portrayal are admittedly a bit hokey, it is nonetheless forgivable. It was the 1930’s-1940’s after all.
Jeremy Brett portrayed Holmes in four series of television shows and also full length films created by Britain’s Granada Television. He is, hands down, my favorite of the classic portrayals of Holmes. The way which he handles the eccentric detective is mesmerizing to say the least. He looked and spoke the part with such panache and charisma, that one would wonder if the character had leaped from the page onto the screen. His versatility is particularly clear when portraying Holmes in disguise. Even in the final season when Brett was suffering from lung and heart problems, he still managed to turn in a commanding performance. I highly recommend this series to any Holmes aficionado. The two actors who portrayed Watson were perfect compliments to Brett’s enigmatic character.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR & JUDE LAW
While the most recent movies, Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, are admittedly full of hype, they are an amazingly fun take on the classic detective. What with the explosions, slow motion choreography of martial arts, and witty humor, it makes for a perfect transition from consulting detective to action hero. It’s almost as if you are watching the James Bond of 221B Baker Street. Downey is marvelous in the role of Holmes, and Jude Law is a perfect representation of Watson. The second movie really kicked it up a notch with Jared Harris creating an equally eccentric and disturbing version of James Moriarty. All of the classic elements of the detective are there, from the drug addiction to the disguises, and all in big budget fanfare. These movies went straight to my extremely selective “movies to own” list.
The BBC created my favorite modern take with a show simply titled Sherlock, and with Benedict in the starring role. Coming into its fourth season in 2016, it will debut a holiday special in December with a 19th century setting that I am extremely excited to see. It follows a little different format in that they are done in three episode season, with each episode about ninety minutes long. It works perfectly though. A truly amazing actor, Benedict is perfect in every role I have seen him in, and this role is one in which he really shines. Each episode is a slightly off kilter take on a one of Conan Doyle’s stories, and set in our 21st century world. Sherlock caries a cell phone, wears a long black trench coat, has brilliant powers of deduction, and is a social maladapt at best. Martin Freeman is superb as Watson, even without the ring of power and the furry feet (oh, wait, that’s his other role). Once again, all the classic elements of the character are there, which I won’t go into again here, but you get the idea. The only slight disappointment, and I do mean slight, is Moriarty. I found him comical at best, but not overly malevolent, strategic, or really even well matched for Holmes. That doesn’t take away from how great the show is though. Watch all three seasons on Netflix. You’ll be glad you did.
JOHNNY LEE MILLER
On the american side we have Elementary, with Miller in the starring role, and a female Watson named Joan. While the show is an interesting crime drama, it is the one I am most disappointed in as far as portraying the grandeur of Holmes. *SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW* Sherlock is still just as eccentric and socially inept, but he is more a modern day Columbo with deductive reasoning skills, than he is the incomparable consulting detective. He is also a recovering addict who regularly goes to recovery meetings. The choice to have Watson be a woman, and Moriarty as well, was a great choice. They both play their roles well, though neither is a very believable version of the classic characters. It picks up with Holmes having freshly left London for a new start in New York City. He comes to consult for an NYC police detective that he was acquainted with for a brief time at Scotland Yard. His father hires a former doctor, Joan Watson, to be his sponsor in recovery, and they eventually begin working together as Watson transitions from sponsor to a fairly capable detective herself. Don’t get me wrong, the show isn’t bad. It’s actually quite fun, though admittedly I did fall asleep on occasion during some episodes. Just don’t expect classic Holmes. He doesn’t even wear disguises.
I am extremely excited to see the most recent movie Mr. Holmes, with Sir Ian McKellen portraying an aging detective who is having to deal with the problems of aging and the dawn of modernity. I have no doubt McKellen is magnificent in the role, but I have not seen it yet, so who knows.
So there you have it! My rather lengthy excursion into the world of Sherlock Holmes. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Make sure to keep following me here, and on social media, and make sure to check out my book here.
Your Faithful Dragon who loves a good mystery