With ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows’ set for release this December you have plenty of time to brush up on the great detective and his trusty partner Dr Watson. Only problem is that in his 124 year history, Holmes is one of, if not ‘the’, most portrayed fictional character of all time – so where to start?
Luckily you readers I have compiled a list of the 10 must see Sherlock Holmes Interpretations.
10. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
I’ll start with this underrated and often overlooked entry from executive producer Steven Spielberg and writer Chris Columbus (who went on to direct ‘Home Alone’ and the first two ‘Harry Potter’ pictures). This original adventure which re-imagines Holmes and Watson as teenagers who meet at boarding school and team up to solve a mystery involving a spate of murders around London.
Intended to kick off a franchise, this movie, while not based on any of Doyle’s stories, was ignored upon it’s initial release which is a shame. It’s a great introduction for kids into Sherlock’s world and for major fans there are plenty of Easter eggs and homage’s to other iterations sprinkled throughout the movie.
Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox as Sherlock and Watson respectively, have a good chemistry together and do an adequate job, given their relative inexperience to acting before scoring these roles. The film’s greatest strength lies in it’s tragic reasoning behind why Holmes has issues as an adult when it comes to relationships with women and letting people get close to him.
9. The Seven Per-cent Solution (1976)
A truly inspired tale, this movie is not based on any from the Holmes canon, but on Nicholas Meyer’s novel which teams Sherlock Holmes teams up with world renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud at the behest of Dr. Watson in an effort to curb his cocaine addiction. It’s a bizarre pairing, a fictional character getting treatment from a real life doctor, yet somehow it all comes together. Nicol Williamson plays Holmes as a slightly disturbed individual, especially when it comes to his rivalry with Moriarty, which is presented in a refreshingly different light here. Alan Arkin is a great Freud and Robert Duvall is hardly recognisable as Watson. The great Lawrence Olivier plays Moriarty, but as I’ve already hinted, not everything is as it seems with the character.
I’m surprised this hasn’t been adapted into a stage play as it’s a very compelling character study. Although difficult to track down it is definitely worth watching if you can get your hands on it.
8. A Study in Terror (1965)
A Study in Terror boasts a great plot – Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper. Set in the streets of foggy old London this is a very enjoyable romp, and although it is a mystery thriller it can also be considered a slasher movie.
John Neville is not a very convincing Holmes, rather than become the character he just seems to be doing an impression of the detective throughout the movie. However, this is forgivable seeing as how this is just a low budget B-Movie, and at 90 minutes the movie zips by at such a brisk pace for you to have too much of an issue with his performance. The plot was reused in the 1979 movie ‘Murder by Decree’, which took itself more seriously and had a much better production value. That being said I would place ‘A Study in Terror’ above ‘Murder by Decree’ because ’Decree’ is a Ripper film with Holmes in it, while ’Terror’ is a Holmes film with Jack the Ripper in it. It’s a straightforward popcorn flick, and with such an off the wall, entertaining premise like that – it’s what you’d expect!
7. Ronald Howard Sherlock Holmes TV Series (1954-1955)
This 1954 TV series featured a total of 31 half hour episodes and is memorable for it’s slightly less tortured Holmes and (for the most part) original stories. With Howard Marion-Crawford as his Watson. Ronald Howard stars as a far more upbeat Holmes who loves the excitement and thrill of the hunt. He is very friendly and far more sociable than Holmes was ever portrayed. It’s a nice break for the character and fits with the innocence of this show.
A handful of episodes are based on Doyle’s stories, but the majority of the cases are original and bafflingly bizarre. It’s hardly a classic, but it’s a fun and at times, humorous change of pace.
6. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
I’m quiet torn with my opinion on Guy Ritchie’s 2009 effort which sees Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as his fateful friend Watson. Downey Jr and Law have a great chemistry, the banter between them is extraordinary and Ritchie really knows how to stage an action sequence. On the other hand, these characters seem only to be related to Doyle’s creation by name only. Holmes and Watson are more action heroes than detectives. Plus, Downey Jr’s Holmes is just as bumbling as Nigel Bruce’s Watson in the 1940’s Universal series. I would have rather it was played a little more straight and that a better balance was found between the action and the mystery.
The film has an uneven tone but it does score high as it is a decent introduction to non-fans to the world of Holmes. Many people who are unfamiliar with the character of Holmes seem to fob him off as a past his sell by date, and an out of touch character who, to them, appears to be pretty boring. This film is made for those people, not for Sherlockians. Hopefully it will convert a few people into fans who will then pick up one of the books and see what all the fuss is about.
5. Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959)
‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ has been adapted more times than any other Holmes story. This version stands out from the crowd, being a ‘Hammer’ production. It is an interesting gothic and macabre take on the classic story by the famous British horror studio.
Peter Cushing plays Holmes, who sent to Devon to protect Sir Henry Baskerville played by Christopher Lee. The two legendary horror actors bring a great weight to this tale and director Terrance Lee, who directed many ’Hammer’ Dracula movies with Cushing and Lee, was very well capable of putting his own mark on the story.
Interestingly, this movie is also famous for being the first Sherlock movie in Technicolor.
4. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
In 1970 legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Some Like it Hot) put his own remarkable stamp on the great detective. The premise for the movie is genius, it deals with the ‘true’ Sherlock Holmes, the tortured, lonely soul who is the basis for Watson’s outlandish publications for Strand Magazine.
In this movie Holmes makes mistakes, falls in love and deals with his both his cocaine addiction and accusations of being homosexual. Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely are a good double act as our dynamic duo, but this is not a star vehicle, it’s Wilder’s movie all the way.
3. Sherlock (2010)
- Picture this: Holmes and Watson updated for the 21st century, developed by the man behind the current incarnation of Dr. Who and starring Tim from the Office as Watson. You’d be forgiven for thinking nothing good could come from this, on paper it sounds very dodgy.
- Thankfully, upon viewing, it is actually the most thrilling, exciting and unpredictable version of Holmes in the characters 124 year history, outside of the original books. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman bring a great chemistry to the screen and naturally bounce off each other so well that you’d swear that they were playing these roles for years. The modern day update, whip sharp dialogue, clever plotting and a very vicious take on Moriarty make this must see Holmes. This is quiet a feat seeing as it has only aired 3 episodes so far. A second series is set to arrive on BBC later this year.
- We shall see how this show progresses, it’s one to watch and who knows, if the quality remains this high, in a few years it could be on it’s way to become the greatest adaptation of Holmes.
2. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce Film Series (1939- 1944)
These films are a treasure to watch. Great fun in film noir fashion. Having had two films at 20th Century Fox before moving to Universal Pictures for 12 more adventures set in the World War 2 era (what was then present day) these films defined Holmes for generations. Basil Rathbone is synonymous with Sherlock Holmes. He is the physical embodiment of Holmes, making the role his own and casting a large shadow on every actor to follow (with the exception of one).
It is unfortunate however that Nigel Bruce’s Watson really lets him down. For reasons unknown the producers of this film series (which ran from 1939 – 1944 for a total of 14 movies) decided that rather than having Watson being a trusted confident partner for Holmes, he should be played for laughs as comic relief. Don’t get me wrong, Bruce is great at what he does but it can bring down the intensity of some of the films and occasionally can the jokes can fall embarrassingly flat.
That being said, Rathbone and Bruce make a great team. With the exception of ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ the rest of the series are comprised of original stories which partly owe a few plotlines to the Conan Doyle stories. While a slightly more faithful take on Holmes was to present itself later on in the world of television, this is as definitive as it gets when it comes to Holmes in the movies.
1. Sherlock Holmes Granada Television Series (1984- 1994)
Of course it was always inevitable that the top spot would go to Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes in Granada Televisions Sherlock series which ran on ITV for a very impressive 10 years, from 1984 – 1994. Every episode is based on a Doyle story and they are all as faithful as they can be to the source material, the series managed to adapt 42 out of Doyle’s 60 stories before Brett’s untimely death in 1995. Brett was incredible as Holmes. He totally immerses himself in the character, gets under his skin and becomes Holmes in a way no other actor ever has.
While fans are split between Rathbone and Brett on who was the definitive Holmes, Brett (to me) wins. Holmes is only as good as his Watson, and in the decade he presided over the role, Brett had two excellent Watsons – First being David Burke who left the series before being replaced by Edward Hardwick. Both Watson actors took the role seriously and never played it up for comic relief like Nigel Bruce (Rathbone’s Watson). Rathbone eventually tired of the role after 5 years where as Brett doubled that run, even though it has been noted time and time again that he grew frustrated with the role.
The series respected Doyle’s stories to the point where they were comfortable enough adapting them more or less straight from the pages of the books. Sure there may have a few changes here and there but there has never been a more authentic representation of the classic tales on screens than this! If you only see one version of Sherlock Holmes, do yourself a favour and make it this one!
Also Worth a Watch:
Basil The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
This charming animated Disney vehicle came very close to being on the list until I reminded myself that I was assembling a list strictly of Holmes interpretations, and not Holmes inspired characters. That being said, Holmes does make a brief appearance in this film aided by the archival voice recordings of the late, great Basil Rathbone.
They Might Be Giants (1971)
Again, this is files under ‘Holmes Inspired’. This quirky imagined little tale casts George C. Scott, who retreats into fantasy after the death of his wife and imagines himself to be Sherlock Holmes. Joanne Woodward plays Dr Watson, a female doctor sent to look after him but figures that the best way to help him through is ordeal is to go along with the adventure. It’s a charming little film that is sure to please. Worth tracking down.
‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ will be released December 16th.
Series 2 of BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ is set to return later this year.