Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. John Watson are two of the most famous and long-lasting characters in fiction. They possibly have the largest number of on-screen interpretations of any literary characters…except for possibly Dracula?
This blog series is a look at some of the many interpretations of Holmes and Watson in movies and TV series. From the recent “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, back to the classic Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movie series of the 1940s. There are far too many versions to consider them all, but I thought it might be fun to look at the varied ways these classic literary characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been brought to the screen over the years.
Not all have stuck to the original stories. In “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”, Billy Wilder poked some fun at the Holmes myth. Another movie has Holmes meet Sigmund Freud in Vienna, and parallels are drawn between the two men. Even if one was fictional and the other real. In “Without a Clue”, Michael Caine plays a somewhat dull-witted Holmes who is all too full of himself, while Watson, played by Ben Kingsley is the real deductive genius in the background.
Amongst TV adaptations, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is one of the most noteworthy and arguably the one most loyal to the literary creation (Btw, I spotted a very young Jude Law in one of the Brett episodes. He can only be about 16-18 yrs old?). Let’s dive in at the present day versions.
Intro and a general comparison between the BBC’s new “Sherlock” TV series and Guy Ritchie’s Hollywood blockbuster movie series.
Both these interpretations are quite different to any that have previously appeared on screen. Both have their merits, depending on your personal preferences. Both very strongly reflect the intentions of their creators.
In an interview, Guy Ritchie explained that he experienced Holmes while at boarding school where he was allowed to listen to audio-book recordings of Holmes adventures as a treat, while doing his homework. This is one reason Holmes lasts. You can read Conan Doyle’s books from about age twelve onwards. They stay with you if you start reading them at an early age because they work equally well for adults. You can’t say that of many stories. Ritchie’s movies are a return to that experience of hearing Holmes as a kid. I would say these films appeal to the child in us all. The child who likes smart, daring action heroes and amazing effects.
The new BBC “Sherlock” series is the joint brainchild of Mark Gattis and Stephen Moffat who one day discussed how Sherlock Holmes might look in the 21st century. Their interpretation is firmly rooted on that premise. The series comprises of three movie length episodes per season and is quite unlike any of the past dramatisations. The new series plays in the 21st century. Sherlock Holmes is a wiz with a Smartphone. This could have gone horribly wrong, but fortunately for us, it’s ingenious fun.
Guy Ritchie thought Holmes had been made into a toff in most versions. A toffee-nosed, upper-class gent. He didn’t agree with that depiction. Ritchie’s Holmes, played by Robert Downey Jr and accompanied by Jude Law as Watson, is rough and scruffy. A fighting man as much as a thinker and oddball. Ritchie’s movies take place in Holmes’ original Victorian period. They play into the currently popular literary genre of steampunk. That is, they also feature imaginative technology using steam and cogs.
In contrast, the BBC’s “Sherlock” is completely and utterly at home in the 21st-century. Holmes and Watson are men of today. Their landlady Mrs Hudson, is no longer a housekeeper but a landlady who takes an interest in her odd tenants, but does not wait upon them. The new Sherlock is a tech-savvy nerd. Watson, instead of writing for a newspaper column maintains a blog of Sherlock’s adventures.
In the next post it’s time for a more detailed side-by-side view of these two current series. How the banter between Holmes and Watson is used to great effect, Holmes relationship to women, and how his lack of social skills is emphasized far more than in the past.
Question: Do you have a favourite Holmes on screen?