Five Faves: Sherlock Holmes In TV And Film

Published on September 29th, 2009 in: Books, Halloween, Horror, Issues, Listicles, Movies, Over the Gadfly's Nest, Radio, TV |

By Lisa Anderson

There is a new Sherlock Holmes movie coming out in December, and I for one am a little nervous.

Now, I’m no Holmes expert, even though I read some of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle when I was younger. And I was actually excited about the project at first, because of the involvement of Robert Downey, Jr. and in spite of widespread skepticism over the director, Guy Ritchie. It was the trailer that really concerned me.

In the stories, Holmes does box. In fact, from the swamps of Dartmoore to Reichenbach Falls, the stories are a good bit more physical than their Edwardian pedigree might suggest. However, there are so many explosions and guns in the trailer that it feels more like an action movie than a mystery.

The characters also seem to be all wrong in terms of how they behave with the opposite gender. Someone seems to have stolen poor Rachel McAdams’ clothes! The trailer ends with Downey handcuffed to a bed, naked except for a pillow. Holmes is just not someone who gets in trouble over women, and Downey’s aw-shucks-am-I-in trouble-again shtick seems misplaced here.

It explained a lot when I learned that the movie is actually based on a graphic novel by Lionel Wigram, which in turn is loosely based on Doyle’s short story “A Scandal in Bohemia.” It may actually be good as a holiday popcorn movie, and is probably worth seeing for the slash potential between Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson. But I fear it’s likely to disappoint people who show up looking for the Holmes of their beloved books.

I’ll be back in January to review this latest movie. In the meantime, I offer a list of film and TV versions of Holmes that you may also want to take in. It includes offerings for the purists, as well as those that prove a new twist on the Holmes story can be done well.

rathbone bruce

1. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Between 1939 and 1946, this duo stared as Holmes and Watson, respectively, in fourteen films and on radio. Even in black and white, their images became part of the Holmes iconography. I vividly recall the dramatic way Holmes saved his own life from Moriarity in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.

jeremy brett

2. Jeremy Brett

This actor played Holmes for Britain’s Grenada Television from 1984 to 1994, as well as onstage. This is one incarnation that I haven’t actually seen, but in researching Holmes on film and TV, you find Brett’s name at every turn. He is probably tied with Rathbone as being most people’s mental image of Sherlock Holmes.

young sherlock holmes

3. Young Sherlock Holmes, 1985

This film rewrites Holmes and Watson’s history, having them meet as students at a boy’s school. They forge their friendship as they battle a malevolent mystery cult, with a cameo appearance by their nemesis, Moriarity. The most memorable thing about this movie are the two times, both in their youth, when Watson saw Holmes cry.

without a clue

4. Without a Clue, 1988

The premise of this movie is that Watson is the real mystery-solving genius, and has hired a bumbling actor to play Holmes as a cover. Michael Caine is Holmes—need I say more? My favorite scene is when they’re trying to decipher the words on a burnt scrap of paper.

My favorite exchange:
“Don’t worry, he knows you’re an idiot.”
“Thank God!

tmbg movie

5. They Might Be Giants, 1971

This is not technically about Holmes. . . or is it? It belongs on the list either way. Joanne Woodward plays a modern-day psychiatrist charged with treating a man (George C. Scott) who believes that he is Sherlock Holmes. There is an amazing speech about the nature of reality at the very end. Yes, this is where the band got its name.

One Response to “Five Faves: Sherlock Holmes In TV And Film”


  1. Popshifter » Sherlock Holmes:
    December 23rd, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    […] you read my article in Popshifter about previous incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, you know that I was skeptical about Guy […]

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