Renowned Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “If in 100 years I am only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes then I will have considered my life a failure.” Millions of mystery lovers and Sherlock Holmes fans around the world wholeheartedly disagree. Doyle created a series of mystery stories centered around problems that, though seemingly unsolvable, are almost child’s play to legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, an intelligent, observant, and perfectly rational man whose powers of deduction appear almost superhuman. His use of cool logic in the face of danger makes him as fascinating and enigmatic as the mysteries he solves. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories comprise arguably the best mystery series of all time. With this being said, it makes sense that they would have many, many film adaptations. But how does the Holmes of the silver screen measure up against the literary original?
Sherlock (2010-Present, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, TV-14)
With seven Emmy wins under its belt, this modern retelling certainly doesn’t have anything to prove. Creators Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss fit Doyle’s classic characters seamlessly into the twenty-first century, constructing a show as sharp, clever, and fast-paced as its protagonist. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is undeniably a genius, but also sarcastic, oblivious, and sociopathic. Freeman’s Watson is not the bumbling idiot or necessary plot device so often seen in film adaptations, but instead exhibits fierce loyalty, kindness, and a down-to-earth attitude which brings out the best in his friend Sherlock (even geniuses have to pay their rent). Additionally, Andrew Scott’s performance as Moriarty is both compelling and deliciously creepy, drawing this adaptation more coherently into its updated setting.
Mr. Holmes (2015, Ian McKellen and Laura Linney, PG)
This BBC production imagines Holmes as an old man (ninety-three to be exact) struggling to reconcile the former agility of his mind with ever worsening dementia. Frustrated by the false perception of himself created through Dr. Watson’s flamboyant stories and fanned by an overactive public imagination, he is determined to write an accurate record of his last case before he dies, but is constantly frustrated by his inability to remember important details. This film is simultaneously intelligent and human, although Holmes himself lacks the caustic edge die-hard fans have come to expect. Beautiful cinematography and a seamless performance on the part of McKellen give the film a subtle melancholy that leaves one pondering long after the credits role.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1935, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, Not Rated)
The most literal adaptation of Doyle’s popular novels, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is steeped in London fog and pipe smoke. It depicts Sherlock Holmes as brilliant and unflappable, a detective extraordinaire complete with deerstalker and long pipe. His respect for his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty adds an interesting twist to the suspenseful, albeit stereotypically Holmesian, plotline. The film’s only major fault stems from the era in which it was made: the performances can at times feel dated or over-dramatized. However, it is certainly worth a watch; those who enjoy the books will feel transported straight back to the flat at 221B Baker Street.