Friday, 6 January 2012

Sherlock Holmes and the Other Adaptions

As the triumphant modern version of Sherlock has returned to our screens recently with Steven Moffat's 'A Scandal in Belgravia' and Mark Gatiss' 'Hounds of the Baskerville' and finishes this week with Steven Thompson's 'The Reichenbach Fall' (I know, I can't flippin' wait either!) I thought I'd run through some of the best -  or my favourite - adaptations that I have immensely enjoyed since I became a Holmes fan. So if the BBC smash hit series has made you one of a whole new generation (including me) that have fallen for the world's greatest detective I highly recommend you don your deerstalker, cape and magnifying glass and seek these other versions of Holmes out. Now.*

5. Clive Merrison   

The star of BBC Radio Four's complete adaptations of the original stories and its spin-off The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, all-new stories based on references to untold cases in the canon, Merrison is a great Holmes. Faithful to Conan Doyle's original portrayal, unlike many onscreen Holmes he gets the balance between morose layabout and excited investigator right and him and Michael Williams have an obvious rapport and believably fond friendship.

4. Robert Stephens

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, in which Stephens is the lead, is one of the best Holmes films out there. It sets out to address the real Holmes behind Conan Doyle's mysteries. Raising the questions fans debate for hours; his sexuality, his upbringing, his drug addiction ETC and largely answers them satisfyingly. Plus, it finds time for a rollicking mystery involving the Loch Ness Monster and Queen Victoria! Steven Moffat's also quoted it as one of the influences on Sherlock (it features a scene where a woman walks around stark naked in front of Holmes - coincidence, I think not!). Stephens himself plays both the comedy moments and drama with aplomb although Colin Blakely as his Watson is a bit of a prat.

3. Peter Cushing

Cushing, whom you might know from his roles as Dr Frankenstein and Van Helsing in the old Hammer Horror films (he also played Doctor Who in a couple of movies in the sixties), was Holmes in a Hammer version of 'Hound of the Baskervilles'. It's a pleasing adaptation, the spookiness and atmosphere are beefed up while there's also more bright technicolour blood than you may remember from the story.Cushing certainly gets the brainiac side of Holmes well, as he furrows his brow a lot while thinking about the case and always eager to get sleuthing. His Watson is pretty forgetful, however, although I remember him being a fairly competent, serious character rather than a comic bumbler.

2. Basil Rathbone

Perhaps still the most iconic version of Holmes, Rathbone played Holmes in a series of films in the 40s which uprooted the intrepid detectives from fog-bound London and plopped them in modern-day wartime Britain (and yes, of course, Moffat and Gatiss have said these are their favourite adaptations). Rathbone is not the closest Holmes to the original - he's far too charming and genial for that - but he is thoroughly likeable. His Watson, Nigel Bruce, is the ultimate buffoon, constantly asking Holmes how he worked it out - enter the famous 'Elementary, my dear Watson!'

1. Jeremy Brett

Probably the Master of the Holmes adaptation. The Granada (now ITV) series of adaptions of the original stories is famous for going out of its way to be as faithful to Conan Doyle as possible. The sets are exquisite and, at the risk of sounding stupidly sycophantic, it really feels like the 1890s! Both actors who played Watson over the years (David Burke and Edward Hardwicke) are reliable, intelligent and more on a par with the detective. However, Brett is undoubtedly the star. He encapsulated all the aspects and complex personality of Holmes - the mood swings, the calculating mind, the asexuality - greater than perhaps any other actor (I would place Cumberbatch top, but that's my opinion). However, his success came at a price as he infamously had a breakdown in the 1990s and was haunted by the character in his dreams - afterwards, he only referred to Holmes as 'He'. After his death a few years His legacy remained in tact and is many Sherlockian's favourite Holmes - for good reason.

* I haven't included the new Hollywood blockbuster series starring Robert Downing Jr and Jude Law as you most probably have come across them before. I haven't seen the sequel A Game of Shadows but the first film was great fun although still not a patch on Sherlock  - I know, I'm loyal.

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