Having read over your recommendations, I have since watched Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett and a couple other random incarnations (Christopher Lee and Arthur Wontner), in addition to the sequels to the modern adaptations I talked about before. Also, I've watched all the episodes of the new CBS show Elementary.
Since I said I'd write a follow-up post, here it is! And I swear--cross my heart and hope to die (ow), stick a needle in my eye (OUCH)--that there are no spoilers in the following post.
Another note: This post is, as with my last Sherlock Holmes article, over 1000 words long. If this is too long for you and you feel like skipping to the end with a TL;DR, then no hard feelings.
On with the post!
The Earliest Adaptations
Let's start with Basil Rathbone, since he came first movie-wise of the ones I've seen. Well, Arthur Wontner actually came first--but he didn't really stick in my memory. I have to admit, all the black-and-white films and episodes kind of blend into each other after a while, especially since everyone looks the same in grainy grayscale.
Rathbone was one of the most recommended actor in the comments, and if one is looking for classic Sherlock Holmes, he's definitely the way to go. He's calm, collected, and a very good representation of the deductive powers of the famous detective; Nigel Bruce, also, was exactly like the Dr. Watson of the stories, in his bumbling, hasty demeanor and general misunderstanding of what Holmes was doing. I really liked the films I watched and would highly recommend the 1939 series.
Next, Jeremy Brett. Granted, I only watched one film with this actor ("The Adventure of the Priory School"), and while I should probably see more, I can't say I was absolutely crazy about his portrayal. It was, of course, a perfectly fine adaptation of Doyle's stories, but he struck me as too . . . inaccessible. A little dark for my taste, though Sherlock Holmes is fairly dark character even in the literature. Still, I would recommend the multiple series and I'll probably get around to watching more of the episodes myself (the fact Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss have cited Brett as an influence on Sherlock is also a motivator).
I also think Christopher Lee should get a mention here. He was in only one Sherlock Holmes film as Holmes himself, but I thought Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace was cool. It isn't a strict adaptation of any of the stories, but it draws elements from them (as all adaptations do, I think) and Lee presents the image of the classic Sherlock Holmes in attitude--not to mention the plaid clothes and deerstalker.
The Latest Adaptations
And now we get into the more recent portrayals. And by recent, I mean done since 2000. Those versions would be Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and Elementary.
Elementary is the new series with Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. I was worried what would happen with a female Watson and a male Holmes, but so far it seems to be working out rather well and there's no odd romance between the two. It's not Sherlock, something I think a lot of people are comparing it to, which in my opinion that doesn't really work since Elementary is more in the vein of standard police procedural.
It barely manages to be a Holmes adaptation, but I think it's a decent show. I've been keeping up with the episodes, anyway, and looking forward to them. (I'm also impressed that they made Watson female--and Asian. Hooray for women and under-represented Asians!) I recommend the series, though not strictly as Holmes adaptation and more as a good crime show with interesting leads.
The Guy Ritchie Films
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, with Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson was a pretty good movie, though Downey, Jr. is definitely more flamboyant than the original Holmes and the character of Watson is smarter than he is in the stories (which I think is a good thing, actually)--and there's much more humor. I liked it better than the first movie, though the plot for A Game of Shadows basically shreds up the original works by Doyle and tacks on the ending to "The Final Problem". Am I looking forward to the sequel/third movie? Kind of. I'll definitely watch it, just to see what they do with the characters. I would recommend the newer films if you don't mind a very different personality (Downey, Jr.) taking on Sherlock Holmes.
And now, Sherlock: Season Two. This is the one I was most dying to see, since I loved Season One and became a huge fan of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Season Two was just as good, in my view--not necessarily better, but it held up to the high quality of the first three episodes.
Since this series presents a Sherlock Holmes significantly younger than the one in the stories (though the episodes are strongly linked to the stories and occasionally outright based on them, another point in its favor) it's fascinating to see what they do with his character growth. Season Two is generally viewed as Holmes facing love, fear, and death (the writers said as much, I believe) and I think it's very effectively pulled off. I had faith it would be--though I was worried about Irene Adler before I saw "A Scandal in Belgravia". Having watched the episode, I think she's a strong character and full of personality, as well as being more than a match for Holmes.
(As to the ending of "A Scandal in Belgravia", which a lot of people have grumbled about (and which I shall not spoil for those who haven't seen the episode), I don't have a big problem with it, and I don't see the level of sexism other people seem to. It's not perfect, no, but based on her performance I have plenty of faith that Irene Adler would be able to fend for herself and do pretty darn well.)
Sherlock is the Sherlock Holmes adaptation I would urge anyone to see, if they were to express interest in the detective--and also probably if they didn't. Let me rephrase: If you're interested in really good television shows (and who isn't?) go check out Sherlock. I'd also recommend starting with the first season; the evolution of the character and his relationship with John Watson (Martin Freeman is excellent in the role) carries through both seasons and it's much more interesting to watch in chronological order.
(And now I'm doing the whole obsessed-with-Sherlock thing, scrutinizing the three words "rat, wedding, bow", the words that are supposed to be the basis for the episodes of Season Three--which they haven't even starting filming yet--in addition to grinding my teeth over the potential year-long wait until the new series is aired. At least there's The Hobbit and Star Trek Into Darkness to look forward to, with Freeman/Cumberbatch and Cumberbatch, respectively.)
If you have reached the end of this post, I congratulate you and give you Awesome Points and throw confetti (which I even vacuum up afterwards). Also, did I mention that your hair looks great today?
Have you watched any of the adaptations I mentioned and if so, do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Seen any adaptation I didn't mention? What's your favorite screen version of Sherlock Holmes?
-----The Golden Eagle