17 January, 2013

Sherlock Holmes 2: In Which I Talk About More Adaptations Of Doyle's Stories

Back in September, I posted about Sherlock Holmes and the two adaptations I'd watched: The BBC's TV series Sherlock: Season One with Benedict Cumberbatch and the film Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr.

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

Basil Rathbone
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.

Jeremy Brett
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).

Christopher Lee
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


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Always enjoyed Sherlock Holmes and have read many of the books. Big fan of the recent movies, but Downey is so captivating as Sherlock. Enjoy both the BBC show and Elementary. It does work with Lucy Liu, which surprised me as well.

Pat Hatt said...

Have to agree the BBC one is the one to see. Elementary I can watch and Lucy Liu works as the Watson type, but it doesn't really feel like sherlock. Just another cbs murder of the week show, whoopi.

JeffO said...

I haven't watched the old films myself, and I haven't actually read the original stories in years (okay, except for one, ever; I must rectify that). The BBC series has grown on me. Cumberbatch's Holmes is not necessarily likable, yet I'm liking him more, and he does show occasional fierce devotion to his friends (Don't mess with Mrs. Hudson!). The plots are complicated and occasionally leave me scratching my head, but that's part of the fun.

'Elementary' is...okay. They've done some interesting things with both Holmes and Watson here, but it doesn't wow me. And I hope they don't ultimately try to force a Holmes/Watson romance on us.

As for the films, they were enjoyable. I suspect they put Holmes and Watson on more equal footing so as to make it more of a 'buddy' film. A too-bumbling Watson turns it into Abbott & Costello.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Sherlock is the best. I was reluctant at first . . .something about being told how good it was, and yet doubting that a modern, younger Holmes could really be that good . . . and now that I finally watched it, I am impatiently waiting for more. The acting and directing is superb!

I've seen the movies with Downey and I like them, but I feel the first one is best. They definitely show Holmes at his wildest, but I always thought he had a wilder side anyway underneath all the seriousness.

It's fun to see different adaptions.

Great post!!!

Sarah McCabe said...

A question: how many of the original stories have you read? Because I'm confused as to why you would say that Downey's Sherlock is a significant departure in personality. In my opinion (and as someone who has read every single Holmes story at least 3 times) he's by far the closest to the original literary Holmes. Can you imagine Basil Rathbone hanging around in an opium den? I can't. But Downey? Heck yes. Guy Ritchie's movies are the only version that I've seen that doesn't gloss over the fact that Sherlock is a drug addict as well as an expert fighter. You have to read ALL the stories to get the complete picture of Holmes and so far Downey's version is the only one I've seen that portrays that complete picture. (Holmes is actually quite young in the very first story and quite old in the last story.)

(Note: I've not seen the BBC show yet. I'm not a big fan of modernizations.)

Also, one of the better adaptations is the old 50s TV show staring Ronald Howard as Holmes.

D.G. Hudson said...

First off, don't care for Lucy Liu as an actress. Don't like Watson as a female. Leave Watson as a male, please.

I'm a purist when it comes to Sherlock, although I love the Robt. Downey Jr/Jude Law combo.

Jeremy Brett is superb, you should watch more of those episodes, he has the ascetic look and cold calculating attitude that fits. He was suffering in his last episodes with an illness.

Now for the new - the BBC productions is my favourite, even better than RDJr. It's Sherlock in the 21st Century. And it's got a much better Watson than the original. Of course I love Martin Freeman, too.

Makes me wonder - what would Doyle think? (probably he'd like that we still reading his work) Loved your post.

Jack said...

I read all of it so I get confetti. *Grin*

I have watched all of the above. I am not overly fond of Brett. I found his portrayal rather dry. I should probably give him another chance though.

Basil Rathbone had an interesting take on it. Again, he's not my favourite Sherlock, but he did a good job. (My favourite from the old movies is Ronald Howard.)

I do enjoy Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman's take, as well as Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law even if their take is very different then any other before them.
Also, Elementary has some rather fun qualities to it. Though I have trouble thinking of them as Sherlock and Watson I like the show. (Though, I just like Detective shows.)

The Golden Eagle said...

Alex: Yeah, I didn't expect "Joan" Watson to work out the way it has been.

Pat: True--though at least it's not as bad as it could have been.

JeffO: He's narcissistic and more of an anti-hero, especially at the beginning. And the complicated plots is probably my favorite part about the series!

Me, too. Though knowing how it usually works out . . .

Never seen Abbott and Costello--but it's nice to see Holmes with more of a companion instead of a sidekick.

Tyrean: Agreed!

I liked the second movie more, but it could have been due more to Noomi Rapace. :)

Thank you!

Sarah: Yes, I've read ALL the stories--and several times. I disagree that the movies present the closest thing to the original character, but I see your point. I just think Downey, Jr. is excessively flashy a bit too often.

Sherlock and Elementary actually do bring up his drug use--Elementary in particular, since it starts out with Holmes as a recovering addict.

Will have to check that one out. :)

D.G.: I think they make a great team.

I read that about Brett when I was trying to find the episodes he'd done--that must have been hard for him.

I really like the way they transferred him into the 2000s. Though occasionally I wish they'd emphasize technology more often; he uses it, but he's never really presented as a hacker/coder, which seems out of place to me since there's so much cybercrime.

It's always interesting to think about what the original creator would say.

Glad you enjoyed it!

Jack: Thanks for reading! :)

I'm planning to get around to seeing more of his episodes.

Second vote for Ronald Howard. I'll have to see if I can find those adaptations!

I don't really think of them as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, either. I always want to call the main character Johnny Lee Miller, his actual name. :P

Charles Gramlich said...

I did watch the first Morten downey Jr. movie. I haven't seen the second one yet. I rather enjoyed the first one but it didn't convert me to a die hard fan of Holmes.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Golden Eagle .. I haven't seen the tv adaptions - but have seen one or two of the films. I'm sure I'll catch the Sherlock series sometimes ... it does sound good -

cheers Hilary

L.G. Smith said...

I grew up watching the old black and white movies with Basil Rathbone on Saturday mornings. So I love those for sentimental reasons, but I adore the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC Sherlock series. Both so smart and entertaining.

Anonymous said...

My parents were such a fan of Basil Rathbone that we had a dog named Basil growing up. True story.

I'm a fan of Elementary, but maybe that's because I like Jonny Lee Miller. However, when Vinnie Jones showed up last week, THAT was awesome.

Andrew Leon said...

Maybe it's been too long since I've read Holmes, but I tend to agree with Sarah. Downey's Holmes is pretty close to what's in the stories with the exception of the way he dresses. Assuming I'm remembering correctly. At any rate, I love the Downey's Holmes, but I also love the BBC show. They both have approaches that do different things for me.

Bio Toxin said...

I'll have to watch the one with lucy lui out of sheer curiosity but I must say I hope it's better than you claim, I tend to expect more from a show than I do a movie.

mooderino said...

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch seem to be taking over the world.

Basil Rathbone is still the one nearest my heart though.

Precy Larkins said...

My hair looks great? Why, thank you! :)

I love the Sherlock BOOKS but haven't watched any of the adaptations. (Not because I'm a snob, but that I don't have time these days.) Oh wait, I saw parts of that movie Sherlock with Robert Downey Jr. And that was about it for me. :D

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I love Elementary. Last week I got introduced to Moriarty. I knew he'd pop up sooner or later.

anthony stemke said...

I have enjoyed Rathbone Brett and Downey all.

Beth said...

I've never really watched any of these, but I think my husband watches the Robert Downey Jr. films.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I love of a lot the Sherlock Holmes adaptions. :) I would recommend giving Jeremy Brett a bit more time, because (as with a lot of BBC shows) some of the movies/episodes had more of a budget, better writers, and better directing. It's not exactly hit-or-miss, all of them are good, but he's definitely worth spending time on. :) That said, I'm tempted to watch Elementary now - I didn't really care much before, but I do love crime shows, so I should give it a shot. :)

Brinda said...

I have the complete stories and novels of Sherlock Holmes by Doyle in my closet. You've made me want to read them. :/

Rusty Webb said...

I love the BBC production and the Downey acted movies, but I agree that the recent television production is the one to watch.

Deborah Walker said...

I second the vote for Benedict.

Paul Tobin said...

Wow...I take my hat off to you this is an excellent distillation of Holmes. I love it. Wontner was ok-too removed in time for me to engage with him. If you read David Stuart Davies Holmes at the Movies (76), he rates Wontner highly.
Rathbone was the first I remember. Much literature out there on him and the series, not least on its role as propaganda in the Second World War. Hound of the Baskervilles was shot on the set of Mrs Miniver.
I don't think I've seen the Christopher Lee version- looking it up I see it was German 1962- I shall have to watch it.
Brett was the best Holmes for me, I might have said I saw him play Holmes in Bath. The series is worth watching in its entirety.
I thought the Ritchie films work, lots of steam punk touches.
This Evidence hasn't made it over here yet. I would like to see it.
I have to confess I am not as much a fan of Sherlock. Again it works but I am not moved.
Excellent post, lots to think about. Thank you.
Oh you might be interested in this: Benedict C is in a radio comedy over here not sure if the link will work: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lmcxj

Krispy said...

I've only watched the recent ones and I totally agree with you about all of them. I think the strength of the RDJ films is really down to the wonderful chemistry RDJ and Jude Law have. I too was a bit worried about Elementary, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how they've adapted the original characters and storylines to the crime procedural and modern-day format. I'm quite enjoying it! I was happy to see a female Asian American Watson, but I was also worried about how she would play out, but I'm happy with how it's been done and I was relieved to hear the showrunners say that there wasn't going to be a romance between the two leads since they didn't want Watson to fall into "the love interest" role.

I LOVE BBC's Sherlock. I think it's very well played, interestingly filmed, and cleverly written (though some episodes are better than others. I'm looking at you Season 1, Episode 2 for your blatant Orientalism). And I'm DYING for Season 3. It's kind of cruel that they only have 3 episodes a year and then we have to wait a year to see the next! It's my own fault, but I'm looking at around a 2 year wait for S3 because I watched S2 when it first aired, back at the beginning of 2012!

The Golden Eagle said...

Charles: I'd recommend watching more of the adaptations--but that's coming from a die hard fan of Sherlock Holmes, of course. :P

Hilary: I loved it. Maybe they'll re-broadcast sometime before Season Three . . .

L.G.: Agreed!

Joshua: That's awesome. Basil is a cool name.

I'd never actually heard of Vinnie Jones before the last episode. He's a good actor!

Andrew: Yeah, the clothes weren't right. I associate Holmes with a more streamlined look, as in the illustrations.

Same here. I'm more of a fan of the BBC show, though, personally.

Bio Toxin: Maybe you'll enjoy it more than I do! I tend to have the opposite perspective, though I think that's starting to change as I watch more TV.

Mooderino: LOL. I know--Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek, The Hobbit, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy . . . the actors are in a lot of popular phenomenon.

He's good. :)

Precy: You're welcome!

Hope you get some time to watch more of the adaptations. There are some really good ones!

Michael: The second I noticed the next episode was titled "M." I knew it had to be Moriarty.

Anthony: Cool! :)

Beth: I enjoyed the films. Not as similar to the original (IMO) but good movies.

Bethany: Same here!

I'll definitely be checking out more of the episodes he did.

There are a few episodes online for free on the CBS site. I'd recommend checking it out. :)

Brinda: I'm all for getting more people interested in Sherlock Holmes!

Rusty: It's nice to see a good TV adaptation.

Deborah: He really contributes to the personality of Sherlock Holmes.

Paul: Thank you very much! :)

Holmes at the Movies? I'll have to check that out . . .

Yeah, it did strike me that there was a bit of propaganda, particularly in The Secret Weapon (or whatever the exact title was).

I really liked Lee in the role. Apparently, he's played John Watson as well, in a different adaptation.

The steampunk element of the Ritchie movies is interesting. And it seems to work pretty well, too.

You're very welcome; I appreciate that you read the entire thing!

Now that I'll have to take a look at--and yes, the link is working! I don't think I've ever listened to a radio drama, but if it's Benedict Cumberbatch I'll give it a shot.

Carol Kilgore said...

I love the concept for Elementary. And I like the show OK, but not enough to make arrangements to watch it at a different time or on a different TV as husband doesn't like it at all. Sigh.

The Golden Eagle said...

Krispy: I love the relationship between Downey, Jr. and Law.

Wait, the showrunners have said there isn't going to be romance? YES.

I know, S1E2 was a bit annoying in their portrayal of Asians. Of course it's the Asians who are the smugglers . . .

I admire that you even thought of waiting to watch Season 2. After I finished Season 1 there was absolutely no way you were going to get me to wait until the third came out. :P

Carol: The episodes are online, in case that helps. Though I think they expire after five weeks or something like that.

Mark Means said...

I've never really met a Sherlock Holmes I haven't liked, actor-wise but, to this day, the team of Rathbone and Bruce is still my favorite.

I've only seen Bret in a few episodes and he was totally passable as Holmes but, like you mention, he was a bit -too- dark and sullen for my tastes.

While I'm not a huge fan of Downey, I loved his version of Holmes, as well and enjoyed his fresh spin on the character.

This is my first time to your blog and what a first post to read. I'll definitely be stopping back, thank you :)

M Pax said...

I loved Sherlock. It is fantastic. Do you know if they're doing more? Perhaps not. The leads seem very busy with starships and hobbits.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sound lame, but I like them all. The books were amazing to read when I was in junior high. I love the Robert Downey Jr. adaptions too.

Theresa Milstein said...

I loved Robert Downey Jr, so I wanted to like him in the first Sherlock Holmes, but I found it so boring. Good to know you like the second one.

Interesting that there are so many Sherlock versions.

DWei said...

Martin Freeman fans unite! But I'm surprised you recommended Elementary, so many people dislike it.

klahanie said...

Greetings, my Golden Eagle friend,

Yes, it's me, Penny the Jack Russell dog and next 'Paw Minister' of Britain....

My human thinks that Basil Rawbone, sorry, Rathbone, was the bestest Sherlock Holmes.

Despite my busy election campaign, I might be in the doggy version of it all titled, 'Sherlock Hound'!

Penny the Jack Russell dog! :)

cleemckenzie said...

What a complete rundown on the movies with one of my favorite characters! I may have to rent a few of these. Thanks.

Cherie Reich said...

I've watched quite a few of them. I really enjoy the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes mysteries as well as Elementary. I still plan to see Sherlock. I just need to be up when I can download/watch it for free. LOL!

laughingwolf said...

no longer have a tv, so, no comment

to see lucy in action, check out 'kill bill', I and II... worth it

Gina Gao said...

I watch Elementary, and I like it very much. I agree that it is more of a standard crime show than a Holmes adaptation.


Misha Gericke said...

I've seen quite a few adaptions, and agree with you that Sherlock is the best one. :-)

mshatch said...

I absolutely loved Sherlock and also greatly enjoyed Guy Rotchie's version w/Robert Downey and Jude Law, esp. Jude Law :)

Nas said...

I loved reading Sherlock Holmes mysteries so watched some of those adaptations.

The Golden Eagle said...

Mark: All the actors I've seen in the role have been pretty talented.

Yeah . . . I'm interested to see if Brett's approach changes in any of the episodes I didn't see.


You're very welcome. Thank YOU for visiting and becoming a follower!

Yup, they're making Season Three! Apparently shooting was pushed forward from this January until March because of those films, but hey, as long as they get it done eventually . . . I'm desperate to find out how they did the resolution to Sherlock's death.

Stephen: Not lame at all! :) I can't say I hated any of the adaptations I saw--just liked some more than others.

Theresa: Indeed. I think Sherlock Holmes is one of the most-portrayed characters in history.

DWei: I like it. It's not fantastic, nor is it Sherlock, but I think it's a good show on its own.

Klahanie: Basil Rawbone . . . that sounds like something you'd find in the pet aisle at the store. Anyway, right, Basil Rathbone was very good in the role, I agree. :)

I would totally watch that adaptation.

Cleemckenzie: You're welcome!

Cherie: I found the copies I watched at the library . . . but as a library assistant, I'm sure you thought of that. Perhaps PBS will re-broadcast them before Season Three comes out, though. I think they did prior to Season Two's release.

Laughingwolf: Good for you! TV's getting pretty outdated these days anyway as people migrate to the internet.

Would love to see her in an action-heavy role . . . thanks for the recommendation!

Gina: It's a good show.

Misha: Yup. :D

Mshatch: LOL. Jude Law is awesome.

Nas: Cool!

Christine Rains said...

I'm a bit fan of Sherlock. I love the quirkiness of it. I only saw a part of an Elementary episode and I didn't much like it. I think I might've been biased having watched Sherlock first!

David P. King said...

And the Sherlock profiling is complete. Have you ever seen Without A Clue with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as Sherlock and Watson? It's a riot! :)

....Petty Witter said...

Not a huge fan of Sherlock and Watson myself, my husband swears that there is no better than Basil Rathbone, that he is Sherlock.

The Golden Eagle said...

Christine: Comparing it to Sherlock, yeah, I agree it isn't the best show. But crime fiction-wise, I don't think it's too bad.

David: Nope! Sounds like fun. :)

Petty Witter: Basil Rathbone is a really good Sherlock Holmes.

Karen (: said...

I adore BBC Sherlock! I started watching them pretty late so I consumed the first two seasons within days.
Afterwards, I decided to read the books and am delighted to see the most minute details from the book still being portrayed in the movie.

The Golden Eagle said...

Karen: I love all the references they slipped into the series, too. Very clever. :)

Deniz Bevan said...

I haven't watched the Freeman/Cumberbatch series yet, looking forward to it!

The Golden Eagle said...

Deniz: Go watch it. Love that series. :)