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Best Sherlock Holmes Interpretation

author
David Lawrence
• Monday, 07 December, 2020
• 9 min read

From his first appearance in print in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has spent more than a century facing all sorts of villains, solving a myriad of mysteries, and sharing quips and retorts with his trusted companion, Dr. John Watson. Alongside the legends of other British heroes like Robin Hood and King Arthur, the tales of Sherlock, Watson, the dreaded Moriarty, and their fellow London denizens continue to pop up in endless forms of cinematic and televised storytelling.

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Contents

This canon has been added to as recently as 2020, with the Netflix FIM Nola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown as the sister of the intrepid detective, here brought to life by Henry Cavils. While Downey's take on Holmes in the Guy Ritchie -helmed Sherlock Holmes films does have some issues, there's no denying that his usual charm and idiosyncratic style of performance creates a fun, offbeat take on the British detective, especially when paired with an equally game Jude Law as his Watson.

In Ritchie's world, Holmes is just another Quincy action hero, turning the detective into a hulking, tough guy boxer type, replacing wit with buffoonery and style with muscles. Though his Watson here is brought to winning life by Jude Law, Downey's Holmes leans too much into the style of generic blockbuster heroes, rather than the Baker Street detective we've become so accustomed to.

All is revealed in this story, where the young Holmes is brought to life by Scottish actor Nicholas Rowe, who was not even 20 when he filmed this role. Rowe is a fun, youthful Holmes, adrift in an eerily strange adventure involving stained-glass ghosts and Egyptian curses.

That changed when celebrated director Billy Wilder (of Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, and Sunset Boulevard fame) came onto the scene with his late-career take on the British sleuth: 1970s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Wilder's take leans heavily on the comedic aspects of the Holmes legacy, creating something closer to a studio comedy than a dramatic mystery.

But Stephens is more than able to handle the trademark Wilder wit that's at play, tackling every barbed witticism with the necessary seriousness and comedic timing it needs. If you've ever wondered what would happen if someone tried to create a piece of lovingly crafted Oscar bait out of the world of Sherlock Holmes, then Mr. Holmes is what you're looking for.

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Unsurprisingly, McAllen shines in the tragic role of a Holmes desperately grabbing at the last vestiges of his remaining sanity, even if the film he's in less resembles The Hound of the Baskerville than it does Still Alice. Transplanting Sherlock Holmes from the streets of 19th century London to 21st century New York, Elementary follows modern-day detective Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) as he brings his deductive expertise to the assistance of the NYPD, primarily in collaboration with Dr. Joan Watson (the incomparable Lucy Liu).

But Elementary definitely has some fun contemporizing the Holmes stories (including Natalie Dormer providing a fresh take on the villain Moriarty), and Miller is a wonderfully oddball performer that brings humor, humanity, and a ton of heart to this modern detective show. His performance creates a detective whose dedication to the mystery at hand, while removing some comedy of the role, results in a uniquely compelling sleuth.

Chances are, when you hear the name Sherlock Holmes, ” your mind jumps to either the lovable scamp that is Benedict Cumberbatch (we'll get to him soon, promise) or the recent Robert Downey Jr. punch-fests. Here, Basil (voiced by Barrie Ingham) provides a wonderfully faithful mouse version of the famed detective, balancing his deduction skills, nimble fighting, and veiled madness into a delightful concoction of a main character.

If you bring up Sherlock Holmes to pretty much anyone on the internet, chances are, their mind will jump straight to everyone's favorite lanky, fantastically-named actor, Benedict Cumberbatch. Before he received a doctorate in being Strange in the MCU, Cumberbatch rose to prominence with his magnificently crafted contemporary spin on Doyle's detective in Sherlock, the BBC television series that, arguably, brought Sherlock Holmes back into the public sphere.

Cumberbatch met the challenge of bringing Sherlock to the 21st century with gusto, and his stylish, witty, one-of-a-kind performance emerged as nothing short of iconic. If Basil Rathbone represents the definitive classic Holmes in the world of cinema, then his television equivalent must be Jeremy Brett, starring in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 1984 to 1994, and even bringing his talents to the London stage for a theatrical take on his more-than-elementary interpretation.

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It's a wonderfully faithful adaptation, and what it may lack in any sort of reinvention or overt stylistic interpretations, it more than makes up in Brett's fantastically authentic performance, bringing to life what could be called the “definitive” take on Doyle's character. HI's droll, dry, witty-beyond-comprehension read on Holmes feels as fresh as ever these days, and made even more impressive that he was able to carry this performance over the course of a decade.

Nearly 100 years after 1922’s Sherlock Holmes, the watershed movie that proved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character a Hollywood leading man, the detective remains on the case! He’s been adapted to movies and TV countless times, and we’ve organized all of his works which got a Tomato meter score in chronological order.

That includes films from Basil Rathbone’s defining decades-long run accessorized with the deerstalker hat, Robert Downey Jr.’s blockbuster take, and Sherlock‘s modern spin with Benedict Cumberbatch. Critics Consensus: Guy Ritchie's directorial style might not be quite the best fit for an update on the legendary detective, but Sherlock Holmes benefits from the elementary appeal of a strong performance by Robert Downey, Jr.

Critics Consensus: Sherlock Holmes : A Game of Shadows is a good yarn thanks to its well-matched leading men but overall stumbles duplicating the well-oiled thrills of the original. Critics Consensus: Mr. Holmes focuses on the man behind the mysteries, and while it may lack Baker Street thrills, it more than compensates with tenderly wrought, well-acted drama.

Critics Consensus: Nola Holmes brings a breath of fresh air to Baker Street -- and leaves plenty of room for Millie Bobby Brown to put her effervescent stamp on a franchise in waiting. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 Sherlock Holmes cases in all: 56 short stories and four full-length novels.

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But where is the best place for the reader who is new to Sherlock Holmes to begin exploring these classic works of detective fiction? Inspired by a story Doyle heard from his friend, the sportsman and journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson, about the legends surrounding a seventeenth-century squire, The Hound of the Baskerville is one of the best -known Sherlock Holmes cases, featuring supposedly demonic hounds on atmospheric Dartmoor.

Until this story, he was the star of two short novels, A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890), and known to a small group of readers. After the short stories began to appear in The Strand, he became one of the most famous fictional characters in the history of literature.

“I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.” As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again. The case will require Holmes not only to save his client’s life but to solve the mystery of how her sister died two years ago.

Like many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the British Empire lurks in the background (Dr Boycott had met the girls’ mother out in India, and has a menagerie of exotic animals from that country), and in this connection, the story also reveals a debt to one of the first detective novels, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone. Perhaps best -known for Holmes’s famous line about ‘the curious incident of the dog in the night-time’ (used by Mark Had don as the title for his bestselling novel), ‘Silver Blaze’ is the first story in the second collection of classic Sherlock Holmes stories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893).

The story concerns a missing racehorse and sees Holmes donning his famous deerstalker to investigate. I put the question, with a hint that it was my companion’s modesty which made him acknowledge his brother as his superior.

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The mystery itself revolves around a Greek interpreter named Mr Meals, who is engaged in a rather cloak-and-dagger way to translate for someone who is being held captive by some sinister criminals. Its code-themed story probably inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Gold-Bug’, ‘The Dancing Men’ is one of Holmes’s greatest code-breaking triumphs.

Mr. Hilton Cubist of Riding Thorpe Manor in Norfolk, and husband to a nervous wife, tells Holmes a series of stick figures have started to appear chalked up on the window-sill of the house. Rather pleasingly, the story also appears to be the origin of the term ‘smoking gun’ to refer to an incontrovertibly incriminating piece of evidence.

While recovering from a taxing case in France, Holmes travels to Surrey where he ends up investigating a series of mysterious burglaries involving a note written by two different people… It’s also noteworthy for being the one Sherlock Holmes story penned by Doyle to feature the evil criminal mastermind, Dr James Moriarty, ‘the Napoleon of crime’.

Lupine's As sane Drop has drawn a lot of similarities to Sherlock Holmes ; the show's message of classism makes it a better version than Nola Holmes. Lupine, which stars Omar SY as the gentleman thief As sane Drop, is the perfect answer to a modern-day Sherlock Holmes story.

Meanwhile, As sane is primarily a master of deception, plotting elaborate heists like the theft of Marie Antoinette’s necklace and other jewels to sell. However, As sane’s background feeds into a bigger picture that has him planning infiltration while wearing disguises to obtain information that will acquit his father, who was falsely accused of stealing the necklace by Hubert Pelegrín, a wealthy businessman.

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In that vein, As sane is very much a detective, working to solve the mystery regarding the disappearing necklace and take down Pelegrín in one fell swoop. What’s more, Lupine’s themes of class showcase the system that keeps poorer citizens from gaining any power and equal treatment while the wealthy maintain their status, evading the consequences of any illegal dealings through influence and money.

Set in the modern day, it’s easy to see why the Netflix series is a revised approach to the very same themes of class that were prevalent in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. Lupine is not a carbon copy by any means, but by maintaining a similar message and tone, it’s a reminder of what made Sherlock Holmes so great to begin with.

The adventures of Doyle’s iconic detective proved a craze from the start, and since then, no character has been as reproduced and adapted in film, television, stage, and the printed word. I’d long been intrigued by the idea of Sherlock, but wasn’t really spurred into reading the stories until we had Michael Sims on the podcast to talk about Arthur Conan Doyle and the creation of his archetypal sleuth.

From the numerous twists and turns, to a fun trip to America’s Western frontier, to the delightful construction of the characters’ charms and personalities, and finally to the unforgettable conclusion, I can’t think of a better introduction to a detective series than A Study in Scarlet. Using the length of a novel rather than just a short story, and without the need for much expository ramp-up, Conan Doyle is able to fully explore the depths of the most head-scratching case in the series.

Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead near his manor in the craggy moors of southern England. There’s no outward evidence of murder, but there are suspicious signs, including the frozen look of horror on Baskerville’s face.

Label Wilson, a man with flaming red hair, consults with Holmes about a mysterious job he took in reply to a want ad in the newspaper. Placed by “THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE,” it announced that “All red-headed men who are sound in body and mind and above the age of twenty-one years” were eligible for a well-paying but nondescript job.

Wilson showed up for the interview, was declared to have just the right hue of red in his locks, and was set to work copying the encyclopedia. Though he takes a central role in only this one story (he’s reminisced about in others), no Shylockian villain is as nefarious as Professor James Moriarty; “He is the Napoleon of crime,” Sherlock tells Watson.

On the eve of an important horse race, a prized thoroughbred, Silver Blaze, has gone missing, his trainer has been murdered, and some sheep in a nearby pasture have been found lame. The famous exchange about “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” in fact inspired an excellent novel which used that line as the title.

Some better-written Holmes stories are somewhat predictable, and some better plot lines aren’t as well written or structured; “The Silver Blaze” is one of those that combines all the best elements of Doyle’s work. The beauty of the Sherlock Holmes stories is that you’re sure to find one with a tone that appeals to you; there’s quite a range on a scale that runs from fun and playful to dark and twisted.

Holmes takes the case, thinking it’ll be a piece of cake to trick the woman and retrieve the photograph. This story has as memorable a start as you’ll find in the canon: a young lawyer, John McFarlane, comes into Holmes office knowing full well he’s going to be arrested and charged with murder.

We also see a fuller picture of Lestrade in this story; rather than just begrudging competition, the relationship between him and Holmes seems to flourish into real comradeship. He buys seedy letters and photographs and then sells them to whoever the highest bidder is, regardless of whose lives are destroyed in the process.

Holmes is enlisted in the fight against Silverton by Lady Eva Blackwell, who’s keen on retrieving some compromising documents. Silverton is as dastardly a fellow as London has ever seen, and though Holmes is aware of him, he hasn’t had the chance to nail down evidence of his breaking the law; this is his opportunity, and he leaps at it.

The reader gets the gift of clever disguises, a false engagement, breaking and entering, safe-cracking, and as surprising an ending as you’ll come across in these stories.

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