Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

I have always loved Sherlock Holmes.

I couldn't tell you when I first encountered Holmes. I think I had a Read-it-yourself book of The Hound of the Baskervilles as a boy. I also remember an animated version of the same tale. I don't think it was until the centenary of the publication of A Study in Scarlet that I actually read any Conan Doyle though. There was a lush Radio Times cover and an Omnibus or Late Show special, and I started reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes while lounging about the house in my dressing gown. Needless to say I was hooked straight off and still re-read the stories repeatedly today.

Film-wise I remember enjoying Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce seasons over and over again on the BBC (6pm on BBC2 if memory serves). It never seemed strange to me that Holmes and Watson should be battling the Nazis. I have since discovered their radio shows online, which are quite fun, especially for the sponsors adverts (you can also find The Shadow and many more old radio shows on the same site).

Basil Rathbone was generally regarded as the greatest Holmes of all for many years. There were others; Peter Cushing, a huge Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, played the detective in the 1959 Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and again for the BBC in the late sixties. Christopher Plummer did a great job in Murder by Decree, among other actors, but Rathbone was generally accepted to be the best.

Until 1984.

Jeremy Brett
played Sherlock Holmes on ITV from 1984 until 1994, when Brett's poor health prevented him continuing in the role.

I'll show my hand right now and confess that he eclipses all other Sherlocks for me. His sudden theatrics, his nanosecond half smiles, that fantastic voice; Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes stepping straight off of the end of Conan Doyle's pen. He inhabits the role perfectly and it is a brave actor that steps through the door to 221b Baker street in his wake.

Which brings us to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes from last year with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson.

There was a lot of stuffy scepticism about this "modern" Holmes before it came out but I must admit that I liked the trailer at first sight and was cautiously optimistic. I really enjoyed the film.

It's true that the emphasis is rather more on the action than the detection but I think it captures the spirit of the stories well, and especially the character of Watson and the relationship between the two friends. I could have done without Irene Adler, who seemed present only to tick a box and deprive Watson of some screen time, but otherwise I enjoyed the film immensely.

I look forward to the sequel with much anticipation. However shall I pass the time?

Only by enjoying Mark Gatiss and
Steven Moffat's take on Sherlock Holmes in a twenty-first century setting. I'm very bloody excited about Sherlock, which starts on Sunday night (BBC1/BBCHD 9pm). It's hard to imagine two writers better equipped to bring Holmes back to the small screen for the first time in years. Moffat has already demonstrated that he can bring nineteenth century classics into the modern day with Jekyll (still my very favourite example of his work (any chance of that second series Steven? Pretty please.)).

Benedict Cumberbatch certainly looks the part and while I'm less certain of Martin Freeman as Watson I'm happy to trust Moffat and Gatiss. Even though this programme seems to have been in production for ever I know almost nothing about the plots (not even if they intend to adapt any of Conan Doyle's stories) or guest stars. Very exciting.

The early reactions are positively glowing, and the trailer certainly looks good. The game is on!

UPDATE: Steven Moffat on Sherlock Holmes in the Radio Times:

When I was a little Beano-reading Doctor Who fan – about nine or ten – I was desperate to know more about Sherlock Holmes. It was a name I’d heard. I knew he was some kind of policeman, I knew he had a funny hat, and I knew he was in a film called The Hound of the Baskervilles, which once came on the telly and got me sent to bed because it was too frightening. I remember lying upstairs that night, too excited to sleep – because I could hear the baying of a terrible hound, and the rapid-fire voice of a policeman who fought monsters. I needed to find out more, because I knew already this was my kind of hero: if Doctor Who had been a detective, clearly he’d have been Sherlock Holmes.

BBC's Sherlock site

The Sherlock Holmes Museum

The Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen

The Equinoctial Gales


  1. Jenny bought the complete box set of Brett's Holmes the other day, so we've been having great fun watching them. Gareth Thomas turned up in the Naval Treaty yesterday, it was awesome.

    I recently found a copy of Detective Comics 572, where Batman meets Holmes. Very exciting!

    I also cannot wait for Sherlock.

  2. I can't believe I've never seen 'Tec 572 before. I must have it. Although, Batman is getting a little fresh with Holmes on the cover, isn't he?

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