It is no secret that Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed by more actors than almost any other character. The names that immediately spring to mind are Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett (and Vasili Livanov if you know Russian or don’t mind subtitles) or more recently Robert Downey Jr., Benedickt Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller.
However Holmes has been played by many more. Some of the less well-known include:
Sherlock Holmes – The TV Series (1954-55)
Ron Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as Watson
39 half hour episodes that feature very few original Doyle stories (The Red-Headed League, The Greek Interpreter – who is a French interpreter here) and a lot of new ones with beautiful names like The Case of The Texas Cowgirl or The Case of The Shy Ballerina. It is some good, cheesy, 1950s fun but definitely no must-watch. Howard and Crawford do a good(-ish) job but the actors for the minor roles are mostly not that convincing and the original stories are usually quite dull.
Murder by Decree (1979)
Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Watson.
Holmes and Watson hunt Jack the Ripper as they so often do. The solution for the Ripper-case is based on Stephen ‘It was a free-masonic conspiracy’ Knight’s The Final Solution (that more famously also inspired Alan Moore’s From Hell). As the Jack the Ripper murders were never actually solved Holmes and Watson need a reason why they would accept keep the killer a secret. So Holmes suddenly cares about politics and agrees to keep his mouth shut because if he didn’t it would make some people in the government look bad which is massively out of character for him. A shame because Plummer’s performance is brilliant.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982)
Tom Baker as Holmes and Terence Rigby as Watson in a 4×30 minutes mini-series.
Where did his scarf go? Both Baker and Rigby play their roles a bit too over the top for my taste but it’s certainly not a bad adaptation that stays quite close to the source.
The Hound of the Baskervilles & The Sign of the Four (1983)
Ian Richardson as Holmes and Donald Churchill/David Healy as Watson.
Again a solid and quite faithful adaptations of the stories. Not outstanding but well made. Besides there’s BRIAN BLESSED in The Hound of the Baskervilles and shouts a lot (unsurprisingly).
Sherlock – The Case of Evil (2002)
James D’Arcy as Holmes and Rodger Morlidge as Watson.
Yes. The film is really called The Case of Evil and it is exactly like you would expect a film with that title to be. Admittedly it does make a valiant effort to explain the reasons for Holmes troubled relationship with women (and with his brother), his obsession with Moriarty as well as his drug-addiction. D’Arcy also make a good younger Holmes but the plot is just a big mess, Watson a caricature and the only really memorable bits are the very random threesome Holmes is involved in and his extremely ugly pyjamas.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (2002)
Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson.
With these words I will forever be barred from any serious Holmes-fanclubs (it’s OK, cause I wouldn’t want to join anyway) but I quite liked that film. To explain (and dig my grave deeper): Doyle was a brilliant short-story writer. A brilliant novelist he was not. I find all four Holmes-novels are a bit dull and loose themselves in side-plots too much. And yes, that includes his most famous story. So usually I am also a bit bored by the adaptations of it. This version cheerfully ignores all the fuss about Sir Charles’ mistress and we get only the basics: the curse and the hound.
Besides Richard E. Grant is a brilliantly scary Stapleton and Ian Hart a great Watson (and if you can ignore that Roxburgh is blonde instead of dark-haired his Holmes isn’t bad either)
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004)
Rupert Everett as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson
(I love this song…fitting for this movie it is not. The video is also really spoilery but I can’t find any trailers)
Everett is a really good Holmes and he even reminds me of Jeremy Brett’s portrayal on occasions. Hart is also, as already mentioned, a good Watson, so it’s really a shame that they only got to play in this mess. Victorian England is not a good setting to solve your case with the help of a profiler and even if it was the case is mediocre at best and feels like they stretched the plot of an episode of CSI/Criminal Minds hybrid to twice its length.
Sherlock Holmes (2013)
Igor Petrenko as Holmes and Andrey Panin as Watson
Eight episodes that adapt mostly the not as well-known Holmes-stories with a twist.
Alternative titles for this series could be How has Holmes managed to survive this long without Watson?, Hasn’t Watson suffered enough? or Mrs Hudson is so tired of everybody’s bullshit.
I have many feelings for this adaptation. Mostly I want to throw rainbows and unicorns at everything because I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
The twist of this version is that the cases Holmes and Watson solve are somewhat different from the way Watson writes about them in the papers. They are somewhat darker and grittier. Women aren’t totally innocent and just made that one mistake that is now used to blackmail them, they have secret affairs and abortions. This version of The Sign of the Four is so much darker than Doyle’s but when Watson offers that story to the editor he is told, that the audience doesn’t want to read about racism and the atrocities that the British Army committed in India so could he please leave that out? And perhaps add a beautiful woman in trouble? Because after all the readers want to escape from their daily life.
Also while most actors usually portray Holmes as somebody who is very aware how social conventions work but simply rarely bothers with them, Petrenko’s Holmes has a certain amount of actual social awkwardness. Not enough to be played for laughs, he just doesn’t always know how to act in society.