Sherlock Holmes – The Best Movie & TV Interpretations

Has there ever been a literary character portrayed on screen more often than Sherlock Holmes? We take a look back and pick out some of the more notable interpretations…

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock HolmesBASIL RATHBONE (1939-1946)

Basil Rathbone is many people’s ideal Holmes. He simply appeared on the screen as though someone had peeled him from the pages of Conan Doyle’s books.

He looked exactly as Holmes should look, which isn’t as easy as it sounds as Doyle’s own illustrations show him to be a very thin, tall, angular man with an dark intensity and long hooked nose.

More John Cleese that Downey Jr. What lets the Rathbone films down are two things. The first is the main one. The character of Dr. Watson, as portrayed by Nigel Bruce, is quite simply atrocious. An idiotic, bungling buffoon. A comedy character who isn’t funny, just annoying.

The other reason, is that the films were made predominantly during the 2nd World War, and boy, can you tell…They are at times such blatant propaganda films that they are painful to watch. I’m sure they did a grand job of winning over the allied forces, and boosting morale, but it doesn’t make them any easier to watch today.

Our rating – 8.5/10

Peter Cushing as Sherlock HolmesPETER CUSHING (1959-1968)

The best Sherlock Holmes films ever made, and some of Hammer’s finest. When you combine both they simply cannot be ignored.

Cushing’s Holmes had the right air of superiority and cold aloofness that has arguably never been better. Though maybe Cushing was too charming as Holmes, as the literal character had virtually no social abilities at all.

He played him in both the Hammer films and a TV series too. But perhaps the biggest problem for Cushing’s portrayal is that so little of it remains. Only 6 of the 16 episodes of the TV series remain after an early culling by the BBC archivists.

Our rating – 7.5/10

Jerermy Brett as Sherlock HolmesJEREMY BRETT (1984-1994)

The quintessential Holmes. A restless, up-his-own-ass, intellectual, who perfectly encapsulated the character physically.

Brett’s version is, in a certain way, better than Rathbone’s as he embraced Holmes’ eccentricity which Rathbone didn’t necessarily do. Brett went to extraordinary length’s in his portrayal, and those closest to him say he spent most of those ten long years living and breathing Sherlock Holmes, that it took over his life.

Maybe, the highest compliment is left to Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of Sir Arthur, who sent him a letter which said : “You are the Sherlock Holmes of my childhood”. Brett described Holmes as ‘the hardest role he ever played’ and that is saying something for a Shakespearean-actor.

Our rating – 8/10

Michael Caine as Sherlock HolmesMICHAEL CAINE (1988)

Michael Caine played Sherlock Holmes in a film called Without A Clue in 1988.

Though he didn’t really…as he actually was an actor, playing an actor, playing Sherlock Holmes. Without a Clue is a slapstick comedy, where Ben Kingsley’s super-intelligent Watson is the brains and has invented the character of Holmes. He doesn’t exist. But when there is a clamour for Holmes, he hires an out-of- work actor (Caine) to portray him.

Despite plot-holes galore, the double act of Caine and Kingsley is a delight and makes the film such a success. A humorous little gem that has been forgotten far too long.

Our rating – 7/10

Robert Downy Jr as SherlockROBERT DOWNEY JR. (2009-)

A sexed-up Sherlock Holmes, high on violence, tension and slick editing. Authentic? Not a chance. An entertaining romp? Yup.

Opinions of Downey Jr. as Holmes fluctuate wildly, some love him, some hate him. Perhaps nicely highlighted with this line from a praising review of Downey Jr. ‘Another twist is that this Holmes here is no meticulous, fastidious bore in real life.

In fact, he lives more like a frat boy or rock star!’ If you think that’s a good thing, then you’d like it. If not, then avoid. There is something more Willy Wonka about Downey Jr. than Sherlock Holmes, but still, unless you’re a purist then it is definitely worth a watch.

Our rating – 7.5/10

Benedict Cumberbatch as SherlockBENEDICT CUMBERBATCH (2010-)

A modern interpretation done very well. Creator Steven Moffat called Cumberbatch ‘the only man to play Sherlock Holmes with an even stupider name”.

Cumberbatch’s Holmes is particularly interesting as he almost plays him as a bad guy rather than a traditional protagonist. Rude, obnoxious, exasperating and at times utterly unlikeable. Cumberbatch epitomises the character’s thirst for logic, his life is absorbed in knowledge and understanding. It is all he lives for and has no interest in anything else.

This is very true to the books. Cumberbatch also scores high because he, like Rathbone, is physically accurate to the Conan Doyle version. A dark, angular, insular and intense crow-like figure. The BBC interpretation is excellent.

They have taken the heart of what has made Sherlock Holmes so intriguing for many years. Intelligence, brotherly comradeship, conflict, fascinating crime stories and all the characters eccentricities and flaws and wove it all together with a version that we the viewers can relate to even more.

Our rating – 9/10