Wednesday, August 05, 2015

And the Best Sherlock goes to…

Sherlock Holmes has been quite an inspirational figure in more ways than one. Many other fictional detectives have been created based on him, his exploits have been adapted to the screen, multiple times, he has inspired many spin-off works such as ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, ‘A Study in Emerald’, and ‘The Seven Percent Solution’, and he is one the most, if not the most, portrayed characters on screen.

There has been a recent uptake in interest in this character with 3 screen interpretations. There have been many adaptations before, but most of them were true to the original works. 3 contemporary versions all use the stock Doyle characters, but are quite distinct works. Here I try to compare these 3 bodies of work and figure out which works best; for me, at least.

1.       The BBC series ‘Sherlock’ that has made a star of Benedict Cumberbatch (1st 3 seasons).
2.       The US TV series on CBS  ‘Elementary’ ( 3 seasons)
3.       The 2 Guy Ritchie movies featuring Robert Downey Jr.

While series such as HOUSE are also clear inspirations, I’ve excluded them as they do not have the Holmes and Watson characters by name.
There may be some spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched, but not too much.

The minor awards (2/1/0 point):


Professor Moriarty appears in only a couple of the Doyle stories, and is mentioned in passing in a few more. However in most of the screen spin-offs, this character plays a much bigger role, usually the recurring arch-enemy.  Andrew Scott’s performance in Shelock is IMO the best of the 3. He created a compelling rival to Holmes & Watson, playing the character with a bit of a psychopathic streak. The idea of ‘Consulting Criminal’ was a nice add-on. Elementary had a clever twist to the character, however as most of Moriarty’s exploits happened before the events in the series, the character’s impact is not as memorable. The Moriarty in the 2 movies hardly registered.
Sherlock 2           Elementary 1     Movies 0

Irene Adler

This is another character that appears in just one of the book stories, but comes up in almost every screen version of Holmes. The stock romantic interest for Holmes, though that has not been really implied in the books, Irene has been played by 3 beautiful actresses in the 3 versions. Natalie Dormer and Rachel McAdams are both impressive. However it is only Lara Pulver’s character in Sherlock that intellectually challenges the detective in solving a case.
Sherlock 4           Elementary 2     Movies 0

Mary Watson

She has not appeared in Elementary yet. The Mary in Sherlock is quite a departure from the books. Somehow seems to over complicate the story-line. Kelly Reilly’s portrayal in the movies was the closest to Doyle character.
Sherlock 5           Elementary 2     Movies 2

Mycroft Holmes

A 3rd personality with a minor role in the books, but is found in all the screen adaptations. All played by accomplished actors as well. Both the TV series show some animosity between the brothers, which does not exist in the books. While he does not have a big role in the movies, Stephen Fry is always a welcome sight. Rhys Ifans’ character in Elementary started off as a distraction from the plots, but then became more central to the stories. Mark Gatiss, on the other hand, began impressively in Sherlock, but became more of an annoying presence in later episodes. Will tend to not award anyone full points for this.
Sherlock 6           Elementary 3     Movies 3

Mrs Hudson

Una Stubbs in Sherlock easily wins this one. Especially with her repeated efforts to remind her tenants that she is their landlady, and not their housekeeper.
Sherlock 8           Elementary 4     Movies 3

Inspector Lestrade

Rupert Graves in Sherlock stands out as the most memorable of the 3. Would remember him for saying, "Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and some day, if we're very very lucky, he might even be a good one." 
Sherlock 10         Elementary 4     Movies 4

Inspector Gregson

Only Elementary has a significant role for him, played by Aidan Quinn.
Sherlock 10         Elementary 6     Movies 4

Sebastian Moran

While he does appear in all three, it is only Vinnie Jones that leaves a lasting impression. An Arsenal fan to boot.
Sherlock 10         Elementary 8     Movies 5

The Villains

The most impressive is Charles Augustus Magnussen, who’s based on Milverton from the books. For him alone Sherlock would get top points. However all the villains portrayed in Sherlock are intellectual challenges. Elementary falters a bit on this count. This is understandable given the large number of episodes, each with a fresh plot. Lord Blackwood was a worth rival in the 1st movie.
Sherlock 12         Elementary 8     Movies 6

Non-Canonical characters

Elementary has Marcus Bell & Kitty boosting up the interest levels. Molly Hooper does the same in Sherlock, as does SImza (Noomi Rapace) in the movies. Elementary has the edge here as the characters are more prominent.
Sherlock 13         Elementary 10   Movies 6

The More Important Awards (4/2/0 points)

Story plots

The movies are more of thrill-a-minute escapades than whodunits. Sherlock had some good plots in the 1st 2 seasons, before it became too melodramatic in the 3rd. It is Elementary that is most faithful to the central puzzle-solving ideas of the originals.
Honestly do not know what screenplay exactly means. But I think this has also been covered here.
Sherlock 15         Elementary 14   Movies 6


Benedict Cumberbatch became a star through Sherlock. He has managed to capture most of the quirks and eccentricities quite well. However he has tended to overplay certain idiosyncrasies and ham a bit, in each progressive season. I’d think Robert Downey Jr, comes across more convincing as Holmes, playing him with a bit of insouciance, but still resonates with the book descriptions on focus and determination.  Johnny Lee Miller isn’t quite as impressive as the other 2. Will go for Downey on this one, closely beating Cumberbatch.
Sherlock 17         Elementary 14   Movies 10


This is, IMO, the most important role in the stories. While the titular character may have more airtime, and dialogue, it is Watson through whom, we see the stories. Holmes is an eccentric and brilliant genius, even beyond the smart ones amongst us. It is Watson, who the audiences can identify with, and through whose eyes we witness the genius at work.
All 3 series have established actors playing Watson. However it is in this department that Sherlock steals a march over the other 2. Martin Freeman has probably given the best performance of any actor across the 3 sets. He displays the right balance of surprise at the events, and enthusiasm to involve himself, that we fans can identify with, as our own emotions at those junctures. A gender change for Watson in Elementary is a good novelty. But Lucy Liu displays more weariness, than disbelief, at Holmes’ antics. Jude Law seems all too eager to jump into the action, as if he is on the same wavelength as Downey’s character. So not an effective window for the audience.
Sherlock 21         Elementary 16   Movies 10


All are very good re-interpretations of the classic stories. The 2 TV series are a tad better than the movies. Guy Ritchie’s version is a bit like AC Doyle meets the Wild Wild West. Sherlock has tended to become a bit melodramatic in Season 3. Elementary has continued to focus on mysteries; however it tends to meander a bit too frequently, into existential angst of addicts. Sherlock comes out as the best, mainly due to 2 factors.

  • A very finely written Watson, that has been portrayed exceptionally well by Martin Freeman. The standout actor across the 3 sets,
  • Well-developed and distinct characters all around, be it Moriarty, or Mrs Hudson, all pushing the story forward without distraction.

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