Monday, 26 July 2010

Not so Modern Holmes

This week has seen The Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes transported to the 21st Century in a new BBC Drama series penned by Steven Moffat.

The series has prompted discussions on who is considered to have been the best portrayer of Conan Doyle's Super Sleuth and the main candidates mentioned have been, unsurprisingly, Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone. I believe that several actors have been excellent in the role, including these two and Ian and Douglas Wilmer - they have all brought something different to the character.

Ian's portrayal of Holmes in The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles has been rightly praised. I suspect he might have been remembered for playing him as much as Brett and Rathbone, had the series of films planned not been halted after the first two had been made - due to Granada putting into action its own plans for a series once the books came into the public domain in 1980, fifty years after Conan Doyle's death.

The American producer, Sy Weintraub, had paid a great deal of money obtaining permission from the Doyle estate to make the films and he took Granada to court, winning an out-of-court settlement and ending his interest in making any more Holmes films. Not only was Ian robbed of the chance of playing the character again, but he also had to pull out from playing the Emperor in Amadeus as Weintraub wouldn't release him whilst the court case was pending.

He did, many years later, have the chance to play Dr Joseph Bell, the man believed to have been Arthur Conan Doyle's inspiration for Holmes, in the series Murder Rooms. And although it wasn't a case of bringing the stories up to date, as has just been done, the series was nonetheless an imaginative way of putting another slant on the Holmes/Watson scenario.


  1. I missed Richardson's Sherlock Holmes portrayal. I remember him best for his "elagantly evil" role in House of Cards and of course his fantastic catchphrase "You might well think that; I couldn't possibly comment".

    Intrigued by the new Sherlock Holmes series though and will definitely give it a try.

  2. You can still get hold of the DVDs - probably best to try Ebay first. And I can certainly recommend the Murder Rooms series.

    I quite enjoyed 'Sherlock' and I expect I'll watch it again.

  3. As you say, Ian was (I now know, thanks to your enlightening me!) a great Holmes.

    I also enjoyed Sherlock though it was rather Doctor Who-ish and owed more than maybe it should have done (stylistically and musically) to Guy Ritchie's latest film version with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.

  4. I suppose if you view 'Sherlock' in isolation it's easier to accept it as a ripping yarn in its own right. I wonder though, if it might open the floodgates to further modernisations - Poirot and Miss Marple sleuthing in the 21st century.

    I'm glad you enjoyed Ian's portrayal of Holmes.

  5. (Just found your blog today, and am looking forward to reading more of it! But this is the post that brought me in from a search engine, so here goes.)

    Until Benedict Cumberbach, Ian Richardson was my favorite Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, he probably still IS, since I can look at the new "Sherlock" series as a modern interpretation, which leaves Ian my favorite classic interpretation. I lament the fact that only two films were made with him in the role, because not only did he fit the image of Holmes in my imagination (nearly as well as Basil Rathbone, and that's difficult), he brought a sense of dignity and humor to the part that most other actors never bother to employ. Though the two movies are a tad bit campy in places, I nevertheless enjoy them.

    However, I will say that his Dr. Bell is magnificent. I'm so happy we were given five films to enjoy in that saga, because I think his age and experience caused him to turn in an even better performance as Bell than Holmes -- and that is saying something.

  6. I agree with you all. I started to read some Holmes books recently and stumbled upon these two films he did as Holmes and was so happy to see his portrayal matched how i read the character in the books. I actually think Cumberbatches portrayal is extremely close to Ian's. Dark, creepy and showing off his attentionto minute details in the same arrogant manner. I was then told by a Sherlock fan that Brett was the best Sherlock and I have seen 2 of episodes of his work and so far am disappointed and I wish Ian's series of films were allowed to go on.

  7. Charity, I heartily agree with what you said about Ian as Joseph Bell - by far one of my favourites of his performances (and Ian felt it was one of the best filmed roles that he played).

    As for his performance as Holmes, I loved the humour and intensity he brought to the role, along with the showing off side. I've enjoyed the Cumberbatch enterpratation, up to a point, and actually enjoyed Martin Freeman's portrayal of Watson better.

    As to my 'favourite' Holmes, I have several, including Basil Rathbone, Douglas Wilmer ... and, of course, Ian Richardson!

  8. It is a shame that Ian Richardson didn't have a chance to reprise his role as Holmes after The Sign of Four. To me, Richardson's resemblance to the late great Basil Rathbone is almost uncanny. Richardson's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes exudes confidence, sophistication, and displays an admirable comradeship to his best friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson. Furthermore, I always enjoy when Holmes is in disguise and has been seen on screen, but it's later in the film that I realize who it actually is!