It seems to me that if we have threads for the likes of Batman and Jack Reacher, we should also have one for Sherlock Holmes. He is, after all, incredibly popular at the moment with television projects on either side of the pond and supposedly a third movie with Robert Downey Jnr in the works. Not coincidentally, I’ve just started reading the stories of Arthur Conan Doyles, having recently realized that Sherlock Holmes might be my favourite fictional character despite barely reading any of the original source material throughout my life.
I guess that’s a testament to how well Sherlock Holmes has made the transition into other media. In the same way that I can use Bond as a series of markers for significant events in my life (having been a child when the ludicrous adventures of Roger Moore played out on national television each Christmas, and being close enough to adulthood for a maverick uncle to sneak me into the second of the more grown-up Timothy Dalton pictures at the cinema), the same is true of Sherlock Holmes.
One of my first encounters with the consulting detective came via the magic of Walt Disney. I’m not entirely sure if I was old enough to connect Basil The Great Mouse Detective with the character it was drawing inspiration from, only that I had recently visited London for the first time and was amazed to see this grand adventure occurring in that very same location!
However, he would have a much greater influence on me later, ironically via a movie made a year earlier. I didn’t see Young Sherlock Holmes on the big screen on its original release, instead he arrived into my life via the magic of a television which my mother finally convinced my father to let me keep in my bedroom. One of my absolute favourite movies, Young Sherlock Holmes’ mixture of whimsy and horror, combined with (at the time) state-of-the-art special effects, fired up my imagination. I could write several lengthy paragraphs on this movie, and may do so later in this thread, but will end here by saying that it was this movie which made me a fan of the world’s most famous consulting detective.
Sherlock Holmes has continued to appear throughout the years in various forms of media, always remaining in the public consciousness; his popularity seemingly growing as the years have passed. For a long time, he was a reminder, in a world of advancing technology and increasing complexities, that the most powerful tool remains the human mind. More than that, he represented a much simpler time when fingerprints and databases gave way to the most elementary (pun intended) of conflicts: a mind on the side of the law pitting itself against a mind on the side of criminality to see which was greater.
The recent successes of both Elementary and Sherlock have proved that, much like with Bond, it is not so much the world around these characters which interests us but the characters themselves. As interesting as it is to see Sherlock Holmes face against the criminal elements of the Victorian era, it is equally captivating to watch the man apply his same deductive reasoning to the modern era. The later movies of Basil Rathbone also took this approach, with the great detective pitting his wits against Nazis, but these two shows have found greater popularity with the format.
Both of these shows have also shown how diversely the character can be depicted whilst remaining true to who the character is. Both are incredibly brilliant but incredibly flawed human beings whose gifts are what sets them apart from humanity. If Cumberbatch’s version has accepted and embraced this to make himself stronger, Miller’s has been broken by it and faces a constant struggle as to how much further he can step back into the light without changing what makes him special. The first is without emotional pain, whilst the second has allowed himself to be defined by it.
It is for this long-lasting appeals and his diversity that I think we owe Sherlock Holmes a thread on CHUD alongside other great fictional characters. One of my New Years Resolutions is to make my way through the movies of Basil Rathbone and so this will at least give me a place to discuss them, if nothing else!