When it comes to literary figures who have had screen avatars, there are few who have had as many as the legendary occupant of 221B Baker Street. A number of actors, some illustrious, others less so have tried their hands at being the most famous detective in literature with varying levels of success. Here in our opinion are six of the most remarkable ones:
1. Jeremy Brett
He essayed Sherlock Holmes so brilliantly in the Granada TV series that for almost everyone who watched television in the eighties, he WAS Sherlock Holmes. Unlike some actors, Brett stuck to the image of Holmes as Doyle projected it–lean, intelligent, and more than a little eccentric. And he did a magnificent job.
2. Robert Downey Jr.
Yes, we can hear the Holmes loyalists claiming that Downey’s Holmes has very little semblance to Doyle’s, but we cannot help but admire the manner in which he has brought out the intelligence, eccentricity and sheer nervous energy that marked Holmes. Yes, he should have been taller and not so inclined towards violence, but in terms of sheer intensity, he takes the cake.
3. Basil Rathbone
Before Jeremy Brett, there was Basil Rathbone. At a time when Hollywood and television were still in their infancy, Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes in the thirties and forties with an elegance and dignity that still stands out. No, he did not have the kind of fair for the dramatic that Brett and Downey did but you would not notice – he was so understatedly classy.
4. Peter Cushing
If physical resemblance was all that matter, Cushing was perhaps the biggest dead ringer for Holmes as described by Conan Doyle, lean of frame and gaunt of face. That he could also act very well did not harm his cause one bit – he was very much the Holmes for people in the sixties. So much so that he was recalled to do the role in 1984. He did it well. Again.
5. Benedict Cumberbatch
Holmes in the modern world, wielding a BlackBerry and using the Internet? It might sound fantastic but Cumberbatch has managed to make people believe in a modern version of the Baker Street legend. His fidgety energy and breathless delivery has shades of Downey, and his lack of patience smacks of Brett. Holmes blends do not get better.
6. Michael Caine
Michael Caine as Sherlock Holmes? Well, he did essay the role of the detective in Without a Clue with Ben Kingsley playing Dr Watson. Not too many were impressed by the portrayal of Holmes as a drunk, leching actor who was fed lines by the intelligent Watson, but Caine did it so well our only regret was that Caine was not asked to don the deerstalker again.