There have been many actors who have played Sherlock Holmes in both movies and TV films/series over the past eighty or so years; Wikipedia provides a long list of them—too many to list here in this post: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_actors_who_have_played_Sherlock_Holmes. I grew up watching the classic Sherlock Holmes films from the 1940s with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. Basil Rathbone has defined the persona Sherlock Holmes for me for many years with his intelligence and authoritative demeanor. We used to gather as a family on Saturday evenings in front of our black and white TV set and watch Sherlock Holmes solve one mystery after another with his colleague Dr. Watson. Memorable films include The Hound of the Baskervilles (with a hound trained to kill) and The Pearl of Death (with a deformed killer known as the Creeper who broke the backs of his victims). All of the films were entertaining thrillers, but these two films stand out in my mind as the most frightening, especially for a child. But we apparently enjoyed being scared along the way to the solution of the crimes, and we looked forward to our Saturday evening movie experiences.
Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that ran from 1984-85 is also memorable; the series was quite detailed, gritty and realistic, especially in dealing with Holmes’ drug addiction and visits to opium dens. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking from 2004 with Rupert Everett as Sherlock Holmes was quite entertaining; Everett’s Holmes was less arrogant and a bit more friendly. Guy Ritchie’s first foray into the world of Sherlock Holmes was in 2009 with his film Sherlock Holmes, with Sherlock played by Robert Downey Jr and Watson played by Jude Law. Of all the Sherlock Holmes films I’ve seen, this one has to be the most action-packed. It was one long action film interspersed with crime-solving and was enjoyable to watch, although the character of Holmes as played by Downey is completely different than most other portrayals I’ve seen; you will either like that or you won’t. I enjoyed Ritchie’s first Sherlock film but have not yet seen the second.
And then—a new Sherlock Holmes—a truly pleasant surprise, in the TV series Sherlock (2010-present). The actor who plays Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, owns the role. His Holmes commands attention with his fierce intelligence, arrogant air, offhandedness and condescending attitude toward people he thinks are stupid—all those things that make the detective great. He may actually end up surpassing Rathbone's portrayal of Holmes. His Holmes is quite likable, in the way that difficult and infuriating people often are. Watching him makes you realize that geniuses like Sherlock in the world are thinking at a rate of speed that none of us can match. Cumberbatch manages to impart that important aspect of Holmes’ intelligence. He is way ahead of most people around him. This series has moved Holmes and Watson to London in the present time, and that by itself makes for some interesting changes—the use of cell phones to text, call or to take pictures, as well as the use of computers—all of these aid in the solving of the crimes. Doctor Watson, as played by Martin Freeman, is also a smart man, if a bit slower in his reasoning. He is feisty when he needs to be and can hold his own with Holmes. Here’s hoping that the series can sustain audience interest and survive to entertain us for the next several years.