Since A Study in Scarlet first appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, there have been innumerable adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes canon—the first, a stage play, coming as soon as 1894. Holmes and Watson are easily two of the most famous literary creations in modern history, and nearly 130 years after their first appearance, there is no sign of their popularity declining. I don’t remember when I first read the original Conan-Doyle stories, but I must have been about seven or eight, and the Holmes canon has remained a part of my life ever since.
I have two favourite adaptations of the stories—they are nearly polar opposites, but I think that shows the strength and flexibility of both the characters and the stories.
For literary and historical accuracy, the Granada Television series starring Jeremy Brett as the great detective is, I think, the definitive adaptation. Running from 1984 to 1994, they managed to film all but eighteen of the original stories, and the 41 episodes stick more or less to the source material. Brett is a pitch-perfect Holmes—eccentric, terrifyingly intelligent, more than a little unpredictable (even dangerous). His Holmes is an aloof genius, a loner who sometimes views the rest of humanity with an intelligence that is cold and indifferent. Watson was played by two different actors over the decade—David Burke and Edward Hardwicke—both of whom likewise took the role perfectly.
What I love about the Jeremy Brett series is the attention to detail and the historical accuracy. The deerstalker? Banished! Holmes wears a top hat in the city (as any Victorian gentleman would). The superb location filming and high production values make the show a visual feast.
My other Holmes adaptation I adore—for completely different reasons—is Elementary. Here, Holmes is transported from 19th Century London to 21st Century New York. A recovering drug addict, he is aided by his former sober companion, Joan Watson.
What makes Elementary so good is that it doesn’t attempt to simply translate the original Conan-Doyle stories to a modern setting. The show dips in and out of the canon as required, borrowing plot elements and characters, but within the context of what is a highly original and offbeat detective show.
The other reason for Elementary’s success is the casting. Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes owes a lot to Jeremy Brett, and his performance is truly extraordinary: this Holmes, like Brett’s, is eccentric, unpredictable, and a little dangerous. He is The Other, a person completely unlike the rest of us, who we can only try to understand through the point of view of his companion, Watson. Lucy Liu’s take on Watson is perfectly balanced against Miller’s Holmes—she is calm and logical, a guiding force for Holmes’s rather more chaotic persona.
But those are just my two favourites. We’re lucky, because such is the range of Sherlock Holmes adaptations that there is truly something for every type of fan.
Agreed with the last line- there's so many adaptations and spinoffs-canon era, modern era, mice, robots- of Sherlock, everyone can find something for them,
Elementary: Ghost Line can be bought off Amazon here and found on Goodreads here. Adam Christopher can be found on his website.