Some characters lend themselves well to constant reinvention – there have been several Supermen, a dozen Doctor Whos and a bunch of Bonds. But the most portrayed character, according to Guinness World Record is Sherlock Holmes – the English detective with his deerstalker and sharp mind. There have been 200 different films featuring Holmes and around 70 actors have taken on the role. It’s hard to narrow it down to the top ten, but here are our personal picks for the Top 10 Screen Versions of Sherlock Holmes.
10. Robert Downey Jr
One of the most recent interpretations on the list, Robert Downey Jr played Sherlock in a 2009 film directed by Guy Ritchie, and its 2011 sequel. A third film has been discussed by there has been nothing confirmed yet, with Downey Jr saying he will only do it if it still “excites” him. The franchise is set in the original Victorian era, albeit re-imagined in a gritty, Guy Ritchie way and full of anachronisms. Still, it received good reviews and Downey Jr and his Dr Watson, Jude Law, were praised for their portrayals, with one reviewer saying “when Downey Jr. and Law are together the screen lights up so brightly it could catch fire.” It’s a high-energy movie, with huge liberties taken with London geography (The Houses of Parliament are next to Tower Bridge) but Holmes is likable and charming, unlike some of the other versions.
9. James D’Arcy
The youngest interpretation of Sherlock on our list comes from James D’Arcy is the 2002 television movie “Sherlock: Case of Evil”. It’s an action-packed thriller, with Sherlock being a ladies’ man and celebrity as well as a detective. He’s 28, foppish and over-confident about his abilities when it comes to killing his arch-nemesis Moriarty (here played by Victor D’Onofrio). Variety described D’Arcy as convincing, saying he has the “passion and drive he needs for such intense devotion to crime solving, but also the emotional weaknesses that plague him”. Others weren’t so kind, with one critic ridiculing the “scenery-chewing” of the two leads and the over-simplifying of the script. But it was the first attempt to bring Sherlock into the 21st century, which paved the way for other, better-received interpretations.
8. Christopher Lee
There are two great Hammer Horror stars in this list and here’s the first one – the villainous Christopher Lee, famous for his portrayal of Dracula. He first played the role in the 1962 film “Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace” and then made two back-to-back TV films in the 1990s when he was in his late 60s. The two films were called “Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady” and “Incident at Victoria Falls”, which saw Holmes meeting Theodore Roosevelt. They were intended as part of a series called “Sherlock Holmes: The Golden Years”, with an older Sherlock in the early 1900s. However, only the two films were ever made. Lee also appeared in Hammer’s “Hound of the Baskervilles” but another man was playing Sherlock. More on him later…
7. Ronald Howard
A rare American TV version of Sherlock next, with 1954’s “Sherlock Holmes” – a 39-part series starring Ronald Howard (not to be confused with director Ron Howard). The Holmes of this series was a younger version than many others – he was an “exceptionally sincere young man trying to get ahead in his profession” rather than the highly-strung mastermind of later stories. A lot of the episodes were original scripts rather than being based on Canon Doyle’s books, although there are loose connections between the two. Many seem to be targeted at an American audience – “The Case of the Texas Cowgirl”, “The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun” – but it was set in London and stock footage was used to give the impression that it was filmed in London (it was actually filmed in Paris). However, the star was authentically British, having been born in South Norwood, London and studied at Cambridge.
6. Jonny Lee Miller
The only other American TV version of the role is “Elementary”, after Sherlock’s oft-quoted but non-canonical phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson”. Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock, with Lucy Liu as a controversially female Watson (although Miller says they will never get together as a couple). It’s probably the slickest version of the story, with modern storylines involving computer hacking and Wall Street bankers. The costumes are minimalist, the script snappy and Sherlock himself is a recovering alcoholic, who’s been assigned Watson as his sober partner. Although it’s an American production, the star is British and he’s supported by fellow Brits Rhys Ifans and Sean Pertwee as Mycroft Holmes and Inspector Lestrade respectively. Debuting around the same time as the Guy Ritchie films and the BBC’s “Sherlock”, it suffered from comparisons to both but the reviews have been mostly positive and the viewing figures strong.