Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows hits the cinemas this Friday, with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law taking on Jared Harris’s ‘Napoleon of Crime’ Professor Moriarty. As the movie is a sequel to the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes and the latest in a long line of film Sherlocks, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most memorable actors to play the famous sleuth in earlier films.
Sherlock Holmes has been around since 1887, when he was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a Scottish author and physician. Holmes is famous for his skills in forensic science, disguise and logical reasoning, which he uses to solve tricky cases. Starting life in the medium of the printed word, Holmes then branched out to do his detecting on-screen and has since appeared in hundreds of films with more than 70 actors portraying the hat-donning, pipe-smoking eccentric. He is one of the world’s best known fictional personalities, standing alongside Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse, and was described by Orson Welles as “the world’s most famous man who never was”. So, ‘Holmies’, lets go:
1. Jeremy Brett is considered by many people as the definitive Holmes out of all the numerous actors who have played him over the years. He played the detective in 41 television episodes during the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as shooting a TV film for The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1988 (which is why we can include him in this list). His interpretation of Holmes was extremely authentic, right down to the short, violent laughter and eccentric hand-gestures. His intense research, as well as his similar personality, paid off and he is now remembered by many as the Holmes who cannot be beaten.
2. Basil Rathbone defined many of the traits we associate with Holmes in the 1940s. While some people see him as making the character too gentlemanly and not following the crazy, unpredictable and unkempt Holmes of the Conan Doyle novels, he still starred in the classic 1939 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and was so convincing that he went on to play him in 14 popular films. Rathbone's sleuth had a good sense of humour and this is why he is remembered to this day. You can see the next instalment of the current Sherlock Holmes series, Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbtach as a group of three episodes BBC One on 1 January 2012.
3. Peter Cushing's Holmes was very authentic, especially with his hawk-like nose and moments of genius. His first outing as Holmes was in the 1958 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was the first Holmes film to be made in colour. He had a deep love for the books and in 1951 he had become England's first television star. His performance as Holmes is not the most famous, however that doesn't mean that he was not a good match for the character. He was a fan of Conan Doyle and always insisted that his clothing was authentic, right down to his accessories.
4. Clive Brook was the first talking Holmes to appear on screen, although his first film was made available in both silent and audio as some theatres did not yet have sound equipment. He appeared in three films and is most famous for inventing the famous quote "Elementary, my dear Watson." Brook is also the actor who provided the famous Holmes silhouette with the pipe and the hat. He clearly defined the sleuth's character in a way that has stuck over the years and is still, even now, in people's minds.
5. Rupert Everett played a retired Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking. He is forced to come out of retirement to find out why women are being killed in London. Everett's performance met with a positive reception, as he stuck to Conan Doyle's original character profile, while introducing enough of his own elements to create a character that is fresh and amusing in his own right.
6. Ian Richardson is well-known for the quote, "you might well think that: I couldn't possibly comment." His classic interpretation of Sherlock Holmes lasted for two films, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles and it is likely that if the filming hadn't stopped there, he would have been remembered just as fondly as Brett and Rathbone are now.
7. Robert Downey Jr. played Holmes in Guy Ritchie's 2009 film Sherlock Holmes, alongside Jude Law who played Watson and Rachel McAdams who played their adversary Irene Adler. Downey Jr. has said that Holmes is the hardest role he has ever played as he is so quirky, however once he did some research on the detective, he fell in love with the originality of the stories. His portrayal of the detective is very modern when compared with the older versions of his character. The caps, hat and pipe are nowhere to be seen and Holmes is now not only an intellectual sleuth, but also a martial arts action-hero. Downey Jr. returns this Friday with Law McAdams, as well as new addition Noomi Rapace, to play Holmes for the second time in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
8. Sir Christopher Lee is one of the most well-known actors to have played Sherlock Holmes. His full acting career has encompassed a Guinness world record number of 275 films. In 2009 he was knighted, before receiving the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011. After playing Frankenstein's Monster and The Mummy, he proved just how versatile he was by moving on to Holmes. The first Holmes Lee acted in was Hammer's 1958 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the first Holmes film to be shot in colour. However, he played Sir Henry Baskerville, while the detective role was given to Peter Cushing. Lee then got his chance to don the hat and pipe in 1962 with the film Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace before jumping at the chance to play the detective's brother Mycroft (played by Stephen Fry in the new version) in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970).
9. Arthur Wontner played Sherlock Holmes in five films from 1931 to 1938. His performance is known for being more studious than Basil Rathbone's energetic portrayal, although Wontner got the part after his performance in the 1930 stage production directed by Sexton Blake. This was based on a pulp-fiction character, meant to imitate Sherlock Holmes.
10. John Cleese played a rather different sort of Sherlock Holmes in the 1977 film The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It, as only he can. In fact, he plays the grandson of Sherlock Holmes who is called upon, along with a relation of Watson, to foil the plans of Moriarty's descendent who plans to take over the world, naturally. This is the least serious Holmes film to date and should be taken with a pinch of salt, or not taken at all if you are a die-hard fan. However, Cleese does bring his own unique, witty style to the character that appeals to some.