I’ve been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories for a long time. I love the London of Victorian England, the cast of characters from all strata of society and – of course – the mysteries.
I’ve not been a fan of many of the TV/film versions, but I completely understand the urge to make them. Holmes and Watson are one of those great fictional pairings, because they’re interesting people and contrasting, but complimentary, personalities.
The tough thing about adapting this material is trying to represent Holmes. He’s admirable on the page, but he’s not loveable. He’s a confirmed bachelor and a gentleman scientist who has no need to earn a wage through work, and none of those things really fit our modern sensibilities.
What I always find frustrating with on-screen versions of Holmes, is that they often make him rude, cruel and/or very cold. I don’t think that’s the character on the page. But Watson on-screen is often a bit ‘wet’ and that’s definitely not the character on the page.
My theory on this has always been that screen-writers are desperate to make us react emotionally to these characters. Mostly through making us feel sorry for Watson.
Obviously, Holmes fans have had a bounty of versions in the past few years and that’s partly what prompted this post. I do own the first Guy Richie movie and also the first seasons of Elementary and Sherlock.
I like the Guy Richie movie as a Victorian action flick, but not as a version of Sherlock Holmes. It does the three things I hate in adaptations; Sherlock is horrible to everyone, the plot is cartoonish and they had to introduce Irene Adler and Moriarty in the first film. They also had to add Irene Adler as a lover, which is something I’m not a fan of.
Sherlock is very watchable and has an excellent cast. Obviously it suffers from two of my three pet hates (Moriarty is introduced up-front and Sherlock is horrible to everyone), but what I dislike most about this version, is that Sherlock is downright cruel to people – particularly Watson. However, the Mycroft stuff is just weird, and it’s a series that treats female characters with no respect at all. I like that Irene Adler isn’t a lover, but she is introduced naked which is just so… yeah.
Like a lot of Holmes fans I was suspicious of Elementary, but it’s the one I like best. They make Holmes pretty horrible to people, but also develop him in a way that explains it. Watson’s character works for me, though why couldn’t a female Watson couldn’t be an Afghan war vet? They bring in Irene Adler as a lover and then bring in Moriarty (going back to my pet hates), but I kind of love that they do something entirely fresh with both.
What I found interesting about comparing Sherlock and Elementary is that the Brits were trying too hard to be true to the cannon, while the Yanks decided to nod to it, but re-imagine the stories for the 21st C. I guess that provides something for everyone!