Elementary, My Dear Watson.
“Elementary, my dear Watson.”
The world-famous, if imaginary, line instantly conjures up images of the man in a deerstalker and frock coat, and his trusty assistant. Sherlock Holmes is the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first in print in 1887 and totalling 60 appearances in novels and short stories. Holmes’ eccentricity, charming vanity and boundless intelligence has made him a timeless character. Teamed with the emotionally aware Dr. John Watson as the perfect foil to the aloof and detached Sherlock, the crime-fighting duo has always captured the hearts of the public.
Conan Doyle’s stories and characters have appeared in thousands of adaptations on stage, screen and in print. Whilst some stick faithfully to the Victorian roots of the tales, others diversify into other time periods, other worlds and even other species (see “Muppet Sherlock Holmes” below).
The characters lend themselves extremely well to comedy, something that has been proven time and time again in varying adaptations. The 1988 film Without a Clue stars Ben Kingsley as John Watson, a doctor who enjoys writing in his spare time. His fictional character “Sherlock Holmes” is used as a decoy so that Watson himself can solve crimes incognito. The public is so desperate to meet the “real” inspiration for the character that Watson is forced to hire an actor, Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine), to play the part of Holmes. In this version, having Sherlock as the bumbling, clueless one of the pair provides a new and interesting dynamic and, of course, allows for some wonderfully comic scenes.
Between 1984 and 1994 the British series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was broadcast on ITV. The adaptation was almost completely faithful to the original texts and depicted 42 of the 60 stories by Conan Doyle. Jeremy Brett and David Burke portrayed Holmes and Watson respectively and the long-running series was incredibly popular in the UK and the USA largely due to its adherence to the stories and Brett’s performance.
Guy Ritchie launched Sherlock Holmes on to the silver screen in 2009 with global stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the lead roles. Downey Jr. won a Golden Globe for his performance and the score and art direction were nominated for Academy Awards. The following fight scene is a particular fan favourite; the word “discombobulate” circulated in public speech for months afterwards:
Ask any Brit who their favourite Sherlock is and you are likely to receive the same reply a hundred times over: Benedict Cumberbatch. First broadcast in 2010 Sherlock brings a contemporary update to the Victorian tales, setting it in modern day London and allowing technology to play a real role in the programme. Apart from the fantastic reworking of the stories, it is in the relationship between Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson that lies the real unique brilliance of the show and has led to it receiving countless awards.
Below watch Sherlock pick apart Miss Adler a.k.a. The Dominatrix (Lara Pulver).
And here – a second Cumberbatch clip because he’s just oh so good – see Sherlock demonstrate a more emotional side to his personality when rescuing dear Mrs Hudson:
The US takes on the classic tale in Elementary. Jonny Lee Miller takes the starring role and, uniquely, Lucy Liu takes the role of Joan Watson. The choice to cast a woman in the companion role brings a sparky chemistry to the partnership and allows for a really comic relationship.
Joan isn’t the series’ only switch-up. Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) portrays Irene Adler, a former flame of Sherlock. It is her death (prior to the series) that initially caused Sherlock to spiral into his drug addiction. What we later learn is that Adler is an invention of Jamie Moriarty, Sherlock’s famous nemesis. Here the series uniquely merges Adler and Moriarty creating a whole new set of feelings that Sherlock has to contend with. Their deadly chemistry keeps fans guessing throughout.
Candis Cayne (Dirty Sexy Money) also joins the cast as Ms Hudson. Cayne came to attention in 2007 for being the first transgender actress to portray a transgender character on US primetime. Ms Hudson is also depicted as a transgender character giving the series yet another example of its forward-thinking and compelling form of storytelling.
The integrity and charm of the original story remains, but with lead characters’ backgrounds turned on their heads, the show manages to find its niche amongst the countless other adaptations.
After three highly successful seasons, Elementary is back for a fourth. New cast member John Noble (Fringe, Sleepy Hollow) joins as Sherlock’s father. As we left Sherlock battling his own inner demons last season, his estranged father’s arrival is bound to cause a few complications.
Elementary airs tonight on Sky Living at 9pm.