Sherlock Holmes is the character who would not die. His creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, thought that he had killed him when he wrote “The Final Problem” in 1893. He was tired of the character and felt that the Sherlock stories overshadowed what he considered his better, more serious work. He was astonished when the public mourned the death of their hero as if a real man had died. Conan Doyle received both threats and pleas to resurrect his character, but Sherlock remained dead for almost 10 years. Conan Doyle went back to the character after he began writing a story of a ghostly hound on the moor and needed a hero. However, The Hound of the Baskervilles takes place before Sherlocks death at the falls. He was not officially resurrected until a new Sherlock adventure was published, “The Adventure of the Empty House.”
The blur between reality and fiction still exists when it comes to Sherlock Holmes. I visited the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London (at 221b Baker St, naturally), and wondered about having a museum billed as “the official residence” of a fictional character. I was approached by a young tourist from Japan who asked me where she could find “the home of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.” I wasn’t sure if she knew he was a fictional character, or if she thought he had actually existed!
The appeal of Sherlock Holmes endures today. First, there are the very action-oriented American movies starring Robert Downey Jr., as Holmes, and Jude Law, as Watson. I find these movies to get a bit carried away in the action sequences. Sometimes the plot (and the cleverness of Holmes), is lost in the din of the explosions.
My favorite adaption is Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ television series Sherlock. Even though the action is set in modern day London, they feel very true to the spirit of the original stories. I love how there are elements taken from the classic stories, but they are used to serve an entirely new mystery. Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent Sherlock; he’s incredibly observant, totally lacking in empathy, yet he possesses a strong connection with Martin Freeman’s Watson. Freeman’s Watson is a very sympathetic character, but in this version he is a bit more his own person and not just an audience surrogate so that Sherlock has someone to which he can explain his thinking. The chemistry of the two actors is fantastic. I just finished watching the second series of the show, and I feel that it surpasses the first season. I can’t wait for the explanation of Sherlock’s “death” in the next season.
I know this was not a recent adaptation, but I was just able to view The Private Lives of Sherlock Holmes on the big screen. It’s often overlooked, and seems to be almost forgotten now, but, if you’re a Sherlock buff, it’s worth a viewing. While not the best of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations, Billy Wilder’s version is entertaining. I feel that it goes on a bit too long, but the beginning is great fun. It addresses idea that there is a difference between the Holmes of Watson’s stories and the “real” Sherlock Holmes. The main mystery involves spies, secret technology, and even the Loch Ness Monster. I think the movie would have been better to have stuck with the more humorous tone from the first 20 or so minutes. The dialogue there is very much the witty banter that Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond do so well.