My must-see Sherlock Holmes Adaptations

As I mentioned in my introduction, I watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes adaptations over the years. And even more since I became an obsessed fan. I certainly haven’t seen all of them. So I might have missed some really good ones. The ones I picked for this list, I have chosen for different reasons. Some are there because of the undeniable influence they had, others are there because they explore an interesting angle and one or two are mostly there because I consider them worth a watch, even though they are not that important in the grand scheme of things.

From the get-go, I excluded all adaptations from the silent movie era. For two reasons: One, a lot of them are lost, so I couldn’t comment on them either way and two, it’s nearly impossible to find good versions of the ones which do still exist. A silent movie was never really silent, but shown with an orchestra, and even with the “big” movies it’s often impossible to find a version with the right orchestration. Plus I don’t think that Sherlock Holmes is really made to be silent. Take his voice, the deduction from him and you lose a large part of the character.

Must-see

I also excluded shows and movies, which might be based on the Sherlock Holmes concept, but have no direct connection to the source text otherwise. For example Monk, Psych or The Mentalist all play with the idea of the detective genius and use the Sherlock Holmes scan, but otherwise, they have nothing to do with the source text and feature all entirely different characters.

I didn’t want to make a ranking, all movies on this list have their strong points and which is the better is often a matter of taste. So I listed them based on appearance. What I did do, though, was to underline the titles of those adaptations I personally enjoy the most.

Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war (1937)

The man who was Sherlock Holmes being the English title (sometimes also given as Two merry Adventurers), this German comedy is thoroughly amusing and very clever. It’s a little bit odd to start this list with a spoof, but this one is easily the best humorous take on Sherlock Holmes. It features Heinz Rühmann in one of his early roles, back in the day Der-Mann-der-Sherlock-Holmes-warwhen the top billing still went to Hans Albers. Who might not exactly look like Sherlock Holmes (neither meets Rühman our visual expectation of Dr. Watson), but has his imposing charisma down perfectly.
The premise is clever, even though it would not work in a current setting: Two men decide to dress up and act like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and then travel through Germany. Though they never outright use the name, everyone assumes that they are the famous characters (a clever play on the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the stories as if they were real life events). While pretending to investigate a case, they accidentally stumble over a real one. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the situation is incredible funny, yet never overdone – at least not by the standards of the 1930s. From today’s perspective, it might be a little bit too harmless and dated, but it’s still worth a watch.

What they did right: The best actors German cinema had to offer during the time paired with well-stages scenes and (for this time) impressive sets
What they did wrong: The Sherlock Holmes costume is not really that convincing, neither is the romantic subplot and the end scene is somewhat rushed and chaotic
What might bother the purists: Well, it is a spoof and undeniable German, though that’s part of the fun.
Why should you watch it: Because it’s unique, funny and features a very special character towards the end. Plus, it contains one of the most well-known Heinz Rühmann songs.

The Sherlock Holmes Film Series (1939-1946)

No Sherlock Holmes list is complete without Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. And while I have some issues with this movie series, I can see why. Basil Rathbone is largely responsible for the way Sherlock Holmes was seen for generations, a self-controlled automaton. A lot of actors, producers and writers which came later claimed to have been inspired by him.Rathbone
So why isn’t it marked as personal favourite? Well, partly because of the changing qualities of the movies. There are some which I would recommend wholeheartedly (especially The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), but also quite a lot I would give a pass. You can roughly divide it into three eras, the traditional one, which is still set during the time of the stories, the propaganda ones, in which Holmes fights against Nazis and the later ones, which were still made during wartime, but didn’t keep referring to it. One problem all of them have is that they scream “Hollywood” with the female characters which are shoehorned into every movie, the tendency to add love-stories whenever possible and, the biggest crime of all, the bastardisation of Dr. Watson into stupid (and unfunny) comic-relief.
The propaganda movies are simply terrible. Not because of the shift in time, but because they treat war like a big adventure – and often display incredible stupid resolutions. Especially the idea that the Nazis prepared 24 years in advance for World War II makes me head-desk every time I watch “The Voice of Terror”. But some of the later ones are not much better either, often it seems like they took a random script and then inserted Sherlock Holmes in it (this is especially true for Pursuit to Algiers). In a way, this version of the character is very unlikable, too perfect to be really relatable, and perhaps a little bit too far removed from the eccentric character of the original stories. Nevertheless, this version was wide considered the best until the 1980s, and therefore deserves respect, even if there are, in my honest opinion, way better adaptations around by now.

What they did right: Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, very well done instrumentation in some parts
What they did wrong: Dr. Watson as idiotic comic relief, too much pathos, often barely a connection to the source text
What might bother the purist: Save for The Hound of the Baskerville only original stories, after the first two movies set in the 1940s, heavy war propaganda in three movies, notable low budget
Why should you watch it: Most influential Sherlock Holmes of all times

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

As much as Basil Rathbone was the Holmes of the 1940s, and Ronald Howard (who The-Hound-of-the-Baskervillesstarred in the TV Series of 1954) the one from the 1950s, Peter Cushing was one of the 1960s, especially since he went on after this movie to star in the second season of the 1965 TV series, after Douglas Wilmer declined to continue after the first season. To be honest, I think the series is pretty forgettable, and when it comes to the movie I think it is less his performance which is so notable and more the movie itself. Being a Hammer production, it was made with a mediocre budget (and it shows at times), and a lot of sense for drama and the grotesque. For this specific story though, the mix is perfect. The Hound of the Baskervilles was always an unusual story in canon, and emphasising the horror works on so many levels, even if the result is a less than faithful adaptation.

What they did right: Focussing on the horror aspect of the story while not forgetting the deduction, overall good though not inspiring acted
What they did wrong: The actual hound is not that convincing, sometimes a little bit over-the-top
What might bother the purist: B-movie, added a lot of new elements to the story and changed some core aspects
Why should you watch it: An unusual take on the story, plus perhaps the best Hammer production

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

No Billy Wilder movie is really bad. But that doesn’t mean that his works always ends up The-Private-Life-of-Sherlock-Holmesreally good. Overall, this is a really uneven movie, with some really interesting ideas worth exploring. Some scenes are really good, some are really cringe-worthy, and together they result in something equally enjoyable and frustrating. The most fascinating aspect is the psychological angle the movie applies to Sherlock Holmes. This version is a far cry from the perfect genius of earlier adaptations, he has weaknesses and he is fallible. While often overlooked, this movie deserves some credit for making Holmes human again, and for introducing some clever ideas about the character into mainstream.

What they did right: Well-acted, good commentary on some canon aspects
What they did wrong: Starts a little bit too episodic, very uneven pacing,
What might bother the purist: Mycroft as somewhat dubious character, Watson’s womanizing is extremely over-the-top
Why should you watch it: Influenced some of the more modern adaptations, above all Sherlock

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

I debated a long time if I should list this one or not. I honestly balk concerning a lot of The-Seven-Percent-Solutionaspects of this movie. But it is a very well-known one, though I guess mostly for the pastiche it is based on and less for the actual adaptation, which is frankly mediocre. And even the pastiche is certainly not for everyone, either. It is one thing to show Sherlock Holmes as human, it’s another one to deconstruct him to the degree this adaptation does. I honestly don’t want to know anything about Sherlock Holmes’ past, and I always felt that emphasising his drug addiction too much just distracts from the character. And to be honest, I think that both, the pastiche and the movie, are mostly so well known because they do something different. While I have a high respect for the creativity of this version, different does not always equal good.

What they did right: Reimagining canon in a believable way
What they did wrong: Overall uninspired and a little bit cliché, especially the inclusion of Sigmund Freud
What might bother the purist: Merciless deconstruction of the characters
Why should you watch it: based on one of the most well-known pastiches

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (1979-1986)

I admit, when I first heard that some people consider Vasily Livanov as the best Holmes, I was very doubtful. A Russian production supposedly managed where so many productions, even British ones, failed? So, I settled down and expected an adaptation in which someone put gasoline lamps into a Russian street in order to sell it as British. Which Russian-Sherlock-Holmeswas exactly what I got – well, it is actually Riga, but the sad truth is that despite all the obvious efforts put into costume and set, it is impossible to hide the Eastern Europe elements in the architecture. You just can’t help noticing that this is certainly not London. But I also got one of the most compelling screenplays of all. Just five minutes in and I was already laughing hard, and not because of some silly forced in gags, but simply because Dr. Watson’s reaction to Holmes behaviour was so incredible funny. This series deserves extra credit not just for actually showing the first meet, but also taking its time to develop the relationship between the two main characters, even adapting aspects of A Study in Scarlet which are usually skipped. The series is very smart by sticking close to canon, but also mixing things up a little bit, so that compelling elements from not so good stories elevate the stories they choose to adapt, and they are able to create an on-going narrative instead of more or less disconnected episodes. The two dramaturgically most interesting decisions made for this series were creating a connection between Milverton and Moriarty and telling the stories of Irene Adler and Mary Morstan, the two most important women for Holmes and Watson respectively, back to back. Plus, while it sticks mostly to the perspective of Dr. Watson (though nevertheless allowing him to be more than just a silent watcher), it is not unduly attached to it.

What they did right: A good Sherlock Holmes and an exceptional John Watson. Taking its time to introduce both characters properly and building up their relationship. Entirely canon based, taking the best bits of it and mixing it up quite cleverly. Memorable score, great care put in the costumes, great scripts, an all-around high-quality take
What they did wrong: Disappointing rendition of The Hound of the Baskervilles
What might bother the purist: Unable to hide the Eastern-Europe origins, only available in Russian (with subtitles)
Why should you watch it: Considered by some as the best Sherlock Holmes, adapts aspects of the first meetings which are usually skipped, perhaps the best and most convincing rendition of the canonical final fight at the Reichenbach Fall.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (1980)

Not to confuse with the film series above, this show is nearly unknown – no wonder, the American/Polish production was never shown in British TV, Germany is the only foreign country which got treated to a full season and it hasn’t been aired for 20 years. The show has a low production value, is incredible campy (there is even an episode in which Sherlock Holmes ends up with a baby) and lot of episodes are basically old scripts from the aforementioned 1954 series. In a way you could consider it a remake, especially since the tone in both shows is very similar.
Why I put it on the list but not the 1954 series? Well, for starters, the 1954 version, while sometimes enjoyable, is very American overall, turning Holmes (Ronald Howard’s performance is easily the best part of it) into a fascinating but also very impish character and Watson into a very loud and brash person who relies on his fists a little bit too much. Sometimes it looks, unintentional, more like a parody. It reminds me a little bit of the 1960s Batman series, but without really embracing its own campiness.
WhiteheadThe 1980 series is easier to take seriously, exactly because it doesn’t take itself so serious. But mostly because of Geoffrey Whitehead and Donald Pickering. There have been a lot of actors which looked close to how Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have been drawn. But those two look like they have been described in the books (though it wasn’t necessary for Holmes to wear the deerstalker more or less all the time). The first version of the stories I read were not illustrated, which made me very confused about the overall very attractive actors who played the role of Sherlock Holmes. Not that Whitehead is really ugly, but he has the gaunt features and prominent nose I always imagined Sherlock Holmes to have. And his performance is spot on, he plays the character with a lot of enthusiasm, a sarcastic smile on his lips, mocking silently the stupidity of the people who surround him, while Pickering gives his Watson the dignity, a lot of adaptations miss – and he can actually pull off the moustache, in fact, he looks just right with one.
The show has quite an interesting dynamic. There is Sherlock, who keeps making cryptic remarks, Watson, who tries to understand them and often explains it to the confused Lestrade. This works way better than the genius with stupid sidekick dynamic, because the audience is actually meant to identify with the intelligent Watson, not with the stupid character. It can console itself with the knowledge that it might not be as smart as Holmes, but at least not as obtuse as Lestrade. The dialogues tend to be full of wit and subtext you are invited to decipher before you get the full explanation at the end of the episode.
What I loved about this show is that despite all its flaws it was obviously made with a lot of love for the source text. Even though the actual cases are usually different, there is more than one nod to canon. The best episode is easily the pilot episode. Honestly, if the whole show had been on this standard, it might be better known today.

What they did right: Including the first meeting, very convincing actors, both in looks and performance, memorable score, great care put in the Baker Street set
What they did wrong: Sometimes too campy, mediocre actors for the side roles,
What might bother the purist: Next to no actual canon cases, low production value
Why should you watch it: Most likely you can’t, because the series is hard to come by. Which is even more of a reason to demand it until whoever holds the copyright releases it again. Otherwise a piece of Sherlock Holmes history might be lost forever.

The Adventures/Return/Case Book/Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (The Granada Television Series) (1984-1994)

If someone would ask me about the adaption which is the closest to the source text, I would always point in the direction of this one. Sometimes the series is too close to be still enjoyable (after all, TV is another medium, and what works on paper doesn’t necessarily work on screen) but nobody can accuse it of not being faithful – with the exception of twoGranada decisions. One was skipping the first meet. I think every adaptation loses something important when it doesn’t show how the friendship developed. The other was omitting Watson’s marriage. All in all, the series tends to concentrate too much on the cases and not enough on the characters, and some episodes really drag when they try to stretch a fairly simple case to a full episode. Thankfully it makes up for it with some really good performances.
Jeremy Brett internalized Sherlock Holmes like no actor before him. Even though he claimed being a fan of Basil Rathbone, I think he gave him too much credit. It was Jeremy Brett who infused the figure with passion, creating something much closer to canon than Basil Rathbone ever was. The first seasons are much better than the latter ones, though. Partly because the writers were forced to move to the lesser stories of canon, but mostly because of Jeremy Brett’s failing health. It’s too bad that it prevented him from being the first actor who stared in an adaptation of every single canon story (though who know if they had done the ones left either way).

What they did right: very faithful to the original, a Holmes which infused himself into the role
What they did wrong: No first meeting, overuse of people narrating past experiences
What might bother the purist: Watson being portrayed by two different actors, no marriage for Dr. Watson
Why should you watch it: Jeremy Brett is considered as legendary, features nearly all canon stories, has one of the best (imho THE best) portrayal of Irene Adler

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Or the movie with the hidden pyramid. It is a strange mix of different genres, a little bit romance, a little bit drama, a little bitYoung-Sherlock-Holmes a growing up story, a little bit horror, a little bit mystery, all dominated by the school setting, but honestly, before the movie goes totally off the rails towards the end, it is just a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes truly terrifying and nightmare worthy (especially the scenes in the pyramid tended to thoroughly freak me it), it’s like a well-written fanfiction which plays around with a possible alternate version of the characters. In fact, the movie has a disclaimer which states that it is not supposed to be a faithful adaption, but a play with the idea that Holmes and Watson already meet as children. Though its importance steams mostly from being the first movie featuring a fully computer generated character – the work of a little division of Lucas Film called Pixar (and the rest is history).

What they did right: Unusual and interesting angle, nice explanations for some of Sherlock Holmes well known habits, impressive computer effects
What they did wrong: a little bit too much Indiana Jones in it, especially towards the end
What might bother the purist: totally ignores the time-line of the books by setting the first meet of Holmes and Watson into their childhood
Why should you watch it: So far the best of the “young Sherlock Holmes” out there

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Yet another movie which is more important for the history of animation than an the development of Sherlock Holmes. After the box-office failure of The Black Cauldron, theBasil modest success of this movie restored Disney’s faith in the animation department, prompting further investments in computer technic and improvements which eventually lead to the Disney renaissance. But in my honest opinion it’s also a remarkable movie in its own right.
While Basil is not really Sherlock Holmes (that’s the guy who lives above him and speaks with Basil Rathbone’s voice), he is nevertheless a closer version of the detective than a lot of characters, which are actually named that way, are. Vincent Price gives one of his best performances as Rattigan, and while the plot doesn’t really work as a serious detective story, the movie does a good job exploring the relationship between Basil and his nemesis. Plus, the interaction between Basil and Olivia is really, really well done. I’m normally not for overly cutesy characters, but Olivia is a surprisingly realistic child, and watching Basil trying to deal with her is a somewhat unique situation. Normally the only children Holmes interacts with are the Baker Street Irregulars, who are more small adults than real children.

What they did right: spot on version of a cartoony version of the character, outstanding chase scene towards the end, interesting dynamic between Basil and Olivia
What they did wrong: The relationship between Basil and Dawson could be stronger
What might bother the purist: Well, it’s Sherlock Holmes as a mouse, and Dawson is definitely based on Nigel Bruce, though considerable less stupid. Plus, the deductions are mostly played for fun.
Why should you watch it: This might be the best movie of Disney’s dark era. Plus, Vincent Price in his favourite performance

Without a Clue (1988)

Another movie which made the list more because of the idea behind it than the execution.Without-a-Clue This movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be, a spoof or a serious crime story. There is really not much to say about it than “The movie in which Watson is the true genius and Sherlock Holmes an actor”. The sad thing is that this could have actually worked, if they had made the Sherlock actor a little less stupid, Watson a little less arrogant and the conflict between them less contrived. As it is, it ends up being about two pretty unlikable characters keeping upstaging each other. And while I usually have a high opinion of Michael Cain and Ben Kingsley, they might not have been the best pick for these roles. They are both a little bit too well known to slip into the roles seamlessly, and Michael Cain doesn’t even remotely look the part he is supposed to play.
Nevertheless, its approach makes it stand out, so one should at least take a look to get an idea about it…if you can’t stand watching it to the very end that’s okay, though. But there are enough people who genuinely enjoy it too.

What they did right: Interesting angle, good actors, not too ridiculous
What they did wrong: Sometimes too contrived, the characters are not necessarily relatable
What might bother the purist: The role exchange is not for everyone
Why should you watch it: Just for the premise, it’s otherwise the least interesting adaptation on this list

Detective Conan (1996 – current)

That’s right, this anime has been around for 18 years and it doesn’t look like that it will stop airing anytime soon. The manga on which it is based has been around even longer, first published in January 1994 it can celebrate this year its 20th anniversary. The anime, which broke the 700 episode mark this year, is like a love letter to detective stories in general and Sherlock Holmes especially.Detektiv-Conan
The premise sounds very far-fetched. High school detective Shinichi Kudo, who is already a local celebrity for his deductive skills, witnesses the shady dealings of two men wearing black. They try to kill him by using a new, undetectable poison. But instead of dying, he shrinks to the age of an elementary school child. With the help of his neighbour Professor Agasa, who also invents a lot of useful gadgets for him, he manages to be taken in by his school friend and love interest Ran Mouri under the alias Conan Edogawa (Conan being inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle). Her father Kogoro Mouri is a lazy and therefore unsuccessful private eye. To ensure that he gets high-prolific cases, Conan now regularly sends Kogoro to sleep and then relies the solution of the case via voice changer to the audience (somehow nobody ever notices that Kogoro doesn’t move his lips).
Yes, the premise requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. The shrinking, the gadgets, the fact that Conan stumbles over a case wherever he goes (the anime even lampshades the fact a couple of times), the contrived reasons why Conan doesn’t reveal his true identity to Ran, all this is a lot swallow. It’s worth though, for the actual cases.
They usually follow the same structure. Conan encounters a group of people. Someone dies (often the most unsympathetic person, so that everyone involved has a motive), and Conan searches for clues to determine, who from the three to five suspects is the culprit. Towards the end of the episode he sends Kogoro to sleep and presents the trick of the murderer. And there is nearly always some clever trick, and you often get enough clues to decipher it yourself, unless it involves special Japanese knowledge. A lot of the codes which turn up in the show sadly fall in this category.
This series makes the list though, because it is full of nods to Sherlock Holmes. Shinichi himself is a big fan and keeps mentioning him, he himself lives in Beika 22,1 and even picked up some of Sherlock Holmes’ habits. It is no wonder that the advertising likes to depict Conan in Sherlock Holmes clothes, even though he (so far) never wore them in the show. Watson is in this case the audience, who watches the small detective, while everyone else tends to overlook him in his child-form. There are also countless nods to other detective stories, one episode is basically a very well done mix of And Then There Were None and Murder by Death.
The first episodes look a little bit rough (the animation was mediocre from the get go and didn’t age well at all), and the quality of the anime sometimes suffers from filler episodes, which are not comparable to the quality of the manga based ones, and the actual main arc moves very slow, but otherwise, the show is always worth a watch.

What they did right: Real murder mysteries which allow the audience to draw their own conclusions, some really clever nods to Sherlock Holmes, some really good world building
What they did wrong: Not enough movement in the main arc, overuse of some tropes (like the closed room murder)
What might bother the purist: Suspension of disbelieve necessary for the main premise
Why should you watch it: If something manages to stay on air for so long, it deserves some attention. Availability differs from country to country. The US stopped airing the anime (which had a horrible Americanising dubbing) a long time ago, so you have to look for fansubs and scalations. German fans are a little bit luckier, they get the Manga and the Movies (yes, there are movies, and spin-offs, and computer games…it’s a giant franchise).

House M.D (2004 – 2012)

If this were a series about two characters named Holmes and Watson, I would most likely complain about all the changes they made to the backstories of the characters. But they are named House and Wilson, which allows the show maker a lot more freedom for reinterpretation.
Though I don’t think that it’s really the nod to Sherlock Holmes which made the seriesHouse-MD initially so successful. It was more the fact that the TV was overrun with fictional Doctors, especially of the kind, who care deeply for every single patient. And then Dr. House turns up with his “I don’t care for the patient, only for the riddle”-approach, reinventing a whole genre along the way. The writers didn’t even try to conceal where they got their inspiration from, instead they added countless clever nods to it during the series run.
I admit though, I didn’t watch every episode after the first two seasons, and I skipped whole seasons later on. I think they overdid House addiction to Vicodin and his erratic behaviour at one point. There is “unfriendly doctor who gets the job done”, and there is “dangerous maniac who puts the patient through a lot of tests until he hits the jackpot”, and sometimes the show veered more towards the latter. Plus, they run out of really interesting medical cases pretty soon. The point when a coma patients wakes up after ten years and goes on a little trip, is the point when a medical show loses all credibility. Even I know that muscles don’t work that well anymore if they haven’t been in use for such a long time, medical care or not.
Nevertheless, the show actually ended on a high note, with a final season which actually made me watch again. And Gregory House will be remembered as the Holmes, who could have been.

What they did right: finding a new angle, both for Sherlock Holmes and medical shows, good actors, ended on a high note
What they did wrong: Lost a lot of credibility during the run and sometimes its focus
What might bother the purist: Since the characters aren’t named like the iconic figures, the show had all freedom of the world
Why should you watch it: Despite the name change, some people consider House as the ultimate American Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes (2009 – current)movie

This might be surprising (unless it has already become obvious how picky I am), but I didn’t add this film series because I really like it. I was never fond of James Bond like versions of Sherlock Holmes. Nevertheless, I think the movies are good enough that one should take a look, especially if one is into this sort of thing. Between the adaptations which want to change Sherlock Holmes into some sort of action hero, this is certainly the best. I just don’t think that he should be one. But since the movie are undeniable successful, they are hard to overlook, and watching them is not necessarily a waste of time. If the characters were named differently, I would thoroughly enjoy them.

What they did right: Emphasises some aspects of the character which tends to get overlooked
What they did wrong: The action overshadows the deductions, lacks substance,
What might bother the purist: looks more like a steampunk version of London than a historical accurate rendition, has Irene Adler as a criminal
Why should you watch it: It might give you a new perspective on the characters, some really good action scenes

Sherlock (2010 – current)

Considering the title of the blog, this shouldn’t be a surprise. I said above that the Granada version is the closest to the story. But I think Sherlock is the most faithful adaptation,Sherlock because it actually captures the spirit of the original. The thing with the stories is that they were written as if Sherlock Holmes was a real person, and a lot of readers felt that way. Sherlock is the first adaptation which managed to give the audience the same feeling. Instead of wearing black badges to honour a fictional character, they express their belief in one via Internet. That’s something no other adaptation ever achieved.
It features outstanding actors, is cleverly written and is practically made from fans for fans. And again, I feel that the creators give the Basil Rathbone version too much credit. Yes, it is true that there has been adaptations with a contemporary setting before. But there has been never an adaptation with a contemporary Holmes, they all just took the old character as it was and planted him in a new setting. This is the first adaptation which asks the question “If Sherlock Holmes were born today, how would he be?”, and comes up with a very convincing answer.

What they did right: Outstanding actors, perhaps the best Watson ever, a memorable Moriarty, a fascinating Mycroft Holmes, outstanding cinematography, outstanding…let’s cut the chase, outstanding in every sense of the word, in every single aspect. Not perfect, but very close to it.
What they did wrong: requires sometimes a little bit suspension of disbelief
What might bother the purist: Modern setting, strong emphasis on Sherlock being socially clueless, has Irene Adler as a criminal and an unusual take on Mycroft and Moriarty
Why should you watch it: You mean you don’t do it already? Shame on you! Start immediately to get the full experience.

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20 comments on “My must-see Sherlock Holmes Adaptations

  1. Great article and explanations! The only ones I’ve seen are the BBC “Sherlock”, “The Great Mouse Detective”, and the Guy Ritchie ones. Once I finish all the episodes of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot”, I may try watching the previous Sherlock TV series.

    I’m quite interested though in seeing “Without a Clue”, although I fear a bit now that you said they didn’t really follow through with what they could have with its setup.

    • swanpride says:

      Well, a lot of people love the movie, so it simply might not be my kind of humour, or I am overcritical again.

      I really recommend the Russian series and Detective Conan…though the latter is quite a challenge, as long-running as the series is.

    • swanpride says:

      What do you think of the ones you have seen?

      • Well, “Sherlock” and “The Great Mouse Detective” are amazing keeping the atmosphere and pull of the original books.

        The Robert Downey Jr. ones are….ehh….I mean I don’t really DISLIKE them, but, I dunno. Watson seems sooooo out of character and extremely cocky in this version. Robert Downey Jr just doesn’t sell himself to me as Sherlock Holmes. And Jared Harris definitely was not what I would’ve thought Moriarty looked like (then again, Andrew Scott wasn’t either). I dunno, maybe I need to see them again.

  2. Justeene says:

    Thank you so much for including here ‘Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson’ with Geoffrey Whitehead and Donald Pickering. They do make perfect Holmes and Watson in my opinion, and it’s a pity there were only 24 episodes. I would love to see this cold and ironic Holmes (who can also be very charming if needed) confronting Moriarty. Mr. Pickering’s Watson is not just a stupid sidekick, as you have kindly pointed out, but finally a partner for the great detective.

    This show was made for Polish tv and Poland being a communist country at that time had very little opportunities to promote or sell its shows abroad (perhaps with the exception of the republics of Soviet Union). Plus, there was some scandal involving the head of the company producing this show and that’s why there are just 24 episodes. You can actually watch this show on YouTube, not very good quality and some episodes are missing but still. I believe you can also find the whole series uploaded but with Polish voiceover. Anyway, it’s defiinitely worth watching. Thanks a lot for mentioning this in your post.

    • swanpride says:

      I still have two or three episodes in German on VHS. I was hoping that they would show them again considering the current Sherlock Holmes craze, but no dice.

      • Justeene says:

        Polish tv actually airs it from time to time, but rather quietly. Hopefully, as more and more people are interested in SH and this series in particular, it may get more popular, who knows?

  3. B.E. Warne says:

    Great article again and I agree with you almost completely: I may be a little more fond than you are of “The Private Life…” but I do dislike that Watson. I do think you should include “A Study in Terror” where both the Holmes and the Watson are adequate and that so seldom happens. And I liked “House” so much I did a website on it: housemd-guide.com

    Also recommend that you get an Amazon account and where you do a listing of something link to it if Amazon has it. You have made me want to see the first Russian version (have you seen the recent one?) and the 1980s. Others may have to search around to get some of the other things unless you link to them and people who like your work can order something from your website and help support your efforts without it costing them anything different than if they went to Amazon without going through your affiliate account links. Email me if you would like information on that.

    A couple of copy editing things I think you may want to change (although sometimes it is just that I am reading things differently:

    “Two man decide to dress up…” (men?)

    “I admit, when I first heart that some people consider Vasily Livanov as the best Holmes, I was very doubtful.” (heard ?)

    “The 1980 series is easier to take serious, exactly because it doesn’t take itself so serious.” (seriously ?)

    “(though it wasn’t necessarily for Holmes to wear the deerstalker more or less all the time)” (necessary ?)

    “The first version of the stories I read were not illustrated, which made me very confused about the overall very attractive actors which played the role of Sherlock Holmes.” (who ?)

    “I think every adaptation loses something important when doesn’t show how the friendship developed.” (when it ?)

    Sorry, I am a natural critic and an old journalist and I always want to know if I do a typo (I encourage my readers to email me with typos) so I assume others want the same thing and remember I could be wrong.

    • swanpride says:

      Thank you very much. I’ll do the edits as soon as I have time – I’m not a native speaker, and some aspects of the language, like homophones and adverbs are hard. It’s always helpful to get some corrections.

      The linking is a good idea, but a little bit problematic…being German, I usually can’t say much about the quality of the English editions…I haven bought the Russian series myself yet, because I am unsure about the edition available (it legally available in the net…perhaps I’ll search at least for the link for that). Either way, it wouldn’t feel right to link to an edition I don’t own myself.

      • B.E. Warne says:

        Can you email me directly as I would like to take some of my discussions with you off the comments section as one Sherlock site owner to another since I admire so much of what you are doing and have some suggestions as to how we can help each other. Do you have access to my email address? I can post it here if you cannot see it within your system.

  4. Jasmin M says:

    I really enjoy the more modern adaptions. House M.D, Elementary and Mentalist are definately worth a mention. Monk and Psych are also worth watching, but pretty far fetched as fas as being Sherlock goes, like you said. Mentalist on the other hand is very similar to the original, would you like to explain why you don’t find it fitting for this list? Also did you have a reason not to include Elementary to the list? It is clearly an adaption with them living in New York (Holmes is British, but was sent to America for rehab by his father, and stayed there.), female Watson and other things, but a lot closer than Detective Conan!

    It has outstanding actors, very deep and complex characters you can relate to and especially interesting plot when introducing Mycroft and Irene Adler and finally revealing Moriarty. Also I like the fact Watson is female, which adds a new twist, but there is no sexual tension between Holmes and Watson. I was afraid of some sort of sloppy love story that skips the actual crimes and deduction, but gladly that is not the case. Their bond is strong, but not romantically.

    As you said about Sherlock “Lets cut to the chase, outstanding in every sense of the word, in every single aspect. Not perfect, but very close to it.” I havent seen Sherlock yet, since I don’t live in America, but I have planned downloading it. Still, you should see Elementary. Even if you don’t think it measures up to Sherlock, it is still a good show!

    • swanpride says:

      “The Mentalist” just doesn’t have any direct Sherlock references in it. “House” is already borderline, but got in, because there are clear nods to canon. In “The Mentalist” there are none. (Plus, it was more constipated as a more serious version of Psych….CBS has become pretty good in the last years to take the most successful USA network shows and create a version of it, which fits into their own programming).

      I watched most of the first season of “Elementary”, and I simply think that for a show which claims to be an adaptation, there is not enough Sherlock Holmes in it. It doesn’t matter for me if it measures up to Sherlock or not. What does matter, though, is if it measures up to Sherlock Holmes, and I don’t think it does. It is more a new version of Monk with a more serious tone, in which the main characters happens to be called after Sherlock Holmes characters. I understand why some people enjoy the show…I might too, if I hadn’t watched a lot of “The Mentalist” and “Castle” beforehand (I had a constant deja vu during the first season). But I refuse to see it as adaptation. And the only remarkable thing about is the clever advertising campaign of the CBS.

      Please, just respect that Elementary has no place in this blog. I won’t constantly speak ill of it…but neither will I mention it in my regular posts.

      BTW: What is the problem with watching Sherlock? It is a British show, a worldwide success and has been sold to over 200 territories.

      • shutuplosers says:

        I have no problem with you not including Elementary, I was just curios about why. I clearly know a lot less about the original Holmes than you, and thus asked your opinion. As I said, even if you don’t think it measures up to Sherlock, it is still a good show. I didn’t mean you should now write about it, just mentioned that I like it anyway. I’ve never realized the similarities between Mentalist and Psych. In my personal opinion though, I find Mentalist better. The Psych is a good show, but I think it’s too sitcom-y for an adaption of Sherlock Holmes. Psych has photographic memory and he can deduct, but he is not very smart. Mentalist is witty in a Sherlock-y way.. But hey, everyone has their opinions, you have probably studied these shows better than I have!

        PS: I live in Finland, and “Sherlock” isn’t aired here. We are always a at least a season behind in shows, so maybe next year. I just mentioned America half accidentally, thinking about that they are currently showing it in there. As I stated, I was going to download it, since I’m too anxious to see it to wait for next year!

        • swanpride says:

          Like I said, I didn’t judge any of the shows on the list based on Sherlock, but on canon. Those are shows I either consider well done adaptations, or those I consider influential. Elementary is in my eyes not a particularly good adaptation and I doubt that it will be particularly influential. YMMV, naturally, but you might have noticed that I mention some popular adaptations just in passing. There are a lot of shows and movies I didn’t mention at all.

          I don’t think that either Psych or The Mentalist are even trying to be an adaption of Sherlock Holmes. They use the concept of deduction but otherwise, they don’t really have much in common with Sherlock Holmes. Not every genius detective is automatically Sherlock Holmes, after all.
          Psych and The Mentalist are both very different shows. I don’t think that one can really call one better. Personally I think that Psych had an outstanding second season, but slowly became too ridiculous with every passing year until it became downright painful to watch. The Mentalist on the other hand could have been outstanding if there had been any long term planning in the Red John arc (worst solution they could come up with, imho), and if they had made Lisbon a more firm character instead of an idiot who constantly endangers her own career for a selfish a-hole like Patrick Jane.

          However, I hope the list is helpful to you.

  5. […] “well done” is very short, though the one I consider “Must watch” is, as you can see, a little bit longer, but The Great Mouse Detective will always have a spot on both of […]

  6. […] a more precise run-down what the series is about, you can take a peak at my list of Must-See-Sherlock-Holmes-Adaptations. For this article you only need to know this: The “big bad” in the series is […]

  7. I wonder if you’ve heard about the series “Sherlock Hound” by Hayao Miyazaki? I’d love to hear your comment about it. I watched it 20 years ago when I was a kid and was kind of loving it. (After all, if you knew about Hayao Miyazaki, you would always expect high quality from his work).

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