I remember, once I'd seen Jeremy Brett play Sherlock Holmes, arguing with my grandfather about which actor was better: Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone? My grandpa was a Rathbone man through and through; for him, Rathbone simply was Holmes. Funny thing was, my grandpa considered himself a "purist" when it came to Sherlock Holmes. And yet, compared to Brett's sometimes slavish, but almost always brilliant, portrayal of the detective, I considered Rathbone's Holmes way off base.
Nowadays, judging from many comments I've seen on Sherlockian forums, a similar debate rages: those who prefer Holmes in his Victorian element, and those who enjoy the recent programs that update Holmes to the 21st century. The Victorian crowd often consider themselves the purists in the argument; one comment I saw in a thread about Elementary said, "It's simply NOT Holmesian!" (Whatever that means...) But I often wonder, is the Victorian setting really all that important, or is it the Holmes-Watson relationship and the deductive reasoning? Or some mysterious balancing of those elements?
For example, look at Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films compared to Elementary and Sherlock. For my money, despite the fact that Ritchie still places Holmes in a (stylized) Victorian England, the two TV shows, particularly Sherlock, do a far better job of maintaining what I would consider to be the essential character of Sherlock Holmes. But clearly, there are an awful lot of Holmes fans who completely disagree with me. Looking back to my old debate with my grandpa, though, I can see that I was kind of on the Victorian side of the argument back then. I mean, I still think Brett was a better Holmes than Rathbone, but my grandpa still thought Rathbone was more Holmesian (whatever that means) than Brett, and it apparently didn't bother him that Rathbone was fighting Nazis, brandishing guns, and driving around in cars. The setting didn't mean as much to Grandpa as the portrayal of Holmes himself.
And so the debate continues, and I doubt there will ever be much agreement. After all, Holmes fans can be a pretty devoted lot. Before there were Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans attending Comic-Con, there were Holmes fans arguing about the most minute details, playing the great game. The game is still afoot...or as Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes says, "The game, Mrs. Hudson, is on!" But that's an argument for another day...
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.