A few years ago, I did a series of posts where I discussed the Top 5 actors who, in my opinion, have played Sherlock Holmes the best. A couple weeks ago, I promised to re-think that list. And now I have. This time, I shall present all of my Top 5 in one post, rather than stretching it out into five different posts. I realize many Sherlockians will disagree with this list, but at the moment, it's where I stand. First, here is my original list:
And now I shall revise that list, and explain my reasons for each ranking...
#5. Ronald Howard
I no longer have Basil Rathbone on my Top 5 list, even though he was Sherlock Holmes for many fans for several decades. Having watched the Rathbone/Bruce films, and comparing them to the TV series from the 1950s, I find Ronald Howard's portrayal quite superior to Rathbone's. He's a younger, bouncier Holmes, with much more of a sparkling sense of humor. He may have been just a bit too handsome to play Holmes, but overall, I find what he brought to the role to have been much more impressive than Rathbone's portrayal. Moreover, his Watson, played my Howard Marion Crawford was quite good, one of the earlier performances to buck the Nigel Bruce trend of playing Watson as a bumbler.
#4. Benedict Cumberbatch
My thoughts on Cumberbatch's portrayal of the great detective have changed an awful lot since I originally put him at the top of my list. One of the things that changed my mind on Cumberbatch was Season 4 of Sherlock. It may have happened gradually throughout the series, but by the last episode of Season 4 it became painfully obvious that Cumberbatch's Holmes had become something very different from what it was in the first season of the show. Sure, he and Martin Freeman still make a very good duo, but the show replaced its earlier emphasis on Holmes's deductive abilities with an action hero ethos (Exhibit A: Sherlock and John jumping out of the window of 221B when a grenade explodes). What was originally, for me, a really remarkable reimagining of Sherlock Holmes became a slightly annoying caricature.
#3. Jonny Lee Miller
Now that I've watched much of the first five seasons of Elementary, I can't help but think that the format of the American series has allowed Miller to inhabit the role of Sherlock Holmes much more than most actors have. Meanwhile, I think Miller's portrayal of Holmes has been more consistent overall than Cumberbatch's. And the Holmes/Watson partnership demonstrated my Miller and Lucy Liu (as Joan Watson) has been intriguing. So I've moved Jonny Lee Miller above Benedict Cumberbatch on my new list.
#2. Jeremy Brett
I very nearly put Jeremy Brett at the top of my list, as so many of his performances were so good! However, watching later installments of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, it is painfully obvious that Brett's portrayal, and the quality of the series overall, were negatively impacted by the actor's numerous health problems. If all that survived of Brett's portrayal of the great detective was that first series of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I believe he would very likely top my list. However, I feel that I have to take into account how the series suffered as Brett became more and more ill. Incidentally, both David Burke and Edward Hardwicke did an admirable job at playing Watson.
#1. Peter Cushing
Not only did my new #1 do an amazing job at portraying Sherlock Holmes in the 1959 Hammer Films production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but Mr. Cushing also nailed the role of Holmes in the TV series he did in 1968. Just looking at the consistent quality of his performance in everything he did as Sherlock Holmes, I'm impressed by his attention to detail, the perfect physicality he brought to the role. He has the piercing glance, as well as the quiet frenzy as he works, that makes him a perfect Holmes to my way of thinking. And Nigel Stock is a top notch Watson, which makes the pair almost perfect.
As I mentioned above, I am quite sure that other Sherlockians will disagree strongly with the ranking above. Give it another few years, and I may end up disagreeing with myself! Still, at this point in 2019, this is where I stand. I'd love to hear readers' comments and feedback.
Lately I've been catching up on CBS's Elementary, an excellent series that I watched somewhat regularly while it was airing its second season. I lost track of the show after awhile, and now that it's on Hulu, I've been taking the opportunity to get caught up. It looks like I'm catching up just in time for the series to wrap up in 2019. This article indicates that CBS has announced that the upcoming seventh season is to be the show's final one. I must say, I'm actually pleased by that announcement, as I have long believed that most shows are unable to sustain more than about seven seasons, if they want to maintain their quality. (Of course, many shows fail to stay good even that long.)
Back when I first watched Elementary, I was disappointed in it, having enjoyed BBC's Sherlock so much. However, now that I'm halfway through the third season of Elementary, i actually think the American show has done a much better job of storytelling than BBC's show did. Even though I once believed quite strongly that Benedict Cumberbatch was the finest Holmes I'd ever seen, Jonny Lee Miller has given him a serious run for his money, and in some respects, may even be better. I look forward to seeing how Elementary ends up wrapping up their story. I suspect it will be better than the often-disappointing fourth season of Sherlock. Time will tell...
#4. Jonny Lee Miller
From one of the "modern" Sherlock Holmes TV shows, Elementary, I have chosen as my #4 spot Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, New York City setting and all. There are obvious parallels between Miller's portrayal of Holmes and Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of same (of which more later). Both have a frenzied sort of air about them much of the time, as they whip out their cell phones and search the internet. Both of them have a jaunty, contemporary fashion sense, as well as a knack for irritating pretty much everyone, including their respective Watsons. And yet, as much as I enjoy Miller's version of the great detective, it has never quite struck the same chord with me that Cumberbatch's version immediately did.
In fact, when I first watched Elementary, my initial response was "ho hum!" I thought we had already seen the definitive modern Holmes in Benedict Cumberbatch. Then I gave the American show another chance, and gradually became quite interested in Jonny Lee Miller's unique take on the character of Sherlock Holmes. As the show developed, I realized that Miller actually plays it quite differently from his counterpart across the pond. And certainly the dynamic between him and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is radically different from the dynamic between John and Sherlock in the BBC series.
Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes strikes me as far less confident than Cumberbatch's portrayal; this is a man whose drug use has changed him. He seems more conflicted, less at home in his skin, than most versions of Holmes I've seen. He realized he's different from everyone else, and this knowledge causes him a great deal of pain and confusion. Also, as far as the overall story arc goes, the shorter weekly format of Elementary has enabled Miller to develop his character in a more complete fashion than most other actors who have played the character. So why doesn't Miller's Holmes rate higher in my esteem?
I think part of the problem is that, as the second season went on, I gradually became less interested in the series. Elementary became, as I saw it, a kind of typical procedural crime drama, with Conan Doyle's characters grafted onto it. I actually haven't watched an episode of the show since the middle of Season 2. So, my apologies if I've missed some major character developments that might have come later. Overall, I think Jonny Lee Miller has given us a very fine reading of the role; I just think there are a few actors who have done it even better.
The article below is from The A.V. Club website. It's a very insightful comparison of Elementary and Sherlock, and even though I still lean towards Sherlock in my affections, the author raises some excellent points. I've mentioned on this blog before that it took me a little while to warm up to Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of Holmes, but I do think he brings his own unique twist to the role. Cumberbatch is still my favorite, but Miller is a close second.
You can read the article at its original home here.
It’s Elementary, Sherlock: How the CBS procedural surpassed the BBC drama
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.