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 by 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.
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 Mr. Sherlock Holmes.