Sherlock Holmes
And The Men Who Played Him



How would you play Sherlock Holmes?

Would you read the original stories and try to recreate a faithful portrayal? Or would you infuse the character with your own unique personality?

I imagine it must be pretty hard for any actor to play the world's best known detective.

Every reader of the original stories creates his or her own image of Sherlock Holmes in their minds. They expect an appropriate interpretation. I know I do.

Some viewers may not even have read the stories at all. So they rely completely on the actor's performance on screen to bring the detective to life.

So the actor playing the title role needs to satisfy both viewer groups; those with prior knowledge and those without.

On the other hand he deals with an extreme complex character.

Sherlock Holmes is an intellectual genius. Sometimes even so much so that his friend calls him inhuman and a thinking machine.

But the detective is also a deeply flawed man. He is addicted to cocaine and morphine.

His mood swings are well-known to the readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories.

Then there is his friendship with Dr Watson. Holmes's behaviour towards his best and only friend ranges from cold and distant to deepest reliance and sympathy.

In my opinion only a handful of actors truly have captured the detective's exceptional personality.

Sadly, some of them like Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett have been reduced to this one part. Each actor's biography shows that they should be remembered for more than just the part of the detective.

So, take a look behind the scenes and meet the men who were (or still are) Sherlock Holmes:

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William Gillette asked Arthur Conan Doyle if he could borrow the detective for a theatre play. The author gave his permission and even encouraged the actor to marry the detective off or even kill him. Later Gillette recreated his iconic performance on screen.

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Eille Norwood portrayed the detective in numerous silent movies during the 1920s.

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Silent movie legend Buster Keaton showed in "Sherlock Jr." that the detective's charisma works very well even without words.

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Clive Brook and Raymond Massey both tried their luck as the great detective in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

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Arthur Wontner had the physical appearance of Holmes. His tall, lean physique made him the perfect choice to play the detective in a series of British black and white movies in the 1930s.

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The German actor Hans Albers is "The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes" in a popular comedy movie from 1937.

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Basil Rathbone is perhaps The most recognisable actor who has ever portrayed Sherlock Holmes on screen. The series of black and white films from 1939 until 1946 that starred him as the detective and Nigel Bruce as Watson is still regularly shown on TV.

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Ronald Howard portrayed the detective in a series for American television in the early 1950s.

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Horror movie veteran Peter Cushing played the detective three times.

He confronted "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in the colourful Hammer Film in 1959.

In the late 1960s he donned the deerstalker in a BBC series.

His last bow was in "The Masks of Death".

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Cushing's predecessor in the BBC series was Douglas Wilmer.

He played a quite haughty detective.

Later he showed his talent as a comedian when he starred in "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother".

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Both Christopher Plummer and John Neville had to match their wits against the Victorian era's most famous killer, Jack the Ripper.

Many years later, Christopher Plummer also investigated the case of "Silver Blaze".

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The multi-talented Christopher Lee unfortunately lost his voice in the "Case of the Deadly Necklace" in 1962.

He also played the sleuth in his golden years in the 1990s.

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Veteran director Billy Wilder chose Robert Stephens to play the title role in his take on "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes".

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George C. Scott gave an adorable performance in "They Might Be Giants" as a man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes.

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Stewart Granger came face to face with the most famous dog in literature, "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

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In addition to playing Simon Templar and James Bond, Roger Moore also donned the deerstalker for an adventure in New York.

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Nicol Williamson is forced to consult the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in order to solve the problem of "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution".

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The Russian actor Wasily Livanov delivered an unrivalled performance as the detective in a series of films in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Tom Baker, better known as the Time Traveller from Gallifrey (or simply "The Doctor"), came face to face with "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

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Guy Henry offered us a first glimpse of Holmes's younger years in "Young Sherlock: The Mystery of the Manor House"

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Screen legend Peter O'Toole lent his vocal talent to four cartoon movies dealing with the detective's most famous cases.

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Ian Richardson only solved two cases as Sherlock Holmes.

But he also played Dr. Joseph Bell. Arthur Conan Doyle's teacher is considered as the role model for Sherlock Holmes.

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Jeremy Brett is (apart from Basil Rathbone) the actor who shaped the character of Sherlock Holmes like no one else before him or since.

But he was also a man who was shaped by the character.

His portrayal in the Granada Series is the most faithful to the original stories.

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Nicholas Rowe starred as a young version of Holmes in an adventure produced by none other than Steven Spielberg.

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Barrie Ingham lent his voice to the detective’s rodent equivalent, Basil of Baker Street in "The Great Mouse Detective".

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The versatile Michael Caine had to follow his Watson's instructions in order to play the part of Holmes.

As the movie assured us, Ben Kingsley's Watson is the real genius and Caine merely without a clue.

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Matt Frewer starred in a series of more or less accurate movies produced for Canadian television broadcaster, CTV.

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James D'Arcy played a young version of Sherlock Holmes in a movie trying to explore the detective's early years.

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Richard Roxburgh added his talent to the latest TV movie version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

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Rupert Everett debuted as the detective in a quite complex case concerning the murders of daughters from well-to-do Victorian families.

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Jonathan Pryce left most of the investigative work to his young companions in "Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars".

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Robert Downey Jr. is one of the few American actors who have followed in the footsteps of the world's best known detective.

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The newcomer Ben Syder starred as the detective in The Asylum's alternative and independent version of "Sherlock Holmes" in 2010.

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Michael York voiced the detective in a cartoon alongside everyone's favourite cat and mouse duo, Tom and Jerry.

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Benedict Cumberbatch is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes roaming the streets of London. The self-proclaimed "high-functioning sociopath" is a joy to watch.

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Jonny Lee Miller is the latest addition to the actors playing Sherlock Holmes. He investigates cases for the New York Police Department in the CBS TV show "Elementary".

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