Sherlock Holmes is one of the most iconic characters to ever appear in fiction. For this reason, movie directors have attempted to bring the famous detective to the big screen since, well, the big screen was invented. Lately, there have been two reincarnations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories that have captured audience’s attentions. First was the Hollywood creation with Robert Downey Jr. as the quirky detective, soon followed by BBC’s Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the emotionless private eye. I thoroughly enjoyed RDJ as Sherlock, with all the mental play and plain strangeness, but Janelle recently got me hooked on the BBC version and now I can’t wait until the third season (or 4th…I can’t remember. Each season is about 3 episodes). Anyways, since they both ended at approximately the same point and this is really the only portrayals of Sherlock I know as I've never read the original books, I thought it might be fun to pit them against each other and see which is better.
SETTING and PLOT
Hollywood: Sherlock Holmes is set in the classic old English setting in which (I’m assuming) it was written. I’ve always liked it when movies incorporate time-appropriate ways of solving problems, and this is everywhere in these movies. Now, I’m no historian and I’d really have no idea if the things used were accurate to the time or books, but hey, it still looked cool. A good movie should force you to suspend your understanding of reality and skepticism for a few hours, and these 2 movies did that for me perfectly.
BBC: This series decided to take a new spin on the classic Sherlock, setting him in modern day London and giving him access to all the technology of our world. Everything is explained with a modern twist, from why Sherlock wears a deerstalker cap (also taught me what a deerstalker was), to the existence of the Hounds of the Baskervilles. Sherlock has access to forensics, cellphones, the internet, and really whatever he could desire, which really allows the audience to follow along with the story and believe that these crimes are solvable. It’s a new way to relate to Sherlock, and it’s done incredibly well.
VERDICT: Sadly, I’m a sucker for a good time piece. Good on ya, Hollywood.
Hoolywood: 1, BBC: 0
Hollywood: I don’t think you could have gotten a better depiction of the socially awkward, incredibly strange, and powerfully intelligent detective than Robert Downey Jr., somewhat recently famous for his depiction of Iron Man. He always looks like part of him is still lost in his own mind, always thinking, giving him a touch of crazy. He’s quirky to the extreme. He’s beyond brilliant. In many ways, he’s similar to another character he does very well. If Tony Stark was a social outcast and poor, you’d have Sherlock. Allowing the audience to see into his mind also helps us relate to him, removing some of the coldness that is often attributed (according to a YouTube video I watched) to Sherlock.
BBC: The modern Sherlock is portrayed by the incredible Benedict Cumberbatch, who I'd never really heard of before this, but is scheduled to play Smaug the Dragon in the new Hobbit movie. Rather than a quirky, lovable Sherlock, in this series you get an emotionless, rude, determined, and yet still lovable Sherlock. He’s hilarious. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock is incredibly blunt and honest with people, believing emotion only gets in the way. He is also beyond determined in anything he sets his mind to, 100% invested in a case. RDJ is also a very determined Sherlock, but always seems distracted, probably by his own thoughts. Cumberbatch is never distracted, only thinking of what is important at any given time, always appearing focussed. I just love everything he says. He’s a social outcast and abrasive, but he doesn’t care. He’ll do what needs to be done to get the job done.
VERDICT: This is probably the toughest one to judge. I love RDJ’s quirkiness, but also Cumberbatch’s perceived superiority. Maybe it’s because it was the first Sherlock I was exposed to, but I prefer Robert Downy Jr., even if Cumberbatch is more accurate.
Hollywood: 2, BBC: 0
Hollywood: Dr. John Watson is portrayed by Jude Law, who's been in tons of dramatic movies, and I have to say this Watson is done very well. He is the common sense behind Sherlock, or at least he tries to be, trying to get him to be reasonable and not awkward, though rarely succeeds. He is a character of amazing patience and loyalty. Not only that, when Sherlock needs him, he reveals his intelligence and dexterity, being a capable fighter and detective, though still made to look a little thick by Sherlock. This Watson appears to be the perfect counterpart to Sherlock, and they create the perfect crime solving team. The only thing I have against him is his character doesn’t feel as deep as Sherlock’s. You don’t really get to know Watson other than as Sherlock’s partner, though a very effective partner.
BBC: Here, Watson becomes a Hobbit. Yes, Martin Freeman may never live that role down as Bilbo, but is that really a bad thing? In the modern age, Watson is Sherlock’s blogger, recording their adventures online for the public to enjoy, as well as providing some advertising. He’s an ex-military commander and doctor, and much more socially adept than his counterpart, often being left to smooth over situations that Sherlock has muddled up. However, this partnership feels less like a partnership and more like hero and sidekick. Watson is constantly left looking like an idiot after working with his friend, and often loses patience with Sherlock’s lack of sympathy. Still, when he is needed, he can perform admirably. I once read that Freeman plays a similar character in all his roles: “I should not have gone on this adventure.” He does it super well, and it’s often hilarious and authentic, but he still seems inferior to the magnificent Sherlock.
VERDICT: This is almost a tie. Law provides a partner to Sherlock, where Freeman is more of a sidekick and seemingly less useful, though he does show is invaluable to Cumberbatch. However, Freeman is far more personable and entertaining, while Law is less dynamic as a character. But I think Bilbo wins.Hollywood: 2, BBC: 1
Hollywood: Portrayed by Jared Harris, who apparently is constantly a supporting actor, Moriarty hides in plain sight as a professor at the university. He appears old yet distinguished in his role as a professor, but is actually brilliantly ruthless. I, however, have a tough time taking him seriously because of his looks. He is significantly older than Sherlock, yet matches him in the fight at the end and they plummet off the cliff (spoiler…but not really). I kinda always assumed Sherlock had Moriarty bested, even though he’s supposed to be his equal in brilliance.
BBC: This guy is messed up. Played by Andrew Scott, known for his incredibly role as a body on the beach of Saving Private Ryan (seriously, IMDB it. It's his number one known-for role), he also hides in plain sight at the beginning of the series. He later reveals himself to be testing Sherlock, and then begins to toy with him. Sherlock responds enthusiastically, even though there are lives on the line, because he loves the challenge. He doesn’t fail, but it shows how devious Moriarty is. Human life doesn’t matter. He just wants to prove that he’s smarter than Sherlock, and almost does (spoiler?). This Moriarty is much younger than Harris’ interpretation, and is far more psychopathic. Imagine if the Joker was English and had no makeup. He has the desire to destroy because he has the power to. Scott is scary.
VERDICT: Andrew Scott, no question. He proves he’s Sherlock’s equal. Half the time you have no idea who’s going to win. That’s the true definition of a mortal enemy.
Hollywood: 2, BBC: 2
Hollywood: Sherlock’s influential politician of a brother is played by Stephen Fry, who, if you don't watch any of his real life political stuff, is quite likable as a stuck-up British type, like Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear. In much the same way RDJ is quirky, so is Fry, giving a bit of insight on how odd the family is, though Mycroft is much more socially adept than his brother because of his constant work with other people of influence. He’s still weird, though, which I thoroughly enjoy. Fry doesn’t play a hugely significant role in the second movie (his only appearance so far), but it was still memorable.
BBC: Mycroft loses his goofiness in favour of importance. Played by Mark Gatiss, who's appeared in a ton of British films and TV series, this Mycroft looks every part the influential person of power he is. Like his brother, he is emotionless and tends to hide from the public spotlight, but is often embarrassed by his younger brother’s actions. He is proper and distinguished, coming off as very English. That’s great for someone who is supposed to be one of the most powerful people in London, possibly the world, but still, he’s not very fun.
VERDICT: Stephen Fry. Both interpretations do a good job of showing family connections, with Fry and RDJ being strange and quirky, while Cumberbatch and Gatiss are emotionless and proper, as well as the tension between the brothers, with both Sherlocks hating to ask for help from Mycroft. I’m just a fan of the quirkier Holmes family.
Hollywood: 3, BBC: 2
After a nail biting finish, the antique and weird Hollywood Sherlock Holmes has beaten the modern and very British BBC series Sherlock. Both of these shows are very well done, and it seems that where one lacks in one area, the other makes up for it. The movies have less character development, while the series provides some very dynamic characters. Law’s utility to Freeman’s personality. Gatiss’s distinction to Fry’s weirdness. Everything works so well together in each adaptation. Both have plans for more screen time, with a new BBC season coming out within a year and another Sherlock movie after that (I read writing has just begun…blame Marvel). Really, you can’t go wrong with either, and I thoroughly enjoy both of them, so go watch the one you haven’t seen.