What is the one name that comes to your mind when you think of the most celebrated fictional detective in the world? That is right, Sherlock Holmes is the name. May 22 is observed as Sherlock Holmes Day - which also marks the birthday of the man behind the genius creation, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This day celebrates the existence of the world's favourite detective that has not only marked its place in the hearts of millions over the years, but also inspired other detective characters in many parts of the world. What has kept the tales of Sherlock alive even after 133 years of its inception are the numerous stories, and TV and film adaptations across countries, languages and cultures.
The character has been played time and time again by an array of actors since its inception in 1887. William Gillete, a Connecticut-born stage actor and playwright portrayed Sherlock for the first time in 1899 in a four-act production titled Sherlock Holmes. He is credited with both introducing the curved calabash pipe to the character, as well as for the famous quote "Elementary, my dear Watson." Gillette's alterations and mannerisms defined the beloved detective's characteristic traits for future adaptations.
While most of us are confined within the perimeters of our homes amid the nationwide Covid-19 shutdown, celebrating Sherlock Day reading up on his adventures or binge watching favourite renditions of the treasured literary gem can be a perfect virtual getaway for Sherlockians. But before you dive into an ocean of Sherlock finesse, take a walk down 221B Baker Street with the five best actors who portrayed the legendary detective over the years.
1. Benedict Cumberbatch
Star of the latest TV adaptation of Sherlock Holmes between 2010 to 2016, Cumberbatch is a name synonymous with Sherlock for the Sherlockians of the 21st century. He was reprised for the role each year in the BBC miniseries titled Sherlock for the yearly episode release for six years.
The series was a major hit with its sublime, yet divisive, 21st century retelling of Sherlock's adventures. Awash with GPS, texting and on-screen graphics as an integral part of the storytelling, the timely narration has even purists convinced that the Doyle classic can be as relevant in 2010 as he was in the 1890s.
2. Jeremy Brett
Wildly popular for many roles during his 40 years of tenure in the world of films, Brett is mostly recognised for portraying Sherlock in the TV adaptation Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. He appeared in 41 episodes of the Granada Television series between 1984 to 1994.
Brett's portrayal of Sherlock is compared to that of Basil Rathbone and William Gillete's performances. His extensive research on the great detective and the master writer gave rise to his obsession with the character. He would read up on the scripts on set during lunch breaks - looking at every nuance. His weekend and holidays were spent reading and rereading the scripts.
At one point, Brett started having dreams of Sherlock which eventually manifested into nightmares. Brett began to refer to Sherlock as "You Know Who" or simply "HIM". He was bipolar, which heightened his mannered depiction of Sherlock, making Brett's sudden flashes of energy followed by lethargy, manic thoughts, wit and melancholic malaise truly convincing.
3. Peter Cushing
Best known today for his portrayal of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV, Cushing played Sherlock in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959 - the first, and one of the best, Sherlock Holmes adaptations to be filmed in color.
The film's success is due to Cushing, a real life Holmes aficionado, and his kindred Sherlock posture.
Cushing's commendable ability to incorporate the many different props and actions into his performance simultaneously, whether reading, smoking a pipe, drinking whiskey, filing through papers or other things while portraying Sherlock added to the film's success.
4. Robert Downey Jr.
Regarded as one of the most popular Sherlocks in recent film adaptations, Downey's magnetic personality has made his rather crass, cynical, yet likeable, portrayal of the master detective earn him his second Golden Globe in 2010 for his performance in the film adaptation titled Sherlock Holmes.
The accumulated success of the film and its sequel have paved the way for its third installment, set to be released on December 22, 2021, after a full decade's wait. It has been speculated that the film's narrative will be focused on the codependency of Sherlock and his sidekick, Dr John Watson.
5. Basil Rathbone
Rathbone, a South African by birth but an Englishman by parentage, played Sherlock between 1939 and 1946. He starred in 14 films for 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios. The best one of the bunch - Terror by Night (1946) - places Holmes in a situation worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.
Succeeding the films, Rathbone played Sherlock in a radio series - The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1939.