Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Top 10 Sherlock Holmes Actors (Of All Time) Part II

Okay, let's dive right in as we look at the Top 5 actors (of all time) to have played Sherlock Holmes!

#5 - Robert Stephens - As I have written elsewhere, I consider Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to be the greatest Sherlock Holmes major motion picture. Featured in the role of Holmes was Robert Stephens who turns in a brilliant performance which at once mixes subtle humour and drama. Seldom has the detective been portrayed employing a wry sense of humour which is not only very funny in its own right, but helps lighten some of the film's darker moments.

Stephens' Holmes is perhaps the most complex version ever captured on film, performing the role with true melancholia. Despite the fact that he is at odds with Doyle's original, Stephens is a compelling actor who draws into the great detective's world. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes also features excellent performances from Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson, Genevieve Page as Holmes' client Madame Valladon and Christopher Lee as a manipulative Mycroft. Each one of them backs-up Stephens' Holmes wonderfully and help create a sense of unity and familiarity about their characters. In all, Robert Stephens' Holmes has seldom been matched on the big screen since his role in 1970.

#4 - Benedict Cumberbatch - It seems pretty obvious that Benedict Cumberbatch helped to bring Sherlock Holmes back into the limelight. While I have been quite verbose before about some of the repercussions of BBC's Sherlock, I cannot deny that it is a brilliant show and Cumberbatch's performance appeals to all sorts of audiences. Between the writing and acting, it seems that Cumberbatch's portrayal is what a modern Sherlock Holmes may have been like.

What is especially interesting about Cumberbatch's performance, seldom seen in other incarnations of the great detective, is the audience gets to see change in the detective's character. Between his debut in A Study in Pink and the most recent episode, His Last Vow, Sherlock has come a long way, becoming more humane. Yet, Cumberbatch never forgets to show the distant, calculating side to the detective. Few actors have been able to rival Cumberbatch in his delivery of the detective's amazing deductions - these scenes nearly always leaving me in a state of surprise (that rapid fire delivery is quite extraordinary and almost impossible to replicate - believe me I've tried). While I may not be totally happy with the impact which Sherlock has made on the Sherlockian world, it's nice to know that the Sherlockian world does have a future.

#3 - Basil Rathbone - Rathbone is the epitome of classic Sherlockian fare. Between 1939 and 1946, Rathbone starred in fourteen films as the great detective. Rathbone was truly the first face to be associated with the great detective, bringing the part to life with total conviction and determination.

What is best about Rathbone, and perhaps the most endearing thing about him, is that even seventy-five years since Rathbone initially donned the deerstalker, he is still fondly remembered, and oftentimes placed at the top of many lists for favourite Sherlockian actors. His performances elevated all of his films (even such one-dimensional films as 1945's Pursuit to Algiers or Terror by Night). Coupled with Nigel Bruce, who is unduly hated amongst the Sherlockian community, the two had excellent screen chemistry, and the two men's off-screen friendship translated to the screen on all fourteen of their films. Rathbone dominated the Sherlock Holmes world of the 1940s, and would dominate the role for many years to come. In their excellent book Universal Horrors, writers Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas put it best: "Their endearing charms have not been lost on generations of film fans. Until the popular...television series with Jeremy Brett in the '90s, Basil Rathbone was vitually unrivaled as the quintessential screen incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective."

#2 - Jeremy Brett - Jeremy Brett perhaps contributed more to the Sherlockian sub-genre more than any other actor. Beginning in 1984, Brett threw himself into the role of the detective, bringing to life one of the finest versions versions of the detective ever seen on the big screen or on film.

I say without fear of contradiction that Brett's tenure as Holmes is the finest series of Sherlock Holmes television ever made - 1984's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes being the true highlight. Brett's total commitment to the role of the detective coupled with Granada's desire to faithfully adapt Doyle's stories to the screen yielded some of the most striking and enjoyable episodes of Sherlock Holmes television. As the series progressed and Brett's health began to fade, the series' quality did dwindle. However, Brett still turned in striking performances to the best of his ability, and Brett made such episodes as The Last Vampyre and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988) far more enjoyable than they would have been if an actor of lesser talent had been cast in the role of Sherlock Holmes. To a legion of Sherlock Holmes fans, Jeremy Brett is the finest actor ever to have taken on the role of the detective. However, I believe that there is one actor who slightly surpasses Brett in the role. (Drum-roll please...)

#1 - Peter Cushing - In retrospect, Sherlock Holmes was a fairly minor part of Peter Cushing's great filmography which ranged from multiple turns as Professor Van Helsing to the villain in Star Wars. Cushing was a classically trained actor, mentored by the great Laurence Olivier, and it's obvious on screen. In all of his parts, Cushing was unrivaled in his determination on screen.

What is especially interesting about Cushing which sets him apart from the other actors on this list is that he played Holmes in both film and on television. In both mediums, Cushing succeeded brilliantly; his Holmes in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles being one of his finest performances and his portrayal in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (1968) true to Doyle's stories. The lengths which Cushing went to to accurately bring Holmes to life are impressive and Cushing's desire to faithfully bring the detective to the screen truly sets him apart from many of the other actors on his list. And like many of the other performers who played Holmes on TV, we got to see many facets to Holmes' character, making him well-rounded and complex. Peter Cushing is not only a brilliant actor, but perhaps the finest to ever play the world's greatest detective.

And so, we come to the end of another Top 10 list. I will be the first to say that this one is more routed in opinion than the others as it really comes down to what appeals to each individual. All-the-same, what do you think of this list?

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