Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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

Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed on screen by more actors than any other fictional character. Therefore, the task of choosing the ten best actors who brought the detective hero to the screen best wasn't an easy one. This list, perhaps more than any other is open to opinion. All-the-same, let us begin...

#10 - Vasily Livanov - Livanov is one of the most beloved actors to ever have played the great detective, something made all the more surprising by the fact that all of Livanov's adaptations were produced in Russian! Vasily Livanov's Sherlock Holmes was a lighter, more humane creation. The series' highlight is the depiction of Holmes and Watson's friendship, and Livanov's Watson, played by Vitaly Solomin, was an excellent foil for both moments of drama and comedy.

The Russian series began with the rarely-filmed first meeting between Holmes and Watson and featured adaptations of such stories as Charles Augustus Milverton, The Final Problem and A Scandal in Bohemia. The series' highlight however is The Hound of the Baskervilles produced on a seemingly epic scale. The Russian adaptation of Hound is one of the most faithful to Doyle's novel and also remains one of the most atmospheric, the Russian countryside providing a thoroughly desolate, lonely moorland setting. Vasily Livanov has been rightfully praised for his excellent portrayal of the great detective and in 2006 was made an Honourary MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for "service to the theater and performing arts."

#9 - Clive Merrison - Of all the actors to lend their voices to the great detective, Clive Merrison stands out as perhaps the best. Interestingly, Merrison is the only actor to play Sherlock Holmes in all of Doyle's original stories.

Merrison's Holmes is cold and calculating, one of the more prickly characterisations in the detective's long history. However, Merrison succeeds in having great chemistry with his Watson, the late Michael Williams. Both men portrayal their characters as written, Williams being notable especially as providing one of the finest Dr. Watsons. Following the conclusion of Merrison's initial run on BBC radio, he returned to play Holmes in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, all original episodes based on references to untold tales. Merrison succeeded just as brilliantly this time opposite Andrew Sachs as Watson. Though Merrison never graced the screen as the detective, he is certainly one of the best actors to play the part, and one of the most memorable.

#8 - Ian Richardson - Today, Ian Richardson is sadly forgotten in the history of Sherlockian television. All-the-same, Richardson's short-lived stint as the detective yielded two immensely entertaining TV movies - The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Both of Richardson's films deviated greatly from their source material, but Richardson retained an air of absolute conviction performing the role, even in some of the more absurd moments (such as his tussle with killer pygmy Tonga in The Sign of Four). Richardson also stands out amongst his co-stars, both TV films featuring a number of familiar character actors: Denholm Elliot, Connie Booth, Ronald Lacey, Martin Shaw, Terence Rigby and many others. Not only did Richardson succeed brilliantly in his role of the detective, but he also turned in a series of fine performances as Dr. Joseph Bell in Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes. While the series is on a whole sub-standard, Richardson's performance makes the show enjoyable.

#7 - Christopher Plummer - Plummer's first encounter with Holmes occurred in 1977 when he appeared in a television adaptation of Silver Blaze. This would serve as something of a prelude for his performance as Holmes in 1979's Murder by Decree. The film, the second of two to pit Holmes against Jack the Ripper, featured Plummer as an uncharacteristically humane Holmes. Nevertheless, Plummer is a triumph.

Plummer's Holmes is surely the most sympathetic ever committed to film, becoming emotionally invested in the Ripper investigation. While Plummer's Holmes is certainly at odds with Doyle's original, he works wonderfully in this very dark, bleak film and I don't think a colder Holmes would have worked under the circumstances. What's more the script for Murder by Decree allows Holmes and Watson to have a close friendship. Watson is excellently played by James Mason, just one of the many fine actors cast in the film. Murder by Decree is one of the most accomplished Sherlock Holmes films ever made and Christopher Plummer is one of the accomplished Sherlockian actors.

#6 - Nicol Williamson - Nicol Williamson's performance in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution has been praised by me on this blog elsewhere, but I'll laud him one more. Williamson's Holmes is at odds with Doyle's original, but he turns in a fine performance as a cocaine-addicted Holmes. Williamson's early scenes in Baker Street where we see the extent of the detective's addiction is pretty chilling stuff.

Later, as the detective recovers, we get to see the calculating, adventurous side to Holmes' character, and Williamson is incredibly fun to watch as he runs about turn-of-the-century Vienna alongside Alan Arkin's Sigmund Freud and Robert Duvall's Dr. Watson. Williamson's Holmes is a complex, broken character, and Williamson succeeds brilliantly in pulling off the many facets of the great detective, making his performance one of the best, in what is certainly one of the best Sherlock Holmes films ever made.

Well, that concludes Part I of this countdown. Thinking about it now, the first five on this list was the easy part. As we look at the Top 5 next week, the challenge of ranking the actors became significantly more difficult. Nevertheless, what do you make of the list so far? Feel free to comment below.

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