What Makes a Great Sherlock Holmes Portrayal?



For decades, fictional super sleuth Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed across various forms of media. Whether it’s a radio adaptation, film, television show, or theatrical plays, the creative can always find cool and exciting ways to churn out new versions of this intelligent and charming character. In fact, the Guinness World Book of Records recognized Sherlock Holmes as the “most portrayed literary character in film & TV.” (Reference)

With so many portrayals, you and your friends have probably spent hours debating about the best actor who perfectly played the part. To help you out, here’s a comprehensive guide that’ll help you determine the best portrayal of the popular fictional detective.

The Different Faces of Mr. Holmes

Let’s be honest here. When you hear the name Sherlock Holmes, whose face comes to mind first? Is it Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch? Well, we wouldn’t take it against you. After all, these two are the most recent faces that donned the cloak of the world’s greatest detective. But just so you’d be knowledgeable of the other actors that put on Sherlock’s shoes, here are a few of them.


  • Basil Rathbone, 14 Hollywood films from 1939 -1946 as Sherlock Holmes
  • Robert Stephens, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970
  • Roger Moore, Sherlock Holmes in New York, TV movie, 1976
  • Christopher Plummer, Silver Blaze, 1977 and Murder by Decree, 1979
  • Ian Richardson, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four, 1983
  • Jeremy Brett, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, TV series, 1984 – 1994
  • Charlton Heston, The Crucifer of Blood (based on The Sign of the Four), TV movie, 1991
  • Rupert Everett, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, BBC film, 2004
  • Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes, 2009 and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 2011
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock, TV series, 2010 – ongoing.


There are a few more actors who hit the screens in portrayal of the great detective but those listed above are the ones that, dare we say it, made more impact than the others. Be it good or bad, those actors gave life to Sherlock Holmes from the pages of the book where he was first introduced to the world.

If you search these names on the internet, trying to find how they justified the role and who portrayed it best, you’d find varying opinions about the matter. Thinking about it, what were the criteria through which these actors have been rated and ranked? What were the bases when they were tagged good or bad?

The answer would be: The Book! Sherlock was originally given life through the pages of the books Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a Scottish author and physician, wrote back in 1887. 128 years after the release of the first book about the world’s most genius detective, Sherlock Holmes continues to pique the interest of bookworms and movie buffs alike.

This undying fascination gave birth to a lot of debate as to who played the role best – who gave life to the book best. This leads us to tackling about what was written in the book and try to compare for ourselves who among those men is the best personification of the great Sherlock Holmes.

Fictional Detective

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective that possesses the ability to solve the trickiest criminal cases that he stumbles upon. He knows where to look for clues, analyze each one, and piece them together. Through these clues, he will re-create the scene inside his head, draw conclusions, find proof of these conclusions, and give his deduction – case closed.

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Knowledge and Skills

Sherlock Holmes was presented to have an educational background in chemistry. This is what he uses to perform scientific methods and give out scientific explanations while he focuses on logic, observation, and deduction. He is also knowledgeable in Literature, Philosophy, Astronomy, Politics, Botany, Geology, Anatomy, Sensational Literature, British Law, and plays the violin well.

Combat Fighter

The detective is described to have an above-average physical strength. He can use pistols, cane and sword, and even riding crop which was described in the book as his favorite weapon. Sherlock can box. Actually, he is an adept bare-knuckle fighter. Holmes occasionally engages in hand-to-hand combat with his adversaries and is always victorious. And yes, Holmes also does martial arts.

Forensic Science

He picks out small clues from shoe sole and tire impressions, missing shirt buttons, or crumpled sleeves. He observes the style and attitude of his clients and suspects – noting how they dress, carry themselves, their state of mind, and even the clay on their boots to deduce their origin and recent history.

In 2002, the Royal Society of Chemistry bestowed an honorary fellowship on Holmes (Reference) for his skills in using forensic science as well as analytical chemistry in popular literature. This makes him, as of 2010, the only fictional character thus honored.

Responds to Flattery

Sherlock was created to be the ultimate detective that the police turn to when they face a dead-end. He works alone and in secret but likes the fact that his skills are recognized. He responds to flattery and has a knack for showing off. Holmes likes to set elaborate traps to trap and unmask the criminal. He also often does this to feed his pride, wow his friend, Watson, and the Scotland Yard inspectors.

Dispassionate and Cold

Sherlock is usually dispassionate and cold and always wears a straight face. During investigations, however, he becomes animated and excited. The more bizarre the cases are, the more excited he gets and the more he wants to solve it.


He’s arrogant and believes that he’s better than the others. Holmes takes great pleasure in baffling police officers with his deductions. Yet despite all these, he doesn’t actively seek fame and usually let the police take public credit for his work.


Sherlock was written to be a man who likes to keep to himself. Holmes believes that his field of interest is very distinct that there are no other men around him who share the same interest and that there aren’t any points of contact with them at all. Well that was until Dr. Watson arrived- the man who was able to open Holmes’ bubble of isolation and make room for himself inside it.


Uses Drugs

Holmes was described to be an occasional user of addictive drugs, especially in the absence of stimulating cases. He uses cocaine, which he injects in a seven-percent solution with a syringe kept in a Morocco leather case. He also uses morphine on top of his fascination with cigars and tobacco.

Money Doesn’t Matter

Sherlock Holmes was described to be financially stable. In one of the books, Watson noted that the detective would refuse to take the case of the well-off if their cases did not pique his interest. He would rather devote weeks at a time to take the cases of his humblest clients.


So, did your favorite actor manage to add these characteristics while portraying Sherlock Holmes?  Hit that comments box and let the discussion begin!


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