The Complete Sherlock Holmes?

The summer between seventh and eighth grade I took a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes from the middle school library and read all four original novels and fifty-six short stories. Play ball? Go swimming? Nah. I read “A Study in Scarlet” to “His Last Bow.” Don’t think I got a sunburn the whole summer, losing myself in the mists and fog of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century London. I’ve been a fan ever since.

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s Granada Television featured Jeremy Brett as the legendary consulting detective, and two actors as his faithful companion, Dr. John Watson (played at different times by David Burke and Edward Hardwicke – Hardwicke was my favorite). Brett wanted his Holmes to be the best the world had ever seen and has certainly been that for me. When PBS’s Masterpiece announced a contemporary adaptation I was skeptical. Hopeful and curious, but skeptical.

Last weekend we watched the first episode of “Sherlock” called “A Study in Pink,” with Benedict Cumberbatch (what a great name!) and Martin Freeman (“The Office” (UK) and “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”). I was completely taken by it and have watched it two or three more times online since. It’s clearly a somewhat loose adaptation, but I thought the parallels were very good and that Cumberbatch’s Holmes was terrific. I especially liked the use of text messages in place of the notes and telegrams Holmes would sent Watson in the original stories, their flat at 221B Baker Street, and the use of modern but still distinctive London taxicabs.

I wanted to reread “A Study in Scarlet” to make a more complete comparison of old and new but, much to my chagrin, I didn’t actually have a print copy (the volume I read when I was twelve long since returned to the middle school library). But I’m ready to watch another installment tonight and see if they can keep the spirit of the world’s most famous consulting detective alive and relevant more than a hundred years after the stories first appeared. Whether Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes measures up to Brett’s, only time will tell, but I think there’s room for an engaging, updated, yet still faithful to the spirit of the original version where you won’t have to choose – you can have both!

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