The deductions of Sherlock Holmes on Screen

Sherlock Holmes on Screen: The Complete Film and Television History is a well researched guide to every television and film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes up until last year. 

In 2011, the guide was updated to include information about the BBC’s Sherlock serial and the new Hollywood franchise.

This new version also contains a new forward from the Sherlock show runner, Steven Moffatt, in which he describes his fascination with Sherlock Holmes, and reveals the creative moment – a discussion on a train, in which a previous edition of this book was mentioned – when he and co-creator Mark Gatiss began discussing how the great detective could be readapted for a new generation.

Each entry in the book contains detailed information about the production, letting readers know just which original Sherlock Holmes tales were referenced or adapted for that show or film, backgrounds on the actors, and notes about the development of the project. Television shows are even broken down into individual episodes.

Author Alan Barnes tries very hard to be unbiased, indeed, part of his mission here is to make a complete guide with no works left out only because they weren’t well liked.

He mostly succeeds at this. Every entry is here, yes, and all of them are just as well documented and storied, but it’s clear that Barnes himself does prefer some adaptation to others.

For the most part, he makes his points with quotes from critics, directors or others involved in the project, but occasionally his own passion for the subject does come through, as when he laments the plot-holes in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film out of Hollywood – which he otherwise seems to mostly like.

“The film has more than it’s fair share of … absurdities,” the article reads in the analysis section, “like the ship that sinks entirely in the shallow part of the Thames – now there’s a metaphor to conjure with! Why doesn’t Holmes reveal the means by which Blackwood resurrected himself at the earliest opportunity – ie, his meeting with the Lord Chief Justice, which in turn would have removed Blackwood’s ability to cow the members of the Temple of the Four Orders into submission? How can Irene possibly escape out of the parliamentary sewers onto the part-completed Tower Bridge, a good couple of miles downriver?” it goes on from there.

The pages are strewn with great still frames from the various productions, giving a sense of the many different actors who have played this great character, and the number of different costumes. It is simply astonishing how many different ways the same costume has been remade over and over – always with the same iconic elements, but with certain details unique to each time period.

I would have very much liked if the book was in color, or, since that would be a great expense, if there had at least been a color photo section somewhere within, so the reader could have a chance to see some of the production stills in full detail. If nothing else, a section of glossy black and whites would have been nice, but what we have are some relatively lo-fi pictures. Yes, they get the job done, but the visual presentation of the text could have been done up quite a bit more.

This doesn’t decrease the value of the information itself however, which is well-researched and exhaustive in its telling. Barnes has clearly done his homework here.

This book is organized, not like a textbook or history book, where you would expect it to be in chronological order; instead, it’s more like a reference book, in alphabetical order. Each version of Sherlock has to be looked up by title (which is sometimes difficult considering the number of similar titles).

This isn’t a book that one could sit down and read through, hoping to gain a sense of the overall story of Sherlock on the small and silver screen, it is, instead, a reference guide to all such Sherlocks.

This is a book that will sit with my coffee table books in the living room for years to come, and will be an invaluable resource in those inevitable discussions where Sherlock Holmes comes up, and there is a disagreement or a fact unknown, and I will easily be able to, by the title, search for exactly the Sherlock we need, and herein we’ll find everything pertinent about that particular source, that particular version of our favorite detective, not just the facts of the case, but the story behind the creation of each Sherlock Holmes.

The latest edition of Sherlock Holmes on Screen is available now from Titan books.