Sherlock Holmes On Screen: The Complete Film And TV History (Updated Version) by Alan Barnes (book review).

June 14, 2015 | By | Reply More

This comprehensive guide known as ‘Sherlock Holmes On Screen’ is nevertheless an A-Z of all the representations of the beloved sleuth in and out of the cinema. It was released some years ago but, due to the rise in interest in Sherlock Holmes in recent years, the book has been revised and reissued.


There is a lot of content to look at and this forms more of a reference guide than bedtime reading. This guide will give you the opportunity to seek out films that have sunk into perhaps noteworthy obscurity and ponder on what might have been if various Sherlocks had become as popular on screen as young Cumberbatch is.

Every film and TV series, including many I’d never heard of or vaguely remembered, get its own rigorous analysis. There is a comprehensive plot précis and commentary on how this works. This is tied into the author’s knowledge of the original Conan Doyle stories. The media is placed in context of this and the other outside influences such as morality codes of Hollywood and financial or other pressure on the production.

The one disappointment and, to be honest this is a small niggle, is that the photographs are all presented in black and white. However, as many other named productions are actually in black and the few colour plates from more recent films that could have been used would have no doubt caused an unnecessary expense within the book and also confusion perhaps amongst readers. At least, as it is all black and white it, looks homogenous and also atmospheric.

If you thought you knew about Holmes films you will probably make homage to Alan Barnes for packing in so much information into this book. I felt that every page gave me some new facts and in an interesting and lively way. Clearly, Alan Barnes has a love of the character and the willingness to sit in a darkened room for some time to relive and reassess the filmic offerings. As such, he does us a great favour as thanks to the modern medium of on-line and on-stream services we can seek out his recommendations and decide if we agree with him.

He manages to make every film or TV episode an event even whilst carefully showing us why it fails or is only average. It has certainly made me want to seek out some of the more overlooked films just to see how the themes are presented.

Of particular interest so far and I have not finished the book by any means is the Ronald Howard TV series which was made in the 1950s. I picked this up in a charity shop recently and have started to watch the episodes. Made for American TV, it was filmed in Europe and Holmes in this is the sincere young man possibly closer to our new version. More recently, Holmes has been epitomised on the small screen by Benedict Cumberbatch as the most sincere and outwardly confident. He also has the arrogance that is not evident in Ronald Howard’s portrayal.

Barnes gives a good analysis of the Rathbone era and as this is said to be the favourite of the new Sherlock creators this also makes us look at these wartime movies in a new light.

Thankfully, Barnes opinion on the Iron Man version of Sherlock Holmes from 2009 is running alongside mine. although he’s kinder as I can’t stand it.

The book is an excellent guide to Sherlock Holmes on screen so now I just need to find one about him in print. Although I fear that would take up many shelves.

Sue Davies

June 2015

(pub: Titan Books, 2012. 320 page illustrated softcover. Price: £16.99 (UK), $19.95 (US $22.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-85768-776-0)

check out website: www.titanbooks.com


Category: Books, Culture

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