Should things that are “off the page” stay that way?

In the Sherlock Holmes stories there are things that are alluded to and events that are described after they have taken place. Should people who are adapting the stories for the screen leave them that way or is it good for them to use such things as a pass to indulge themselves?

There are several examples of this:

Fancy a spot of fisticuffs?

Watson refers to Holmes’s combat prowess. His experience with the single-stick, the sword and as a boxer yet we have no “on page” details of such combat. Holmes refers to his boxing past and more recent fist-fights (in The Sign of Four, for example, and The Solitary Cyclist) but, again, we never get to see any “on page” examples.

This has been routinely used by screenwriters as an excuse to have Holmes involved in all sorts of combat scenes and we have most recently seen this indulged to excess in the Robert Downey Jr movies.


It is made clear that Watson has his chequebook secured in Holmes’s desk (The Dancing Men). This lack of direct access to his own chequebook has been routinely used to suggest that Watson has a gambling problem. This was hinted at in the Granada series and quite bluntly in the second RDJ movie. Amusingly though it is Holmes that has a bet on a horse race in Silver Blaze (a fact that Granada kept in their adaptation).

Time for a flutter?

Holmes’s neatness and untidiness

The books strongly state that while Holmes has good personal hygiene (or cat-like standards of cleanliness) he is less tidy when it comes to documents - having piles of unsorted document scattered around the flat.

I'm not the scruff you think I am!

This has occasionally been twisted so, as we saw with the RDJ movies, Holmes was portrayed as lacking in personal hygiene. 

I can assure you that I know where everything is.

The Granada series kept Holmes himself neat (except when disguises required otherwise) but seized on the messy papers aspect to have Jeremy Brett’s Holmes routinely throwing papers all over the place which (although comical) was clearly not quite right. It is one thing to have messy piles of unsorted documents but once they were sorted you know they would have been kept that way.

So, I say again, is it good that screenwriters use these "blank cheques" to add variety or does it permit too many wild deviations from the true characters of the books?

Written by Alistair Duncan
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  1. Well, I guess that falls into how it is done, and who is watching.
    If the show is being done canonically, as with Granada, I like to see it stay true to the books and have problems with them if they stray to far.

    If the whole premise is a new story involving 'Holmes' I think liberties are OK, within limits. Who gets to decide the limits? Well I guess the people making the move, and if the audience ends up being OK with it, a sequel may be made. Some people won't read or watch anything that is not Canonical, and that is fine. Some of use like to see Holmes and Watson anyway we can, as long as we think it is good.
    For me RDJ's portrayal was at the extreme of what I like.
    Although fun movies, I don't really see them as Sherlock Holmes movies.
    The problem, and it is really not a problem, is when those who will take Holmes anyway they can clash with 'purest' and neither wants to bend and neither realize they can both be right for their level of interest.

  2. I have to agree with John, it's a case of how it's done. While I have not seen every episode of Granada yet, when a program that is trying to be faithful to the Canon, and in fact use large chunks of it verbatim, sometimes the changes made to, say, lengthen running time, can be annoying, and for me lessen my enjoyment. The deviations taken in the second half of "The Greek Interpreter" make me rate that episode very low. Making Mycroft a man of action and Sophie Kratides a part of the plot against her brother, especially, are wrong. On the other hand, showing the Moriarty plot that Holmes foiled in "The Final Problem" was excellent. The Italian sections of "The Six Napoleons" was pure filler and could have been edited out without harm.

    I don't mind that the Downey movies make Holmes a man of action. It's not the first time in move history, and the fact that they use Canonical skills is a plus. It's nice to be reminded that Holmes was the finest boxer in his class that Watson had seen or that he knew martial arts. (Or on "Elementary", Holmes' use of singlestick.) It would perhaps work better if Jude Law was Holmes and RDJ was Watson and that there wasn't so much of it. But this is what you have to expect when you have a big studio blockbuster. I like the positives that such a tent-pole picture can bring to the screen, like in the way and detail that it can make Victorian London real. I'll then put up with the negatives until they cross my personal line.

    1. Judd Law as Holmes I think could have been good.