Book review: Sherlock Holmes – The Man With A Thousand Faces

A two-volume set on the media depictions of Conan Doyle’s great detective and his trusty sidekick, the good doctor, The Man With A Thousand Faces covers all the ground you might want from the original novels and short stories through to internet fan fiction and the Baker Street Babes.

David McGregor’s prose is very readable and draws on a number of published sources and fan sites to make its point. We learn how the myth of Sherlock Holmes has been crafted by portrayals on stage, screen and radio, and what makes a “definitive” version of the character stand out.

While the first volume mainly focuses on the stage and silent screen (notably William Gillette, whose 1916 film was rediscovered and offered to a new audience after a century presumed lost); the second considers the Holmesian efforts of Messrs Rathbone, Brett and Cumberbatch,9 amongst others.

If you are an aficionado of TV and film Holmes, your favourites and bete noires are bound to be documented here. We have seen similar ground covered in Sherlock Holmes on Screen (Alan Barnes, updated ed., 2011) and Holmes of the Movies (David Stuart Davies, 1977), and this update is welcome.

Placing the “thousand faces” in context of both the original stories and contemporary life and times, McGregor notes how Holmes and Watson change with the need of their audience.

Always heroic and reliable, they are also ripe for comic relief, fan fiction, or mashups (two separate films brought Jack the Ripper into their world, while Asylum Pictures, amusingly, had dinosaurs).

With a keen eye on where adaptations may go wrong – the last couple of series of Sherlock as a case in point – these books also celebrate the brave and unusual takes which focus on drugs, psychology, gender swaps or the Iron Curtain.

A perfect companion to any film collection of the man with the deerstalker, Sherlock Holmes – The Man With A Thousand Faces is published by MX Publishing – purchase vol1 here and vol2 here.


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