The eye of Sherlock is how we’re first introduced to the greatest detective in the world in the 2010 BBC series Sherlock. Upside down, glazed over, bored yet meticulous in its tinge of marble blue. If not for Benedict Cumberbatch, our superhero sleuth would never have intrigued the minds of so many around the world and revive the interest in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s protagonist.
The brilliance here lies in the casting of the character. Many have played Sherlock Holmes in the past, most notably Robert Downey Jr., Basil Rathbone, Rupert Everett and lesser-known actors like Jeremy Brett, Douglas Wilmer and Robert Stephens. Sure, we could opine who our favourite Sherlock is, much like the favourite James Bond debate, but herein lies the ingenuity of both casting director and actor in fitting the role.
A “high functioning sociopath” with no friends and an innate inability to express his affection for others, our modern day Sherlock is cast as a character who is both clever yet irritable, an infuriating genius with low EQ and poor social skills who has no patience and niceties for those he regards to be intellectually beneath him. (“Dear God, what’s it like in your funny little brains? It must be boring”).
As the 90-minute series enfolds episode by episode over three seasons, we start to have a deeper look into Sherlock’s private life; his relationship with his brother Mycroft, his romantic trysts with female characters who may be of use to his work, spending Christmas in his rural hometown, and even the appearance of his parents in his London flat.
His character is so well-developed that our love-hate relationship begins to form quite early on – most often felt vicariously through Dr Watson – a strong admiration mixed with an equally strong dose of infuriation. His chauvinistic remarks to his assistant Molly, his utter disregard for “colleagues” in the police force; we can all relate with or know someone equally contemptuous.
I have never been such a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch until Sherlock. What makes a good actor is one who is able to so seamlessly fit into a given role, as evident in his filmography as diverse as Amazing Grace (2006), Starter for 10 (2006), Atonement (2007) and even August: Osage County (2013). What we seem to have here is not a matter of best, but a matter of becoming. The great detective Sherlock Holmes will forever be etched in our minds as one Benedict Cumberbatch.