Sherlock VS Elementary: TV in Translation

“‘My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.’
– The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

The multiplicity of Sherlock Holmes and the legendary story has been attributed to the popularity and appeal of the characters and the struggles they face (Frew, 2014). The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story has been interpreted and manifested in a number of ways, keeping with the expectations of fans, and as Penny notes “the stories belong to everyone and noone” (Penny, 2014, p.2). The detective fiction genre is essentially a success thanks to the adaption of the Holmes story in its many shapes and forms, and with the fanfiction status it has achieved, the story has had more triumph than defeat.

The UK adaptation of the Holmes story was created by Steven Moffat – “the luckiest fanboy in the world” (Penny, 2014, p.3) and Mark Gatiss, and sees the characters of Holmes and Watson in the familiar English sherlock-bbcsetting. The contemporary English version titled Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch and as the protagonist of the series, who notably shares significant parallels to the character of Doyle’s original story. This “love letter to Britain” (Frew, 2014) reveals Holmes as a strange detective living as a “high-functioning sociopath” (Frew, 2014) in the innermost parts of London. The series is essentially a piece of fan-fiction that not only addresses the concerns of the original story but also incorporates the reactions of fans in a modern context.

Contrasting the more traditional approach to the Holmes story is the US adaptation Elementary. The Americanised version of Doyle’s narrative essentially sees Johnny Lee Miller star as Holmes running rampant in Elementary_S1_eNew York City. This characterisation of the detective highlights the struggles and challenges he faces as a recuperating addict. The original Englishness of the story is somewhat lost in this American translation, noted by a lack of an English backdrop and the primary accent. However, the US version of the Holmes story provides an element of “political correctness” (Frew, 2014) by casting oriental female Lucy Lui. This casting decision not only addresses a widening and expansive audience but also challenges the “classic English trope” (Frew, 2014).

Both Sherlock and Elementary act as “modern storytelling entering the realm of myth and folktale, where characters take on a life beyond the control of their authors, where they are let loose in communities” (Penny, 2014, p.2). The world of fanfiction writing however goes well beyond the Holmes archetype and it is important to be aware of this community as a source influencing society and the expectations of drama.

– Penny, L., 2014, ‘Sherlock and the Adventure of the Overzealous Fanbase’, New Statesman, available online at <;
– Frew, C., 2014, ‘Sherlock and Elementary: Representing Englishness in Television Drama’,  Lecture Notes / PowerPoint Slides, BCM111, University of Wollongong, 17 September 2014.
– Doyle, A.C., 1892, ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’, Strand Magazine, London.


2 thoughts on “Sherlock VS Elementary: TV in Translation

  1. Hi! I happen to write a term paper of the topic of Englishness in Elementary and Sherlock. I wanted to ask you if you still had those Power Point Slides that are mentioned in your sources and if i could look into them?

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