Sherlock Holmes, the most famous fictional Londoner of all time, is also one of the most portrayed characters in film and television history. He has appeared onscreen for over a century, with the role assumed by countless actors – from William Gillette to Benedict Cumberbatch. As the Museum of London prepares for the largest temporary exhibition on the super sleuth for over sixty years, there remains a mystery unsolved regarding one such film.
The 1914 silent film adaptation of A Study in Scarlet, directed by the London-born George Pearson, is the first British feature-length film based on the consulting detective. It is also, according to the BFI, high on their list of Most Wanted films.
The problem, you see, is that the film is missing.
There may be a number of explanations. Missing films are not uncommon, particularly from the silent era, either because they were destroyed, junked or lost, whether through laboratory fires, production companies going bankrupt or because they were simply no longer seen as commercially valuable. For this particular film, it is not known to have been seen much after initial release, and prints of the film may have suffered the fate of many others of the period – sacrificed for the war effort for the precious metals they contained.
But there may be a glimmer of hope for this Sherlockian riddle. The BFI and the Museum of London are launching a call-out to “detectives” across the globe that can help us discover a copy of this lost film, exactly 100 years after it was made.