The incomparable Jermy Brett
Last month I wrote this post about my lack of confidence in the upcoming Guy Ritchie film “Sherlock” starring Robert Downy Jr. as literature’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. As I said in that post, I am actually a fan of both Ritchie and Downey Jr., but also as a fan of Sherlock Holmes I find it difficult to believe I will like that film. You can read the post if you want the details.
In that post I confessed to not having much exposure to the many films, TV shows and plays featuring the Great Detective. My expertise with Holmes begins and ends primarily with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original cannon of 56 short stories and four novels, and from the Basil Rathbone films of the 1940s. I received numerous e-mails from people telling me that I had to see the Granada Television series starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I was told that many Holmes fans consider Brett one of, if not THE, definitive Holmes. Fellow caricature illustrator Lash LeRoux went so far as to send me a few DVDs on loan to watch. Once I saw them, I was so hooked I ordered the entire series on a 12 disc DVD set.
Brett truly is Conan Doyle’s fictional sleuth brought to life. He obviously went to the source material to incorporate the mannerisms, idiosyncrasies and many details that defined Conan Doyle’s character. He even looks like a Sidney Paget illustration sprung from the pages of The Strand. Brett’s performances as Holmes are remarkable, and make this series really shine. He displays the impatience and hints of immense ego that defined the less savory side of Holmes with enough substance that they are definitely present, yet his Holmes is also likable and as gallant as his class and the times would expect. The sharp laughter and moments of intensity are played as if they escape from the man despite his efforts to remain collected. This Holmes delights and revels in his powers when they are in play, and is frustrated when his deductions are not coming together fast enough. So many of the details I imagined from the stories are brought to magnificently to life by Brett.
Not that Brett’s Holmes is the sole reason for the success of the Granada series. I say “series” but actually there were four series in all, totaling 41 episodes… all with Brett as Holmes but with Edward Hardwicke later replacing David Burke as Dr. Watson, both playing him splendidly. Obviously the creators of the show intended to stay as closely as they could to the original Conan Doyle stories, and must have went to great lengths to be accurate in both the time period and the tales themselves… right down to much of the dialogue coming straight from the pages of the canon. It’s always been a mystery to me why so many Sherlock Holmes films and shows insist on inventing new stories or changing the settings and fundamentals of the characters and original tales as Ritchie’s upcoming movies seems to do. Conan Doyle’s stories and characters have not endured for 120 plus years because his plots and concepts were bad. Most of the Rathbone Holmes films were changed from Victorian London to take place in the 1940’s. What the????? Still more only incorporate elements from Conan Doyle’s original stories into their own plots. Again… I can’t for the life of me understand why.
Watson, for example, is often portrayed in film and TV as a bumbling stooge as was the case when played by Nigel Bruce in the Rathbone films . That could not be farther from the original character’s persona. Dr. John H. Watson was an educated man with a doctorate of medicine from the University of London and a physician of some experience who served in the Afghanistan wars as an army surgeon. We was written by Conan Doyle to be a brave and capable man, who despite his intelligence was continually amazed by the insight and brilliance of Holmes who could easily make normal men seem to be slow and unobservant by comparison to his unmatched powers of observation and deduction. Yet this character has often been turned into a clown presumably to provide a comedic foil for the cimenatic Holmes.
The Granada series shatters this and many other conventions that have hung around the Holmes legend like an albatross. The shows are very faithful to the plots and characters of the original stories, and they are the stronger for it. It was a sad loss when Brett died of heart complications at only 62.
I cannot recommend this series more highly. I shall have a difficult time when I revisit the Conan Doyle canon, as I often do on audiobook, to not see the lean and intense face of Jeremy Brett in my head as the Great Detective’s adventures unfold before me.
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