Until only recently I had never seen a episode of the British television production, by Granada Television, of the 1984 to 1994 Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett as Conan Doyle’s master sleuth and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke taking turns at Dr. Watson. There were a few reasons for this that I will go into but in the end I think I may have been simply hard headed and biased towards anyone playing the role other than Basil Rathbone. But that is not the only reason and as time has gone on I can see some flaws in the Rathbone films, though not in his particularly perfect portrayal of Holmes. I picked up the boxed set a month or so ago and at the same time begin reading some of the stories in my two volume collection of the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes that I keep on my bedside table.
I went into the series with some skepticism, but not to the degree I went into the new Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. interpretation. My main concern was not with Jeremy Brett, who I knew nothing off other than his performance is praised, but with the fact it was a British TV production. I typically do not like British TV shows, with exceptions of course, simply because of the way they look. The sets usually look like sets and the camera work looks washed out, as if it were all shot on video rather than film. For all I know it may be. Sometimes the camera work is in and out of focus and the sound quality is flat at best. More like something you would see on PBS (which is where this version of Sherlock Holmes wound up) than on American prime time or cable, and not to say what shows up on US TV is really better in substance but is usually better in form than most British TV which is in opposition to the usually above average British cinema. While the visual quality was better than lets say Fawlty Towers (which I think is a superb comedy) my worries were soon confirmed and I had to force myself through to the end of the first couple episodes I watched but soon I was hooked by Brett’s riveting interpretation. Brett brought life to the Holmes character in a way I have moved over into my reading. The character I imagine still looks like Basil Rathbone for the most part but has more animation and emotion than before thanks to Jeremy Brett. Brett appeared to have a hard time after a while with leaving Holmes on the set and certainly suffered from the intensity he put into the role. He had personal issues as well dealing with manic depression and eventually persistent despair following the death of his wife. Brett, who died in 1995 from heart failure, was considered a kind and warm hearted man with a charming sense of humor. He hid these personal qualities in order to create the near misanthropic character of the brilliant but egotistical Sherlock Holmes whose passion for his work process rather than his love for mankind drove him onward.