Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Oh, yeah . . . Brett.

On the eve of Jonny Lee Miller’s debut as Sherlock Holmes, Pat Ward Facebooked to remind us of Jeremy Brett’s time as Sherlock. “Brett was Holmes,” Pat concludes. Her statement is a great thing for putting our newest Holmes into perspective.

Many a Sherlock Holmes fan agrees with Pat. And many of us didn’t.

The Granada productions that Jeremy Brett starred in were some of the most faithful, beautifully done Sherlock Holmes adaptations ever. The creators made scenes that exactly lined up visually with the original Sidney Paget drawings that accompanied the tales when they were first published. It was as good a Sherlock Holmes TV show as could possibly exist, there’s no denying that.

Which is why Jeremy Brett’s imperfections as Holmes stood out even more vividly to so many of us in fan world. He was twitchy. He hammed it up a bit in some scenes. His readings of some lines we knew by heart just sounded wrong. And now that we’ve seen Benedict Cumberbatch, I’ll even add one more criticism: He was too old. (Though that was a very common problem with Holmeses of the past. No one wanted the smartest guy in the room to be the youngest.)

But still, there were others who loved Brett’s performance and he became their Sherlock Holmes. We disagreed on him then, and we disagree now . . . which gives you some indication of how it’s going to go with Jonny Lee Miller.

No matter how good “Elementary” is, his Sherlock Holmes won’t be for everyone. And if it’s not good, there will still be those who like him, because he is their Sherlock Holmes.

“The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up,” as the one true Sherlock once said.

Here we go again. And I’m still excited about it.


  1. First, I apologize for my clumsy English then I would then point out that although I really like Jerremy Brett and granada I do have reason to not like "the master blackmailer" or the desperate need people have to give Sherolock Holmes a sexuality. In a series of books for the particularly interested, it have its points, but in large influential television series that have too much influence it can destroy the mystery surrounding the figure. And the benefits of a partly untold story where everyone can fill in their own answers

  2. I first read HOUN and SCAN in high school some forty years ago. I watched the Basil Rathbone films with much chagrin as a result but they were pretty much all there was. Other movies on Holmes I felt were up and down, mostly down in terms of a good representation. We hadn't a television at the time the Granada episodes were broadcast but years later, I did watch them on DVD.

    Comparing "Elementary" to any SH video of the past a poor comparative. It's a cheap rip off of the current roll of Sherlock Holmes, specifically "Sherlock." The latter, while maybe having the ages right, at least attempts to blend stories from the Canon into a modern spin. The former is rightly compared more to Dr. Who than the master detective or perhaps John Steed and Emma Peel as his female side-kick. If it survives a season (or two - hard to believe), it will make for great syndication on daytime television for the kids. But as a lasting contribution to the Sherlock Holmes we all know and love, I doubt it will be thought of much more than trash.

    Your low esteem of the Brett representation obviously comes from a lack of knowledge of the Canon and screen writing. The Granada stories were, for the most part, the strongest attempt at a faithful presentation of Conan Doyle's stories. This was particularly true of the earlier seasons. Screen writing attempted (I think quite well) to overcome things like long dialogs that don't come over well on screen. The fact that Brett was older than Holmes was well-handled and his theatrical ability makes others like Miller and Cumberbatch pale in comparison. He lived Holmes and, while he was a staunch supporter of accurate representation of Holmes, he interpreted that Holmes as theatric license would allow. And, while they didn't have the nice legs and sex appeal of Lucy Liu, both Burke and Hardwicke for once brought a believable interpretation of Watson to life.

    No, I think that time will prove Brett to be THE best of the actors ever and, perhaps, Cumberbatch as well for a "true" update to these great stories. But "Elementary" will likely be seen on "Nick at Nite" once it goes off CBS. And that's probably where it rightly belongs.

  3. I never really 'got' the Brett-version of Holmes. As you mentioned, while all the adherence to canon and the visuals created after the illustrations are quite nice to watch, the delivery of some lines does just sound wrong and the general twitchiness wrecks my nerves. I can never watch more than one episode without getting terribly fed up.

    Age is another point which up to the BBC-version has left me quite unenthusiastic about most big and small screen adaptations.