SHERLOCK HOLMES (Granada TV series 1984 – 94)

jeremyBrettJeremy Brett lived and breathed Sherlock Holmes for the decade spanned by the making of these television adaptations of Conan Doyle’s master detective. His highly eccentric (and energetic) characterization is poetry in motion. No one can do the most famous man in fiction better than this. In fact he brings Mr Holmes alive in a way Conan Doyle’s words never did.

Even when he looks most ill, towards the end, any time Brett/Holmes is absent from the action the story-telling seems to lose some intensity and purpose. Brett gives a mesmerizing, tightly controlled, delightfully quirky performance as Holmes. If you like classic British TV shows from the Victorian-Edwardian era, you should own this as a dvd box set.

It can provide hours of very dignified entertainment. The razor sharp features, his cat-like quickness and elegance, authoritarian voice, the piercing eyes; this man was born to play Holmes. A truly rare coming together of actor and part (dame Jean Conan Doyle herself wrote to Mr. Brett “you are the Holmes of my childhood”, which he rightly regarded as the ultimate accolade).

David Burke and Edward Hardwicke are surely  the best Watsons put on screen – the sometimes puzzled and exasperated, but always faithful companion to Holmes and proxy for us, the audience. Rosalind Williams does Mrs Hudson to perfection and Colin Jeavons plays Lestrade to the same high standard that he played his roles in “House of Cards”.

780f150c175f55c56847c623bd5fce72The special guest stars are quite diverse, everyone from John Thaw to Kenneth Connor seem to crop up . It shows you how good this series is that such high calibre performers wanted to be in on the act. Patrick Gowers’ music is also another particular strength. The production values are generally very high and the ensemble casts excellent, with only one or two exceptions.

The early episodes are very faithful to the Conan Doyle stories, and although this does no harm, of course, they sometimes can seem a bit pedestrian – as though the production team had not yet fully come to believe in the potential of the thing. The middle episodes are very fine, look more opulent and are more thoughtfully realized.

During the final series, Mr Brett’s rapidly declining health (by then he suffered from manic depression as well as a heart condition) clearly began to affect his performance. Drastic cuts in production costs meant that the final episodes, from The Last Vampyre onwards (apart from the triumphant Master Blackmailer) are but faint echoes of the earlier series. I believe Granada could have pulled the plug at this point to preserve a very high standard body of work. They decided instead to squeeze the format -as well as the by now clearly struggling Mr. Brett- completely dry.

Putting that to one side, 25 years later this wonderful series still firmly holds its own, thanks to great acting and minute attention to detail in the period sets and costumes. Don’t forget to pay attention to the background, where numerous well-dressed extra’s, beautiful antiques, lush country estates, combined with fully operational Victorian machinery, draw you into that fascinating age on the threshold of the 20th century. On a final note I have to mention my fondness for crusty old Charles Gray, who played Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft.

The Problem of Thor Bridge (125)

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