Reassessing Jeremy Brett
Being the nerd that I am -- about some things, at least -- I once got into a passionate online debate about who was the better Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett.
Rathbone, you may remember, starred in 14 beloved black-and-white Holmes films from 1939 to 1946. Brett starred in a series of episodes produced by Granada Television that originally aired on Britain's ITV network from 1984 to 1995.
In my mind, Rathbone was the clear winner. His cool, confident style fit the times, the films were by and large a lot of fun, and Holmes just seems ready made for monochrome.
Brett, I felt, was too bizarre, too hypomanic, too eccentric. His Watsons -- David Burke and Edward Hardwicke -- weren't nearly as lovable as Nigel Bruce.
A discussion at work about the revamped "Sherlock" made me think again about Jeremy Brett and the Granada series I hadn't seen in 15 years. And, since the episodes are streaming online via Netflix, I thought it was high time to watch them again and give Brett another chance.
After watching every installment of the Granada "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and the first episode of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," I've come to the conclusion that, by and large, the Granada series is more consistent and more faithful to the Arthur Conan Doyle stories from which the character originates.
Granada must have spent a fortune on the series. It's a beautifully done period piece -- complete with gaslight, cobblestone and London fog -- that stays true, more or less, to the books. And, if you use the original source material as a guide, Holmes is indeed bizarre, eccentric and manic-depressive. Brett had nailed it. And the Watson of the stories was anything but a buffoon. Burke and Hardwicke had done their homework.
The Rathbone/Bruce series has some wonderful moments, and Rathbone remains my favorite, but the installments suffer from inconsistency, an increasingly buffoonish Watson and a decided drop in quality after the switch from Twentieth Century Fox to Universal.
Brett's Granada series also does not live up to its brilliant earlier episodes. He became increasingly and noticeably ill -- some say the character of Holmes was driving him mad -- and the quality of the writing dropped substantially in the later episodes, most of which tend to be downright bizarre.
So, I guess where I've landed is the Rathbone series isn't the Holy Grail I once thought it was and Brett's Granada episodes, especially the first two series, are quite enjoyable.
But, heck, it's Sherlock Holmes. Put me with him and Watson in a hansom as we clip-clop along the foggy streets of Victorian London toward our latest adventure and I'll have a good time no matter who's in the starring role.