Tonight’s blog is dedicated to one of the other loves in my life, Sherlock Holmes. Oh yes, I’ve read all of the stories and I’m currently listening to the audio books in bed at night. It’s brilliant like a bed time story for adults. Since the BBC’s latest incarnation of the great detective has created a swell of new interest I though I’d put my two pennies worth in. Hopefully I can persuade some Sherlock fans to sample one or two of the other imaginings of one of literature’s most enduring characters, if they haven’t already.
Of course Sherlock has seen many screen and Radio adaptations. I have always been a bit of a fan of the Basil Rathbone/ Nigel Bruce series and we own the DVD’s as well as some of the radio plays. Basil Rathbone of course for many is the Sherlock Holmes and he certainly has the profile of a Sidney Paget illustration. While Nigel Bruce played a wonderful bumbling and charming Doctor Watson.
Now while I loved these adaptations I have to say they were far removed from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, both in character and obviously in plot. Conan Doyle’s Watson was a capable, level-headed and intelligent companion to Holmes where as you were sometimes left wondering how anyone could bestow a medical degree on Nigel Bruce’s Watson!
As for the stories of course they were brought into the modern era ( barring The hound of the Baskervilles and The adventures of Sherlock Holmes ) that being 1939 and well into the 1940’s and were new stories for the most part but with nods to the original stories (I’ll let you spot them for yourselves 😉 ) They were entertaining and served as a bit of morale boosting war-time allied propaganda. In fact the radio plays being issued in their entirety you get an interesting glimpse into the war-time appeals and the advertising market of the day too. So it’s a little bit of free history with your entertainment. Rathbone later left the radio show and was replaced by Tom Conway.
In mentioning the radio plays I will also just give a brief mention to John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson who played Holmes and Watson in another radio series in the 1950’s, these being adapted from the original stories. We had these on cassette some time ago and I’ve just taken a break from writing this blog to order the CD!
Ah, but then into my life came my next big Holmes. I discovered the old ITV series starring Jeremy Brett. Jeremy was accompanied by two Watsons, first David Burke – my personal favourite – who later left and was replaced by another great actor Edward Hardwicke. Now if you are looking for an adaptation of Conan Doyle’s original stories that is truly faithful to the books then this is it! There are of course small changes, which presumably were deemed necessary. The dialogue is for the most part lifted from the books, although occasionally redistributed from Holmes to Watson etc and at one point the 3 Garridebs and the Mazarin stone are combined into one story which is a bit weird.
They are certainly the most faithful adaptations I have ever come across and you watch them feeling that you are actually watching Conan Doyle’s work. It is a shame Conan Doyle himself didn’t love his great detective as much as the rest of us, for he, the loyal and long-suffering Watson and the dangerous and cunning Moriarty have become icons of British literature.
Jeremy Brett is, for me at least, the best Holmes I think I’ve ever come across. (sorry Benedict fans) His portrayal of an active and energetic Holmes is made all the more remarkable for the fact he was suffering from severe physical and mental health issues throughout much of his time in the role. He was a truly remarkable actor and deserves much praise for the dedication and commitment he showed to his work despite his own personal struggles. If you could only watch one Sherlock Holmes I would urge you to choose Jeremy Brett ( A small note for fans of the film ‘my fair lady’ A young Jeremy plays Freddie Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s love interest)
Now for Sherlock and Benedict Cumberbatch, who deserves an award just for his name, which is frankly fabulous! Being a big fan of the original stories I always watch any new adaptation with uncertainty. I was however delighted to find that I really liked Sherlock. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved it as much as the ITV series but I enjoyed it. In part this was because despite the fact that it’s been modernised, so much of the original has been left in there that there’s plenty for the Sherlockians who’ve read the books to have fun spotting the references. ‘A study in scarlet became ‘a study in pink’ Even the method of murder was the same amongst other things. The reference to’ the geek interpreter’ in one episode made me laugh as an amusing take on ‘the Greek interpreter’. Doctor Watson’s (Martin Freeman) recent return from conflict and many other parallels can be found between the show and the stories. This is a show whos writers, including co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are obviously fans of the original stories. Its closeness to the spirit of Conan Doyle’s style while still being new and original is refreshing.
So that was a rundown of my favourite Sherlocks. I would definitely recommend and fans of the Sherlock series to read the books if you haven’t already as it adds an extra layer to your appreciation of the show in my opinion. Also watch the supreme talent that was Jeremy Brett and marvel at how lovely everyone looked in suits back then.