Jeremy Brett will always be THE Sherlock Holmes


imagesWith a scheduled release on Christmas Day, the movie Sherlock Holmes conjures up memories of the definitive Sherlock Holmes for not only fans of public television, but fans of Sherlock Holmes. That would be Jeremy Brett. Sorry, Basil Rathbone fans. Just no comparison. There will be arguments from the camps of Rupert Everett, Peter Cushing, Basil Rathbone, Christopher Plummer, Peter O’Toole, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lee, Michael Caine and, even, Tom Baker and John Cleese. I have to say absolutely none compare to the ten years that were were fortunate at PBS to have Jeremy Brett bring his talents to the role of the greatest detective of all time.

As one of only three actors that have played both Holmes and Watson (Brett actually played Dr. Watson opposite Charleton Heston’s Holmes in the Los Angeles stage production of The Crucifer of Blood, Brett brought an amazing presence and talent to the role at a time like no other for television mysteries. Imagine the likes of Holmes, Poirot and Agatha Christie. Every week!

Now, enter Robert Downey Jr. as the newest incarnation of the greatest detective of all-time.

FYI, Jeremy Brett returns to KERA Channel 13 as Sherlock Holmes beginning Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 8:00pm. If you’re outside the North Texas area, other PBS stations are airing Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett. Check it out if you haven’t seen them and then compare to the movie that opens Christmas Day with Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Would love to know who you think the all-time Holmes is.

  • I’ve grown to appreciate Rathbone’s Holmes a bit more over the years. He was saddled with what Hollywood felt Sherlock Holmes should be. I don’t think audiences at the time would have accepted the type of Holmes that Brett was allowed to portray. Your typical hero could be hard-drinking, but a good guy shooting up cocaine and functioning perfectly well?

    Brett’s Holmes still runs rings around Rathbone’s, but for better or worse, Rathbone was the Holmes for his time and no one was better at the role (IMO) until Brett came along.

    I want to like this movie, but the trailers so far have left me cold. It seems to be marketed as a “things blow up” buddy flick. I sincerely hope it’s more than that.

    • @Julie: I think you’re totally right on the movie front. I really want to like it but, like most re-makes today, the emphasis seems to be on how much they can special effect up the movie to cloud the lack of story, etc. I also have come to appreciate Rathbone’s Holmes as the years play out. When Jeremy Brett came along, it was such a different portrayal. Hope we’re both proved wrong on the movie and that you had a nice holiday.

  • @Bill: I really would like to enjoy this movie, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope at this point. I’m also glad to see that PBS is re-airing the Brett episodes. They’ve really held up well over the years.

    Hope you’re having a good holiday. We’re doing home improvement projects this weekend, but will break for the Britcoms and Dr Who!

  • Bean

    FTA: “I have to say absolutely none compare to the ten years that were were fortunate at PBS to have Jeremy Brett bring his talents to the role of the greatest detective of all time”

    I couldn’t have said it better. Brett was amazing. There will never be a greater Holmes. In my opinion casting Downey Jr. in the role is like casting Russel Crowe in the role of “Rick” in Casablanca. There is just no comparison. Its a complete travesty.

    • Adam

      Oh yes, I love Jeremy Brett’s depiction of Holmes. I agree-none have even come close to Brett. That’s why my hopes are very low for Downey Jr.’s performance. He’s a good actor, sure. But , as quirky as he can be, he’s not going to do the reputation of Sherlock Holmes justice. Especially directed by Guy Ritchie, or Snatch’s director. Did you see the scenes of slow motion fist fighting in the trailer? I mean come on. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t need more action per say. Not if it’s rediculous and completely overshadows the mystery as well as the method’s of Sherlock Holmes. I’ll go see it-but I know it’s goingto be disapointing.

      • @Adam: Like you, I’ll go see, but have low expectations. Just like re-makes of Day the Earth Stood Still (an all-time favorite original) or War of the Worlds, the need to interject action and special effects into a film to overshadow it not holding a candle to the original seems to be the norm.

        • Wally

          I think it is important to understand why Jeremy Brett, (I always want to say Sir Brett for some reason, perhaps there should be consideration for knighting him posthumously) has been considered the definitive Holmes on screen to date. He was fortunate to be involved in the Granada production which remained faithful to the original stories, Brett would even carry a copy of Doyle’s complete Holmes on set for reference.

          Brett absorbed himself into the character, presenting Holmes in a fashion much more believable than the Hollywood cliché cartoon character that Sherlock Holmes has become. Brett’s portrayal is exactly as I imagined Holmes while reading the stories, that is why I will forever consider his performance the pinnacle for this character and am grateful for his efforts.

          As for the upcoming film, admittedly, I was excited when first seeing the preview at the theatre. A new Holmes story onscreen seems like such a great idea, but the odds are against this film have any merit or substance sleuthing fans can appreciate. I’m afraid if I go see this in the theatre, I will end up storming out and embarrass my poor wife, so maybe I should just wait and rent it for a buck from the Redbox machine in a few months.

          • @Wally: Well said. His ability to bring Holmes to life as we all imagined when reading the books was masterful. Granada being faithful, as you said, to the books helped a great deal. To me, doesn’t happen often that a book translates well to the big screen. Unfortunately, Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire comes to mind. One of the all-time great books that should never have been made into a movie.

  • Jackie

    I really really want to like the new movie, but I am fully prepared to really really hate it. I’ve been fortunate lately to see some of my all time favorite fandoms (yes Holmes is a fandom! haha) do “reboots”, or whatever you want to call them, that I’ve ended up pleasantly surprised and happy with. I think this is going to be the big huge disappointment of the bunch!

    Several things that some of the people involved have said have made me really frustrated. RDJ has said (in the Entertainment Weekly cover story) that other versions were “misinterpretations”. I’m ok with new interpretations or re-interpretations, but to say that YOUR version is correct and the others are wrong is just arrogant. Also Guy Ritchie, and I quote “knew the stories of Holmes’s adventures from childhood” and said “from what I understand it’s not quite how he’s been previously represented” which to me sounds as if he didn’t reread the canon and that he’s never actually seen other renditions! I know they wanted a different take on it, but when you are dealing with an intensely revered institution such as Holmes, you better do your homework and see what you are a part of. It just seems like the respectable thing to do and the more and more I see of the new movie, the more it becomes painfully obvious that they didn’t.

    I will probably do a similar blog post after seeing the movie, though mine will probably be titled “This isn’t MY Holmes” alongside that ridiculous picture of RDJ tied up on the bed. Jeremy Brett will always be MY Sherlock Holmes. I completely agree with the sentiments of Wally.

    • Bean

      @Wally
      “Brett would even carry a copy of Doyle’s complete Holmes on set for reference…Brett absorbed himself into the character, presenting Holmes in a fashion much more believable than the Hollywood cliché cartoon character that Sherlock Holmes has become. Brett’s portrayal is exactly as I imagined Holmes while reading the stories, that is why I will forever consider his performance the pinnacle for this character and am grateful for his efforts.”

      Well-said! 🙂 I for one will not be spending my Christmas holiday on the farce that is Downey Jr.’s Holmes. Instead, I shall be content with the Blue Carbuncle (1984-Jeremy Brett); a great “Christmas Holmes” if anyone hasn’t seen it 🙂

  • Ajay

    Agree with Bean, saw Downey Jr.’s movie today, although the movie is good, good acting and all that, but no one really fits the bill, Downey Jr. just doesn’t fit Mr. Holmes boots, a.k.a Jeremy Brett, Jeremy Brett became Sherlock Holmes, even Rachel McAdams didn’t sound convincing perhaps she did not even become Ms. Irene Adler, the best Lady to play Ms. Irene Adler was in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book’s adaptation The Advt’s Of Sherlock Holmes played by ‘Gayle Hunnicutt’. She was terrific in fact, I believed she was Irene Adler, I’m sure many of us believed so to, and that she was the best for the role. Jude Law’s fine, but the earlier Watson’s were better.

    • Suzan

      No one could EVER match the ability and genius of Jeremy Brett. He was and is the perfect Sherlock Holmes. Absolutely AMAZING.

  • pegeen

    I, too, think that Jeremy Brett was the greatest Sherlock Holmes to this day….I do not think that anyone can replace him. I have often heard that he didn’t really like playing the part….I think I read it somewhere in one of his interviews….but for someone not liking to play the part he did an excellent job. When I think of Sherlock Holmes I will always think of him! Although I wish that someone would take his place, since I really do enjoy watching Doyle’s fantastic character in action.

  • Wally

    After getting to see the film finally, I would have to admit that I was more than disappointed with what was done with characters of such longstanding presence and admirable origins. If the film was meant to be a parody, I would not have been so upset with my constant heavy exhaling and grimaces during scene after scene. Jude Law’s version of Watson was the only standout in the cast of characters strip mined of their former elegance(as in Irene Adler) and the veritable clear cut of the essence that made them interesting in the first place. I am absolutely astounded that RDJ won a Golden Globe for his role!
    However, I have to remember that not everyone has read the books or watched the series with Jeremy Brett, so most audiences would probably not understand why this film could be considered shameful. On the other hand, if they would have changed the names of the characters and not claimed it as a Sherlock Holmes story, I would have thought it a decent movie.

    @Bill Young: Totally agree about Interview..

    @Jackie: I sincerely hope RDJ was not referring to Brett’s performance with that quote..

    @Bean: That’s funny you mention “The Blue Carbuncle”, the kids and I watched it several times over the holiday..

    Thanks for being on my side with this one!

    • @Wally – Great assessment of the RDJ movie. Not sure if you saw the post last week re: the upcoming Sherlock on PBS this coming Fall starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson. From the trailer, it looks great AND there’s no reason to even compare it to Jeremy Brett as it’s set in present day 21st Century, which is what the RDJ movie should have done instead of trying to do a period piece. The new version is really well done and a lot of it has to do with the fact that you can’t compare it to the past because it’s not set in the past.

  • adamwho

    I kind of think the Ronald Howard Holmes is interesting… but of course Jeremy Brett is the best.

    I just finish watching the Peter Cushing version… BRUTALLY poor writing and production values.

  • Steve Thompson

    Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes accomplished (in spades) what few actors manage to do – his performance produced the effect of totally suspending reality, during this time Brett the person ceased to exist & Holmes the character leap out out of the pages of Sir Author Conan Doyle’s books.

    As for Robert Downey Jnr. – stylish & hip is how I would describe his performance, but underneath it all he was Robert D. playing Sherlock Holmes & he fell far short of Brett’s performance.

    With respect to the Brett years, the icing on the cake is that the production value for this series was so very high, of a quality one would expect to see in a movie.

    What makes my loyalty to Brett even stronger is the fact that I caught some of the interviews featuring this great actor & I found him to be a genuinely decent, kind, articulate human being.

    He will be sorely missed & NEVER will he be replaced.

  • Brian

    I’ve recently been catching episodes from the Brett performances on PBS here in California and frankly, I don’t get it. Perhaps it’s a British sensibility that I’m lacking but I’ve rarely seen scenery chewing the likes of this and find it almost painful to watch, it is at times so ridiculous. As a child of the 60’s/70’s, I grew up with Rathbone as Holmes and maybe that’s the problem but I’ll take Rathbone’s Holmes over Brett’s anyday.

  • Frenchaccro

    I’m extremely fond of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, but also as Lord Goring (“An Ideal husband”) , Maxim de Winter (“Rebecca”), or William Pitt (“Number 10”), let alone d’Artagnan (“the three Musketeers”). Perhaps are you already informed, but there is currently a petition to get him awarded a posthumous Bafta. In case you are interested, glance at “posthumous Bafta for Jeremy Brett” on Facebook. Sorry if I’m late and keep repeating something you know …

    • Frenchaccro

      I’m extremely fond of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, but as Freddie, Maxim de Winter and William Pitt too, let alone d’Artagnan. In case you wish informations and links as to the petition to get him awarded for his performances, glance at “posthumous Bafta for Jeremy Brett” on Facebook…

  • ken ziemski

    Growing up watching, in BW on TV, Rathbone’s depiction through Victorian years and then all of a sudden, Hollywood’s updated version into WWII era, I guess I got a distorted view of Holmes after reading “The complete Sherlock Holmes” (which I still own) when I was still around 12yo. Here are some mutual thoughts on Holmes and what he should be… and what he souldn’t be… ie: Excluded is the RWJ movie which I have chosen NOT to see.

    @Julie
    “…Rathbone’s Holmes a bit more over the years…. was saddled with what Hollywood felt Sherlock Holmes should be. I don’t think audiences at the time would have accepted the type of Holmes that Brett was allowed to portray.

    @pegeen
    “…I have often heard that he didn’t really like playing the part….I think I read it somewhere in one of his interviews…”

    Yes, he did not want to return to playing the part after the first or second installment(s)… thank goodness for all of us! KZ

    @Wally
    “…I have to remember that not everyone has read the books or watched the series with Jeremy Brett, so most audiences would probably not understand why this film could be considered shameful. On the other hand, if they would have changed the names of the characters and not claimed it as a Sherlock Holmes…”

    @Bill Young
    “…Sherlock on PBS this coming Fall starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock and Watson. From the trailer, it looks great AND there’s no reason to even compare it to Jeremy Brett as it’s set in present day 21st Century, which is what the RDJ movie should have done instead of trying to do a period piece…”

    Looking forward to it! KZ

    @Wally
    “…not everyone has read the books or watched the series with Jeremy Brett, so most audiences would probably not understand…”

    Yeh… How ’bout reading a real book now and again!

    • Yasiru

      Jeremy Brett was surely the definitive Sherlock Holmes. I’d have to see to believe his performance surpassed. Even Vasily Livanov pales in comparison. He was Holmes as I pictured him while reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle years before I saw an interpretation of the character on screen. He will be sorely missed.