I appreciated reading John Kass' column in the July 12 Chicago Tribune, "Snooping out the best Sherlock? Elementary!" (If you missed the column, here's a link.)
I think he's quite right that Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes was perfect. Brett was a marvelous actor who did a beautiful job in the 1980s Granada Television productions (shown in Chicago on PBS' Channel 11).
But Kass missed something in his analysis of Brett, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing and other actors who have played Holmes on the screen.
His mention of Rathbone, one of the more popular portrayers of Holmes, alerted me to the value behind the actors' work: the screenwriters.
As Peter Haning wrote in "The Television Sherlock Holmes" (published in association with Granada Television, 1986), "One of the features that has characterized the Granada series apart from the brilliant acting and stunning sets has been the scrupulous attention to canonical detail. Great care has been taken to follow the original plots faithfully and, wherever possible, even use Conan Doyle's original dialogue."
Basil Rathbone definitely portrayed Holmes well, but it's curious that Kass discusses his acting mostly in "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Many, if not all, of Rathbone's other work as Holmes had little to nothing to do with Conan Doyle's stories -- great World War II-era puzzles (and thus fine Allied propaganda), but not the word-perfect 19th-century Holmes of Jeremy Brett. "The Hound" is one of Doyle's better stories, although not my favorite. Still, it's no wonder that it's considered so important when discussing Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.
So Jeremy Brett's success was due in part to playing Sherlock Holmes as he originally appeared. That makes me nervous about the upcoming movie, "Mr. Holmes," starring Ian McKellen.
As Kass mentions, McKellen plays Holmes at age 93, losing his memory. I'll pay close attention to reviews, but I hesitate to believe that this can be reconciled with the great original stories about the great detective.
Other actors around McKellen may be the keys to the performance. I just don't know yet, but I'll be looking for clips.
If I do see the film, trust that I'll write about it. Surely you didn't need Mr. Holmes to solve that for you.
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