Jeremy Brett would have been 86 today.
To a great many of us, he is THE Sherlock Holmes. Many actors have essayed the role and several have owned it — I’m thinking of Basil Rathbone, Christopher Plummer, and Benedict Cumberbatch in particular– but Brett was the only one that made me believe I was looking at the real guy.
More than any other actor, Jerermy Brett grasped that Sherlock Holmes was not a thinking machine devoid of emotion; he was one of the very few cinematic Sherlocks to avoid the mistake almost everyone makes, the idea that Sherlock Holmes fears showing his feelings.
And he was the only one, as far as I’m concerned, to capture the manic energy of Holmes that Conan Doyle describes in the books. Probably because Jeremy Brett was, himself, bipolar.
To those that are Doyle-or-nothing Sherlockian purists– and honestly, I’m not, I can rattle off half a dozen authors who’ve done better Sherlock Holmes stories than Doyle– it often ends up being about the purity of the prose, whether or not Holmes says the lines we all remember. Rarely does anyone note the delivery of the lines, and that was Brett’s genius.
Our friend Kris Hambrick from Hello Earth is also a Sherlockian, and in preparing for a talk she was giving about the cinematic Holmes she asked folks to name their favorite, adding that she wanted to focus on what the actors were actually doing. For me it was a no-brainer.
Jeremy Brett. Nervous energy. Humor. Precision of speech and gesture. Instant switch from languorous repose to hyperactive speed. He is Doyle's Holmes more than any other.
— Greg Hatcher (@GregHcomix) September 20, 2019
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a wonderful sampling….
And here is the real Jeremy Brett, being delightfully humble and charming.
One more, that completely encapsulates everything I loved about Brett’s Holmes. Smart, funny, razor wit…. and badassed.
I’ve said I’m not a Doyle purist, but Jeremy Brett was, and that likely had a great deal to do with his success.
He wasn’t just Sherlock Holmes, of course. He did lots of other stuff. He was one of Eliza Doolittle’s gentleman suitors in My Fair Lady; he was D’artagnan; and often he was a villain.
There was even that one time Brett went up against the Hulk.
But his Holmes eclipsed everything else, and justifiably so. It was his finest hour. I have enjoyed the recent revival of interest in Sherlock that came with Cumberbatch and Downey and McKellen… but for me, Brett’s will always be the version. Here’s one more interview…
Here, also, just for the hell of it, is one of my favorite Watsons, Edward Hardwicke, who has some interesting anecdotes about working with Brett.
Happy birthday, Jeremy Brett. Wherever your spirit resides, know that you are still appreciated… and still missed.
Back next week with something cool.