THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1984)
A shining example of a near flawlessly faithful adaptation of a canon of classic literary genius, Granada television's stylishly lavish series redefined the established film and TV image of the world renowned inhabitants of 221B Baker Street, and in the process produced an undisputed television classic that rivalled even the best of the BBC's legendary historical drama output.
Under the guiding hand of then Head of Drama at Granada, Michael Cox, and a hand picked team of top flight writing and production talent beginning with the 13 part Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, viewers were introduced into what was undoubtedly the definitive realisation of the mystery laden, fog shrouded menace, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian master detective and his trusty aid and companion Doctor John Watson. But while breath-takingly faithful adaptations of the original stories, and scrupulously authentic attention to even the smallest of period details were undoubtedly major factors in the series success, the really crucial element which elevates the series to the heights of a genuine classic, was in the all important casting of the central characters.
In Jeremy Brett's flamboyantly brilliant interpretation of Holmes, viewers where treated to a masterly tour-de-force performance, which for many finally succeeded in not only eclipsing the enduring image of the late Basil Rathbone's splendid portrayal, but also captured the true essence of the character in such a way that Brett's Holmes appeared to have sprung to three dimensional life directly from the printed page. The character of Doctor Watson fared equally well, played for the first two series by David Burke, and then following Burke’s departure to the theatre, Edward Hardwicke, Granada's Doctor John Watson was elevated from the bumbling comic relief character familiar to generations, and instead was rightfully reinstated as Conan Doyle's original vision from the canon. Brave, resourceful, intelligent and dependable to the end, the restoration of Watson's rightful character only served to enhance the brilliance of Holmes by underlining how his deductive methods granted him an insight above and beyond even as educated and intelligent a foil as his friend the good Doctor.
Another potent element well served by this fresh approach to the central characters was the revitalisation of the complex core relationship between detective and doctor. With the character of Watson now being given as much care and attention as that of Holmes himself, their mutually inter-dependant friendship once again became the rightful lynch-pin upon which the viewers identification with the series and its aloof central character, came to rest. Watson (and by extension the viewers) needed the excitement and adventure to which Holmes provided the key, whilst Holmes needed Watson to provide the element of viewer empathy which his character was ill-equipped to provide. (Along with that other all important task, giving Holme’s the opportunity of explaining the finer details of the plot to the viewers in a way which neither demeaned their intelligence, or simplified the lateral brilliance of his crucial plot enlightening deductions).
Granada's Sherlock Holmes series was arguably British Independent Television's most successful sustained historically set drama series. Sold to over 50 countries world-wide, and a smash hit in the American marketplace, it set a standard for excellence and outstanding high quality which will be long remembered. With the sad untimely death of Jeremy Brett it left behind it a new, perhaps impossible to equal standard for the depiction of the world's most famous consulting detective.
Bettering this production will prove far from merely 'elementary' for any future Holmes productions.
Review: Stephen R. Hulse. 2000