Written by Prof. Jenn
Many lovers of Sherlock are reluctant to see the merits of Elementary, and many more find it hard to watch. Me, I enjoy it as a fun weekly thing, though I do understand such sentiments. But you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the original British Holmes series, starring Jeremy Brett (Sherlockian circles nickname it ‘the Granada series’ to distinguish it), is anything other than one of the most stellar Sherlock Holmes adaptations you’re likely to find.
The Granada series is in fact my favorite Sherlock adaptation, despite its flaws. Though the series has been (ostensibly) yoinked from YouTube, it is still readily available at most libraries, and for purchase on DVD. The following is why (in my professional opinion) this series is worthy of sitting on your shelf next to the Sherlock boxset.
5. The Acting
There are two actors who play Watson in this series: the first, David Burke, is the perfect solid, dependable, intelligent doctor we know and love from the books, with just the right dash of comedy relief. He’s not the bumbler that Nigel Bruce was, but he isn’t above putting just a little funny into his Sherlock foil. A good example of this is in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” where he returns home hungry and all he can basically focus on is eating. Another lovely Burke moment is in “The Red Headed League,” the famous scene where Jabez Wilson’s story makes him, and then Holmes, crack up into gales of laughter.
The second Watson, played by Edward Hardwicke, is a Watson with more gravitas. It’s a perfect transition, as Hardwicke takes on the role first in “The Empty House,” and so his slightly older look and more subdued performance works perfectly as a Watson post-hiatus. Hardwicke nails the character, and also played Watson in the stage play with Brett’s Holmes, as well as narrates several Sherlock Holmes audiobooks. He was Brett’s good friend in real life, and the real relationship shows in the chemistry between the two.
4. Authentic Victorian Setting
The Granada series captured the Victorian England setting brilliantly in not only its sets and locations (both of London and of country settings), but especially in its costume and prop design. The attention to period detail is incredible, and thereby immersive: we feel, watching this series, as though we’re there in that time period, or better still, there in the books themselves.
3. The Acting
Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is a tour-de-force, a perfectly done lifting of the icon from the page to the screen. Brett’s real-life mental illness and brilliance comes into play as part of the eccentricities of the character, again straight from the books. Brett remarked in an interview that one of the biggest challenges to playing Holmes is showing the cracks in the cold calculating veneer just enough, but not too much. He came up with his own backstory to Holmes’ early life, and plunged headlong into the original canon as inspiration. His physicality combined with the singing tautness of the tension between his intellect and his inner life makes for what I will unequivocally say is the most accurate Sherlock from the books you’ll ever see. Which brings me to:
2. Faithful To The Original Canon
Brett’s goal in this series was to cover every single story from the Doyle canon. It’s too bad that his poor health and untimely death put a stop to that plan, but what we have are stellar adaptations that stay very faithful to the originals. Sure, there are changes: sometimes two stories are meshed into one, some events or characters have been changed (one of the more major ones is that in this series Watson doesn’t get married), and of course there’s the dual thing every adaptation does: 1) Irene Adler is implied to be a love interest, and 2) Moriarty’s role is extended beyond his minor role in the books. Overall though, there’s so much taken verbatim from the books, and so many stories accurately brought to life, one can overlook the rare lapse in quality (*cough* “The Mazarin Stone” *cough*). Which reminds me:
1. The Acting
If there can be said to be one flaw in the Granada series, it’s the later episodes. This is because Brett’s health is very obviously failing him. As great as his acting still is, the medications he was on caused bloating and weight gain, and visibly slows down his previously boundless, explosive energy. In some of the latest episodes, you can clearly hear the labor in his every breath, and can see the pain in his eyes. Because of this, the later episodes are very hard to watch for the most part (“The Cardboard Box” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” are two that are watchable), and that, coupled with some pretty terrible writing in a few of the episodes, makes the series only partially rewatchable.
This shouldn’t deter you from the experience, however: the superior quality and the fantastic faithfulness to canon, plus the sheer fun, far outshines any flaws in the later installments. This series is my favorite, ranked up there with Sherlock. Watch the Brett series and see why. And then tell us about it in the comments!