#2. Jeremy Brett
If I had come up with this Top Five several years ago, there is no doubt that Jeremy Bretty would have been my number one choice. And I still think, as far as Victorian portrayals of the great detective, no one has ever matched Brett's version. When the BBC series starring Brett as Holmes began in the early 80s, I was a teenager, and though I was relatively new to the Sherlock Holmes canon, it was clear to me that no actor had ever really captured the true spirit and style of Sherlock Holmes. And then I saw Jeremy Brett...
It was as if Sidney Paget's drawings had come to life! Every little pose, every mannerism was just as I had imagined Holmes, based on the illustrations I had seen. For many years, then, to my way of thinking Jeremy Brett was the Sherlock Holmes. As I've read more about that BBC series, and its ups and downs, I've learned that the series consciously imitated Paget's drawings as closely as possible, and that Brett himself had an almost obsessive insistence on the most minute details. (He also smoked several packs of cigarettes a day, which contributed to his poor health in later installments of the series...)
As I've gone back and watched many of the episodes of this very successful BBC Sherlock Holmes series, I'm still immensely impressed by Brett's finely detailed portrayal of the detective. Sure, some of the adaptations of the stories tend towards slavish adulation, while other episodes add somewhat poorly rendered plot lines to flesh out the stories. And Brett's performances in several of the later episodes was negatively impacted by his failing health. But Jeremy Brett at his best inhabited the role as very few actors have managed to do.
As I said above, if I had written this several years ago, Brett would have easily been my favorite choice, but then along came a series called Sherlock...and my world changed. But more of that in my next article...
#3. Peter Cushing
If you've never seen Peter Cushing's portrayal of Holmes, go right now to the Sherls on Film page of this blog, and watch one of the videos of the TV series he did in 1968. Actually, Cushing's first Holmes was in the Hammer Films version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959 (which also starred the great Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville). In my humble opinion, Cushing really nails the physicality and speech of the great detective, despite the cheesy horror movie atmosphere of the 1959 film, or the relatively low production values of the 1968 series.
Anther interesting thing about the TV series is that, even though they produced 16 episodes of the 1968 program, only six episodes are still available today, due to the BBC's policy at the time of taping over programs that had already aired a couple of times! (I should also mention that Cushing was the second actor to play Holmes for the BBC; Douglas Wilmer played him for the earlier black-and-white installments of the series from 1964-1965. Nigel Stock played Watson to Wilmer's and Cushing's Holmes.)
For your enjoyment, and because the full film is no longer available for free on YouTube, here is the trailer for the 1959 Hammer Films version of The Hound of the Baskervilles:
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.