Despite the fact that I only rated Jeremy Brett as my second favorite Holmes actor in my "Top Five Sherlock Holmes Actors" series awhile back, I still maintain that he is a very close second to Benedict Cumberbatch (in my opinion). And certainly, as far as Victorian settings of Sherlock Holmes go, I don't believe any actor can match him. Even though he had a lot of personal problems that had a negative impact on some of the later episodes of the Granada series, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes episodes were marvelous.
One of my all-time favorite scenes in that first set of adaptations featuring Brett was the scene below, from "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist." Whereas Holmes's fistfight was merely described by Holmes himself in the original story, the Granada adaptation shows us the whole scene in all its glory, and Jeremy Brett is sublime. Watch and enjoy...
I remember well when I was a teenager and I saw Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes for the first time. In the 1980s I don't think I had seen any of the Rathbone films, though my grandfather talked of Rathbone as if no other actor could possibly play the detective. Come to think of it, I don't recall if I had ever seen any screen versions of the Holmes stories at that point in my life. All I knew was, when I saw Brett, he was exactly how I had pictured Holmes, having read my facsimile edition of the stories as they appeared in the Strand Magazine, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. Brett seemed to have that perfect balance between dignified and manic that Holmes displayed in the stories, and God knows, he looked just like the Paget drawings, if perhaps a bit less handsome.
Since those days of having to wait until episodes were aired on PBS, I have seen most of the adventures from Granada TV's Adventures and Return of Sherlock Holmes, as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles, on DVD. Most, if not all, of the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett, are available on YouTube as well. For the most part, the adaptations hold up very well, even if Cumberbatch and Miller have stolen much of my affections. I've read that, as Mr. Brett became more and more ill, the Granada series began to suffer. But, ever the true professional, Brett soldiered on.
I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about the Watson(s) to Jeremy Brett's Holmes. I really liked David Burke in the first series: he was the first Watson I remember seeing who broke out of the stereotype of Nigel Bruce. Burke was handsome, intelligent, and perfectly believable as someone whom Holmes would want to work with again and again. When Burke was replaced by Edward Harwicke for the second series and onward, I remember being a bit confused (there was no IMDB to go to, to look up what had happened with the casting). I think Hardwicke was more than adequate, but he couldn't hold a candle to Burke's portrayal, and there have been much better Watsons since. (Martin Freeman is particularly good, I think.)
Since starting this blog, I have gone back and watched a few of the Jeremy Brett Holmes adventures, and I would like to watch more, especially of the later episodes that I don't have on DVD. After all, the man was my favorite Holmes for the better part of three decades, and he's still definitely in my top three. For Sherlock Holmes in his original Victorian setting, I don't think you can do any better.
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.