Famous screen-actor VINCENT PRICE (he of THRILLER
fame to you youngsters) regarded BASIL RATHBONE and JEREMY
BRETT as joint-equal in their portrayal of BAKER STREET's celebrated
Victorian detective, SHERLOCK HOLMES. They were both simply too
good to choose between them. True, Brett's TV series benefitted from being
set in the proper period that author SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE had
written about, whereas, apart from two instances, Rathbone's films had
been updated to the then-present day for wartime audiences, but the
performance of both actors transcended the times in which their
respective productions were set.
When THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES first
appeared on ITV back in 1984, I was an ardent and appreciative viewer
of the GRANADA programme. For the first time since NIGEL STOCK
back in the 1960s, DOCTOR WATSON was played straight and not for
laughs - unlike NIGEL BRUCE's fumbling, bumbling (though endearing)
performance in the Rathbone pictures. I remember being much impressed
when, in one particular Granada episode, Holmes and Watson exchanged a
knowing and amused glance over a would-be client's manner as he related
the details of what perplexed him. It immediately made the characters
seem more human and believable, and conveyed the rapport between
the pair far more effectively than mere dialogue would've done.
Holmes, and was much lauded at the time for his portrayal of the
character. At first I was somewhat disappointed when he chose not to
reprise his role in the next series, THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK
HOLMES, although EDWARD HARDWICKE wasn't long in
establishing himself in the part.
The strange thing is, watching Burke's performance nowadays
whenever the show is repeated, I'm struck by something that neither I
nor anyone else picked up on at the time - namely, that there is actually
a distinct hint of the buffoon about his Watson that was completely absent
in Hardwicke's characterization. (Although, admittedly, had he never as-
sumed the role, this aspect of his predecessor's portrayal may well have
remained less obvious.) Curious that, despite being celebrated for having
essayed Watson closer to how Sir Arthur originally envisaged him, he's
actually somewhere betwixt Bruce's and Hardwicke's interpretations -
leaning more towards the latter of course, as Hardwicke continued
in the direction that Burke had embarked on.
However, just as Rathbone and Brett are regarded equally as the
epitome of Holmes in the estimation of many, so too are Burke and
Hardwicke considered to be the finest examples of Dr John Watson -
Holmes' friend, colleague, companion and biographer. Those
Granada programmes are going to be a tough act to follow.
A DVD boxed set of THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES
is available from all good music & movie stores.