Not since Basil Rathbone did an actor take up the Sherlock Holmes character the way Jeremy Brett did.
He studied the role, chewed and dissected it, and came up with a complex package of mannerisms and character-enhancing quirks that somehow created a rounded, wholly believable person who was at once totally idiosyncratic, yet wholly within Holmesian lore.
In Universal's issue of five Sherlock Holmes box sets, presenting a total of 14 discs, they have given us 28 of the 41 episodes of Sherlock Holmes created by Granada Television between 1984 and 1994. Missing are the first dozen episodes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and one mini-movie (The Eligible Bachelor); those episodes are all available at Region 1 sites.
This is Volume Two, and because Universal have issued the series out of sequence, it in fact gives us the final six episodes of the Granada series. Disc Three gives us the first two episodes of the final set - The Three Gables and The Dying Detective, Disc Two the middle episodes The Golden Pince-nez and The Red Circle, while Disc One brings us the final episodes of all - The Mazarin Stone and The Cardboard Box.
These are a mixed bunch. Production standards are high, and the earlier episodes, The Three Gables and The Dying Detective, are as strong as any other episodes in the entire series.
From then on it gets quite uneven. And this seems primarily because of the almost terminally ailing health of our principal character, Jeremy Brett. He is at times painful to watch as he struggles with depression and heart problems to bring energy to the character. Flagging energy and illness are at the fore - but in a macabre way, this seems appropriate in the context of the series as a whole.
Only once, in the penultimate episode, The Mazarin Stone, does the whole effort seem too much. In what seems contrived to keep the cameras rolling and production flowing despite Brett's illness, Sherlock Holmes leaves the stage entirely, save for a few seconds at beginning and end.
His brother Mycroft (played here by veteran character actor Charles Gray, best remembered as Ernst Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever) takes over, in a very wobbly bit of pseudo-Holmesian drama. He was obviously brought in as a desperate emergency measure by the Granada producers. But it sadly just doesn't work.
The episodes are uneven, but I would not willingly have foregone this final volume. After all, by the time we have progressed through the 41 episodes of the Granada productions, we are at home in late-Victorian and Edwardian London. And the characters have become familiar; the improbable plots and grand theatrical stances have become second-nature to us. Granada Television most certainly did Conan Doyles's creations proud.
It's an eternal tragedy of the highest Holmesian order that Brett died before they could film some more. Now it seems the story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra will almost certainly never be told...
The idiosyncratic colours and variations of the other box sets in this series seem to have settled by this final set in the series. Colours are somewhat muted, but are more natural than before, and are certainly as good or better than seen in their original telecasts nearly ten years ago.
In terms of overall video quality, this is the finest set of episodes in the series. But don't pay too much attention to that... the acting and the drama is the thing, not the video quality!
The sound is basic, but very precise and clear. The cover states it's two-channel Dolby Digital stereo, but to my ears the sound stayed firmly centre-stage, with little if any separation.
That hardly mattered, as the music and sound-effects created an effective Edwardian ambiance, while the dialogue was presented in crystal-clear fashion. And the best account of the story is what we're after in these Granada presentations.