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BRITISH ACTOR Jeremy Brett portrayed Sherlock Holmes for Granada TV’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes between 1984 and 1994. Basil Rathbone owned this role of the world’s first consulting detective in movies and radio between 1939 and 1946, and William Gillette owned it at the fin de siècle.
However, Rathbone and Gillette owned the role, whereas, sadly, the role owned Brett.
I gleaned this latter observation from Xavier Leduc, Reims, France, writing in the Letters column of the London Review of Books, June 29, 2017. As Leduc describes, “Brett was determined to be the best Holmes there had been and obsessed over the sleuth’s mannerisms, documenting them in a 77-page manual that he kept with him on set.”
Jeremy’s father was a British Army officer; his mother, came from the Cadbury confectionary family. As a child, Jeremy suffered from rhotacism, the speech impediment involving inability to pronounce the “R” sound correctly. Surgery as a teenager and years of practice honed Brett’s diction to English perfection.
Brett’s most memorable role for many is his Sherlock Holmes in the Granada Television series. Brett said of the portrayal, “Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played—harder than Hamlet or Macbeth.”
Brett attacked this role with a fervency reflecting what was later associated with a bipolar disorder. His health was further compromised by heart trouble, attributed to rheumatic fever contracted in childhood. What’s more, Brett’s bisexual life style was far from accepted in Britain at the time.
Brett’s 77-page manual collecting Holmes’ characteristics dictated his portrayal of the detective. In time, Brett’s ardor for the role led to nightmares exacerbating his mental problems. Prescribed lithium treatments affected his physical health.
Xavier Leduc, writing in the LRB Letters column, notes that Brett became “so spooked that he began to refer to Holmes as ‘You Know Who’—the title of [English poetess Abigail] Parry’s poem—rather than mention his name.”
There’s a parallel of sorts in theater lore with regard to bad luck arising from uttering the word “MacBeth” within a theater except for specifically within the play. Otherwise, it must be referred to as “the Scottish play.”
During 1995, the last year of Granada’s Sherlock Holmes productions, Brett’s bipolar disorder, its treatments, and his heart trouble took their toll.
Leduc cites a Brett observation that “ ‘some actors’ were afraid that if they played Sherlock Holmes for too long he would ‘steal their soul, leave no room for the original inhabitant.’ ”
Leduc says, “He was talking about himself.… and it destroyed him.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017