Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review: Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davis


Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davis


This is a review of the Kindle version.

David Stuart Davies is a big fan of Brett’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes and his admiration leaps right out of the pages. His book gives great insight into the inception and making of the Granada series. The book delves on how Michael Cox, the producer cast Jeremy Brett and David Burke. David Burke had to leave the series due to some pressing personal concerns and the mantle passed on to Edward Hardwicke (who was suggested for the role by Burke himself).

The series makers have taken the utmost pains to make as faithful an adaptation of the canon as possible. Right from the casting of the principal characters to the sets and locations, the series does great justice to the stories. Jeremy Brett was passionate about his work and did considerable research to make the best possible adaptation.

David illustrates this by citing the example of The Hound of the Baskervilles where Holmes observes Watson’s reflection in a shining coffee pot. Brett realized that he could not see the reflection in a coffee pot, but in the lid. As can be seen in the Granada adaptation, Holmes points to the lid of the coffee pot. This is but one of the many trifling details that Brett painstakingly worked on to give what is considered by many as the definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada adaptation
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

To his credit, David gives a fairly objective critique of the series. He candidly agrees about the deterioration in the performance of Brett as his physical tribulations worsened considerably even as the series kept chugging on. I have often considered that the Holmes as portrayed by Brett was as much a reflection of Brett’s personal characteristics as much of Holmes.

In the adaptation of The Adventure of the Creeping Man, Brett’s Holmes is quite hostile towards the army personnel. There is no such description in the canon. David explains the reason for this hostility: Brett’s father was in the army and never approved of his son’s decision to take up the acting profession. Jeremy in fact had to change his family name from Huggins to Brett in order to take up the acting profession at the insistence of his father. The lack of approval from his father seems to have had a significant psychological effect on Jeremy and unfortunately comes out quite strongly in the aforementioned episode.

The same issue crops up again when Brett imagined the childhood of Holmes. As per his description, the younger Holmes was a social outcast while his brother Mycroft was always ahead in studies and settled in life nicely. Sherlock would have been a school dropout and finally became the only consulting detective in the world. The interesting fact to be noted is that even here, Brett imagined Holmes’s father to be “an army toad”.

As the series progressed (as did Brett’s manic depression), more and more of Brett came into his portrayal of Holmes, making the real Holmes almost an afterthought. The book delves quite a bit into the physical hardships Brett had to undergo and it is quite depressing to read. Brett suffered greatly and still insisted on donning the grease-paint.


Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada adaptation
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

This book is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.

Click here to read all my posts about the Granada adaptation.

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Image Source: Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies

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30 comments:

  1. Was Brett the best Holmes ever? He was certainly the most literal. I'm gonna get this book. I've just finished the author's THE TANGLES SKEIN which I thought was very good, if a little corny towards the climax.

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  2. should have been The Tangled Skein - sorry for the typo

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  3. I'll have to check this out. I've seen a good number of the Jeremy Brett Holmes episodes as a kid on A&E, but I know next to nothing about the man himself.

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  4. Aren't those great photo's of Brett as Holmes.
    Had the chance of spending some good time with him in the early 90's when he was in St Louis.
    What a day!

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  5. @Gary/Jack - Brett was the most literal Holmes. Perfectly stated :)

    In my humble opinion, Vasily Livanov is the Definitive Holmes. I am betting that you would vote for Basil Rathbone as the best Holmes ever ;)

    @Rick - I am sure you will enjoy this book!

    @John - I have read that Brett was very amicable and outgoing. You must have had a whale of a time :)

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  6. Thanks for visiting my blog, and for the recommendations!

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  7. @Annette - You are most welcome :)

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  8. Good to know this is on Kindle now. I've been wanting to read it for a while, and your review has whetted my appetite.

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  9. @Nathaneal - Glad to be of help :)

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  10. Brett was absolutely the best, for me the one and only and I refuse to watch any other Sherlock :) The stories from that show, the music, the Watson - unbeatable!

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  11. @DEZMOND - Yes, Brett was the most literal Holmes and the series is one of the most faithful adaptations of the canon.

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  12. First off, thanks for visiting my blog as well.

    Secondly, I agree that Brett was the most literal. Even from the way he wanted some of the scenes setup to mimic many of the original illustrations. Unfortunately I haven't seen the russian veriosn yet but have heard they are wonderful.

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  13. @Davidson - You are most welcome.

    The Russian adaptation is one of the best adaptations ever and Vasily Livanov is my all time favorite Holmes!

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  14. Brett was indeed a good cast for the Sherlock presented in television series, comparing him with, for example Livanov is not adequate in terms of characteristics & the story line itself. What does makes Bretts sherlock unique is the fact of recent arguments with Watson, more dark atmosphere which is common for the detective novels, and actors play. Yet Livanov is definitely the best Sherlock portrayed.

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  15. @Deductionator - Yes Brett's version of Holmes tends to be on the darker side. Livanov tends to be portray Holmes as a more cheerful and warm person.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  16. Thanks so much for stopping by The Marmelade Gypsy and commenting on "The Beekeeper's Apprentice." I enjoyed Brett's work tremendously, but am enjoying in an entirely different way the contemporary PBS series as well.

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  17. thanks for visiting my blog!


    www.kathlynn-diary.blogspot.com

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  18. @Jeannie and Kathlynn - You are welcome!

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  19. and, thank you for visiting my Blog,and your kind words!

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  20. I have to confess every time I think about Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett is the face I see in my head. But that’s probably because I’ve met the Granada series before I read the books.
    Then I’ve met the latest series, “Sherlock”, and some of my standards were shaken pretty hard. They did a great job.
    But, definitely, every time I think about the Holmes from the canon, it’s Brett.

    (Thank you for your comment on our blog. Too bad you probably can’t understand Portuguese…)
    PHS.

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  21. "buddy2blogger said...

    @Deductionator - Yes Brett's version of Holmes tends to be on the darker side. Livanov tends to be portray Holmes as a more cheerful and warm person."

    Interesting. One of the things that most strikes me about Peter Cushing's Holmes is the more cheerful aspect. I really need to take the time to watch the Russian version.

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  22. @Rick - If you prefer a cheerful version of Holmes, the Russian adaptation with Vasily Livanov is definitely up your alley :)

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  23. Thank you for visiting my blog! --I see you're a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I've been hiding under a rock so I've missed out on "his" books and movies ..but wow, when I finally read a Sherlock Holmes book ..I absolutely loved it! Thanks for the reminder that I need to get me some more Holmes! :)

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  24. @Jinky - Welcome to the SH fan club!

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  25. "I have often considered that the Holmes as portrayed by Brett was as much a reflection of Brett’s personal characteristics as much of Holmes."

    Very nicely put and I echo that wholeheartedly. I absolutely believed that at one point, the actor and the character had become one and the same. As a huger fan of the Granada I'm most definitely going to get a copy of the book to read. Thanks for pointing out this gem!

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    1. Ah..typo. What I meant to say was "As a huge fan of the Granada series I'm most definitely going to get a copy of the book to read. Thanks for pointing out this gem!".

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    2. You are welcome, Arunarasan. Glad that I could be of help :)

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  26. It is true: for me Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock Holmes (though in fairness I have never seen the Russian version). Is it available on Region One DVD? As good as Cumberbatch and Miller may be in their own serieses they can only be pretenders to the throne, for my heart belongs to Brett.

    By the way, have you ever read a book called Naked Is the Best Disguise? It made the case that the Holmes stories were far more symbolic than the surface stories would suggest, or at least that's how I remember it.

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    1. Thanks Rick for stopping by.

      Click here to watch the Russian adaptation (with English subtitles) online.

      I have not yet read "Naked is the Best Disguise". I will check it out.

      B2B.

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