As you know, November 3, 2013, would have been Jeremy Brett's 80th birthday. In honor of this day, here is a very special tribute written by a very special author, G. Cornell Layne. Thank you, Mr. Layne.
A Bastion of Supremacy
© G. Cornell Layne
Growing up immersed in theBasil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce “apparent incarnation”—which, at that immature age, in my fascination with the mystique of fog-shrouded, dimly gas-lit old London’s secretive cobblestoned byways, I thoroughly accepted as Holmes’ & Watson’s characters’ ultimate living representations—plus good old George Zucco as the “perfectly distilled” envisonment of Prof. Moriarty. Who could ever better portray these cleverly designed, oh-so clearly defined, characters representing the Eternal Struggle for supremacy in the ongoing battle between Good and Evil? Clearly my vision, like London, was a wee bit foggier on the street where he lived, than I’d once realized: Baker Street!
Rathbone’s sinister turn as Richard III in 1939’sTower of London (near four stars) proved masterful movie magic, indicating the scope of his classical potential. Four years earlier, his coolly remote self-interest paid dividends when he assayed the husband role, opposite Garbo in Anna Karenina—attitudes he projected as Sherlock. Basil could dazzle! Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward—both fine actors—later played Sherlock Holmes.
“Then Came Brett”—not revving his cycle across California’s memorable landmark bridge, like Michael Parks’"Bronson”, making his roaring weekly entrance—but sensitively observing a torrent of unaware humanity flooding by, below his second-floor flat at 221b.
Whereas Basil had a lock on acerbic intellectual one-up-man-ship—always embarrassing his fumbling-friend Nigel, incongruously putting-to-shame a veteran surgeon-campaigner, both seasoned actors playing Watson do justice to his background, not merely lip-service to his ostensible foreground as Holmes’ “wisely responsible steady right hand on any case that may come shyly rapping at their dinner-time door”. Honestly, Edward Hardwicke and David Burke fill me with sufficient confidence in their mental capacity and sense of caring to let either one treat me, when seeking aid, instead of a VA-assigned primary physician!
Yet, beyond the distanced objectivity aspect, required for Holmes to “withdraw at urgent times to bore-in on that necessity primary to any detecting personality”, in fiction or life itself, when Brett’s interpretation burst into vivid life on BBC, within the intimacy of television’s “connecting power” focused in our own home atmosphere, we quickly realized that viewers were, for the first time, being invited to explore inside all the characters, on a voyage of discovery: to savor subtler shades of humanness—echoed, beautifully, in such evocative settings, costumes, and authentic décor to grace believability, hitherto fore just glossed-over in a mistaken assumption that The Solution of each intriguing puzzle would provide a motivating magnet that could keep most viewers’ attention riveted throughout, yet not on major revelations occurring within each character’s flow-of-experience during the progress of Arthur Conan Doyle’s plot line; Brett, particularly, welcomes us to partake of a “Movable Feast” in his often disturbed unconscious mind, revealing contrary aspects Doyle planted there—behind his expressive eyes, and dismissive gestures—those roiling shadows of illusive demons, teasing-and-tormenting this mastermind of logical precepts.
Freely, he permits us to recognize the humanistic bent of Holmes’ feelings—anathema to Logic. Each intricate emotional chance Jeremy Brett takes establishes his acting Zenith!
JEREMY BRETT really IS Sherlock. Perhaps “morphed” into an exceedingly adroit “channel” for Holmes’ spirit? Yet, even while still on our shore of the spirit stream, Brett becomes this truly natural, believably conflicted human being—instead of a cool machine.