‘Sherlock Holmes’ revisited: Looking back at Jeremy Brett’s classic 1984-1994 series

Sherlock-mania has died down.

What began with Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes in 2008 – followed by Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Jonny Lee Miller’s Elementary and Ian McKellen’s Mr Holmes – has now come full circle, with Will Ferrell’s universally panned Holmes & Watson movie lampooning the past decade of adaptations.

But if you need a break from all these recent Sherlocks, if you want to get to the basics, let’s take a look back at Granada’s Sherlock Holmes with our guest writer Elizabeth Niedbala.

Produced for ITV, the series ran from 1984 to 1994. It wasn’t continuous, but included six “regular” seasons (encompassing a total of 36 one-hour episodes), interspersed with five feature-length TV movies.

Jeremy Brett starred in the titular role, with David Burke as Dr. Watson in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes before Edward Hardwicke replaced him in 1986. Other notable appearances include Jude Law, Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville and Jeremy Kemp.

Granada is known for the accuracy with which it adapted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original canon. With few liberties taken, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are considered some of the best adaptations ever produced. However, this quality did not last long. After the expensive, globe-trotting production of The Sign of Four (1987), Granada produced an arguably lacklustre The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988).

Aided by continuous financial problems and the failing health of Brett, the series slowly deteriorated; some later episodes failed to include Holmes at all. The later years were characterized by a heavy supernatural element. While Doyle infused some of his stories with it – The Hound of the Baskervilles and “The Sussex Vampire” most notably – it was always countered with a strong dose of science. The later movies and episodes seem to lack that reality check.

Granada’s other claim to fame is with the authenticity of portraying the 1890s. While the story lines became less canonical, the detail to accuracy is spot on; one could say that this series started ITV’s resurgence of historical dramas.

The show’s makers pick up on details such as the tobacco in the Persian slipper, the basket chair from Sidney Paget’s illustration. Part of the fun of watching Granada’s production is the immersion of the viewer into 1890’s England. They pay respect to the history of the era, and it enriches the stories rather than detracts from it.

The series arguably ended on a low note, as the closeness to the original canon was lost and they tried to adapt some of the lesser-written stories. Brett died a year later from heart failure.

Sherlock Holmes is the role he will forever be best known for and Brett is considered to give the best representation of the character.

Overall, the Granada series remains highly regarded as the best produced, despite its later flaws. So if you want something a little old fashioned, but classic in every way, Granada’s Sherlock Holmes is my recommendation to you.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series is available on DVD on Amazon.