Owning a Part

Presumably because I didn’t demand a coffee mug or tote from them, last year one or another of the institutions I contribute to bestowed on me a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. I’ve glanced at the issues as they arrived in the mail; I haven’t read any of them.

The most recent issue had a feature on the “25 best characters on television” which piqued my interest. It’s a mark of how out-of-touch I am with modern-day television that I only recognized one of the characters/actors in their list but I agreed wholeheartedly with it: the delightfully-named Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s Sherlock.

Many actors play classic roles but very few transform the roles or come to own them.

The classic Conan Doyle character Sherlock Holmes has been played by dozens of actors over the years on stage, radio, films, and on television, from William Gillette right up to the present. Only a few have owned the character. That’s why, for example, for a whole generation or more other actors could play Sherlock Holmes but they would always be compared, usually unfavorably, with Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of Holmes. No one on either side of the pond could imagine anyone else playing Holmes.

That is until Jeremy Brett. Brett’s nervy, intense Holmes, so different from Rathbone’s intrepid man of action, transformed the role.

I think I may have written favorably of Sherlock in the past. How when his John Watson introduced himself as “an army doctor returned from Afghanistan” the hairs on the back of my neck literally stood on end. It resonated. I got it.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s quirky, mysterious, almost mystical Holmes has once again transformed that classic character and a new actor now owns the role.

2 comments… add one
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    Sherlock has been fantastic. I’ve got a couple of criticisms, but I’ll skip those as they contain spoilers. A Very Holmesian Christmas was very enjoyable, especially after all the misdirection in earlier episodes. Mist appreciated is that they’re taking their time to write quality scripts.

    I’ve especially enjoyed Mycroft. “I’m living in a world of goldfish” is an all-time favorite line.

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    Have you read Neil Gaiman’s short story “A Study in Emerald”? That is highly entertaining. I’m not giving away anything by telling you it is a mix of Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft’s Chthulu mythos. I especially recommend Gaiman’s own reading for the audio-book reading. The adverts within the story are a bonus.

    You can get a pdf of the story off Gaiman’s website, by the way.

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