Thursday, 16 January 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Many Faces of a Master Detective - BBC Timeshift documentary review

Sherlock Holmes: The Many Faces of a Master Detective proved to be a very informative and enjoyable documentary. One unexpected pleasure from my perspective was to discover, as the credits rolled, the identity of the narrator of the programme. He was an elderly man with a very distinctive vocal style, and I wondered who it might be. I didn't guess right - it proved to be Peter Wyngarde, a truly charismatic actor who starred both in that superb film The Innocents and, in his most famous role, as Jason King in Department S. It was good to hear him again. It isn't often that an unseen narrator comes close to stealing the show, especially when it's a good show.

The programme traced the portrayal of Holmes on screen, in television and film, and this provided an excellent excuse for a lot of fun - including amusing chat about the mask worn by the dog who featured as the eponymous The Hound of the Baskervilles in the Hammer Film version of the story. Among the contributors was Mark Gatiss, whose enthusiasm for Sherlock came over very clearly. He has real insight into popular culture, ranging from ghost stories and sci-fi to the great consulting detective.

I've been a Holmes fan since I was a young boy, when I came across the Basil Rathbone films and the Douglas Wilmer TV series at much the same time. The point was made by one contributor that our favouirte Holmes tends to be the one we encountered in youth, and I certainly rate Rathbone and the less renonwned Wilmer very highly, but Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch are in their different ways also very good. Some would vote for Peter Cushing, a good actor but to my mind a notch below the top four. It was, by the way, great to see another screen veteran, Douglas Wilmer, talking very entertainingly here about his series in the Sixties.

Yet there's so much Holmes stuff out there that I realised I've missed quite a few good things over the years, including Billy Wilder's film starring Robert Stephens. Must catch up on that before too long. The mark of a good documentary is perhaps whether it makes you want to find out more about the subject, and I was delighted that this programme made it clear that there's still a lot more Holmesiana that I have yet to discover.

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