Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BBC Radio's The Complete Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes are simply the best adaptations ever.

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four

Since Sherlock Holmes first appearance in 1887 his stories, told by creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been adapted on stage, in the movies, on television and radio. With some being more closely adaptations than others and some not even close.

Most notably were the movies from the late 30s and 40s starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Though these stories were done in modern times with Holmes not just fighting crime but spies including Nazis. They were never really strict adaptations of the Doyle stories(with maybe the exception of Hound of Baskervilles still done in modern time). These two actors would do a total of 14 Sherlock Holmes movies. Some being adaptations of Doyle's stories but more than not most being either loose interpretation or down right new stories to fit the area of which they were filmed.

And then there was what most people consider the most definitive portrayal of Holmes and Watson by Jeremy Brett and David Burke. The 4 British television series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes(1984-1994) were set in the actual period of the late nineteenth century. It was with this series that the BBC would create it most faithful adaptation to date.

But BBC Radio would change that with it's adaptation of all 4 novels and 56 short stories of Holmes stories by Doyle. Further more these brilliant adaptations were not only aired in the order of publications but it would be performed by a full cast. It is these radio dramas that have been collected in a beautiful 64 CD box set entitled The Complete Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes.

In these dramas Holmes is wonderfully played by Clive Merrison and his trusted friend and confident Dr. Watson is played by Michael Williams. These two talented actors along side equally talented actors bring alive the stories of Holmes in a way that I don't think has ever been achieved before.

First off lets talk about Merrison performance. When I hear him in these radio dramas(I'm listening now as I type this) I forget all other performances. He is just as I imagined Holmes would sound like. And you have to realize that most of the time actors very rarely sound like your favorite literary characters as they do in your head. I can only think of a hand full of times they either matched or went behind my expectations. Merrison absolutely went behind my expectations.

Merrison captures the characterization of Holmes perfectly(the only other performance that I would say that matches Merrison's is Christopher Plummer as Holmes in Murder by Decree). His brilliance, arrogance, and even humanity. There have been many portrayals of Holmes as a cold individual but if you have read the Doyle stories you will know that his high regards for intelligence over emotions can make hims see a very distant and cold person.

Then there is Mr. Williams performance as Dr. Watson, Holmes's chronicler. Also Williams exceeds my imagination of how Watson would sound and act(again I would say James Mason's performance as Watson in Murder by Decree is a perfect match). He captures Watson not as comic relief as some interpretation but as a brilliant doctor and very good friend and confident of Holmes.

But not only was Merrison's and Williams's performance superb but so were the supporting casts performances as well. Each actor brought alive these characters that when hearing them brings you into the world of Holmes and late nineteenth century.

Then there is the sound effect. Each sound brings alive the late nineteenth century. The sounds of the carriages, trains and even the smallest sound is done with perfection. It reminds of many of the old time radio shows I have listen to on CD.

Add to the sparse but wonderful use of the violin. It adds to the mood and atmosphere of these dramas.

Everything about these radio dramas are perfect. The acting, the music, the sound effects. All these things mesh to make a perfect drama and not to be missed by any fans of Sherlock Holmes(or that of the radio drama). The BBC should really be commended for the production of these radio dramas.

And this CD set is really a must for the absolute die hard Holmes fan. The box is beautifully painted to hold the set. As I mentioned above each story was aired in the order that Doyle published them. Which are The Study in Scarlet, Sign of the Four, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

Between the first and last page or should I say between the first and last act this set is a pure joy to listen to. It goes to show just how with out pictures(moving or otherwise) actors with nothing more than sounds effects can bring alive characters and world of one of literary most famous character.

As a fan of detective fiction and in particular Sherlock Holmes this would be a perfect addition to any mystery and Holmes.

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