Close on the heels of the great detective’s birthday, here comes another reason for Sherlockians/Holmesians to rejoice: Douglas Wilmer celebrates his 93rd birthday today.
Douglas Wilmer starred as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series (1964-68) for the first 13 episodes and was succeeded by the late, great Peter Cushing for the rest of the series. Nigel Stock portrayed Dr Watson for the entire series.
Wilmer also had a cameo role as a Diogenes Gent in “The Reichenbach Fall” - the final episode of the second season of the BBC series Sherlock.
Wilmer’s run as Sherlock Holmes in the 1964-68 BBC series consisted of the following episodes:
· The Speckled Band
· The Illustrious Client
· The Devil's Foot
· The Copper Beeches
· The Red-Headed League
· The Abbey Grange
· The Six Napoleons
· The Man with the Twisted Lip
· The Beryl Coronet
· The Bruce-Partington Plans
· Charles Augustus Milverton
· The Retired Colourman
· The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
All but the 2 episodes (The Abbey Grange and The Bruce-Partington Plans) are available on DVD.
Most of the episodes are very faithful takes on their source materials with some minor changes. A recurring change is that the episodes do not start with the client’s visit to 221 B Baker Street. Instead, we see the actual crime happening and then we have our customary visit by the client. This is a welcome change and is something unique to this adaptation.
My favorite episodes are “The Devil’s Foot” and “The Beryl Coronet”. These are two of the least filmed stories in the Canon. The Granada version is the only other adaptation of The Devil’s Foot. There are references to the story in The Hounds of Baskerville (BBC’s Sherlock) and The Spider Woman (Sir Basil Rathbone).
As for “The Beryl Coronet”, I believe this is the only adaptation.
Wilmer brought the right amount of humor and eccentricity to the role. This version of Holmes is one of the most Canonically faithful ones ever portrayed on screen. Vasily Livanov presented the brighter aspects of Holmes’ personality and Benedict Cumberbatch is doing a great job at portraying the colder side of Holmes and his black moods. Wilmer’s version provides a fine balance between these two extremes.
Wilmer did a lot of research as part of preparing for the role and the hard work is quite evident in his portrayal. Wilmer’s natural sense of humor and intelligence shines through and his performance is a delight to watch.
Some of the script work for the episodes was not upto the mark. Wilmer himself rewrote the scripts to make them more in the Doylean mold.
Wilmer left the series after the rehearsal periods were reduced severely. It is gratifying to come across a dedicated craftsman like Wilmer who did not bow down to commercial reasons and stood by his artistic integrity.
Happy Birthday Douglas Wilmer and wishing you many more years of healthy life ahead!
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