„ Acting is the crown on all kinds of art; it is a beautiful profession. Be proud of the fact that you are an actor. ” These are the words of Hungarian poet and actor Sándor Petőfi. I believe Basil Rathbone was a proud man, but at the same time had the profession that tops all arts. He played with grandiose submissiveness. For me he was The Actor since my childhood – and he will remain till the end of my life.
The actor who was found for me by Sherlock Holmes
When I was a kid, I thought all the figures I see on tv are real: dwarves, kings, magicians and witches. This was the time when I saw Erroll Flynn’s Robin Hood. There was an evil character in the movie, who had great punch lines and was very engaging for me. He was Sir Guy of Gisbourne, with manly attitude, an excellent fencer with reflexes as quick as lightning. I got to know later that the people I see onscreen are actors who only play the different characters. It soon came into my mind that someone played the evil character who fenced with Robin Hood, wearing red-and-blue clothes. Unfortunately I have never seen the movie again. Time passed quickly. I watched lots of movies and got to like several fantastic actors, but none of them had such an effect on me as the man who portrayed Guy of Gisbourne. Not just his acting was incredible, but his elegant look and features reminded me of my dear grandfather. I like him very much, even if his name is unfamiliar for most of the people in my beloved country or they do not remember the old movies in which he starred. It does not matter that my taste is not modern, my mind and my heart exactly knows that the world will never forget this English gentleman.
I already heard about Sherlock Holmes when I was a teenager, but I really begun to like the character as a grown woman. Obviously every Holmes fan understands how deeply Jeremy Brett’s brilliant detective touched me. I read what an enormous challenge it was for him to play the legendary hero of Conan Doyle after such a stunning actor like Basil Rathbone, whom the whole world respected as Sherlock Holmes and England was extremely proud of him. After reading a lot about Jeremy’s predecessor, I searched for him on the internet and I could hardly believe my eyes. I owe Sherlock Holmes to find the man for me who was Guy of Gisbourne and whom I had never forgotten. It made me proud that Basil Rathbone too played the king of detectives and I was absolutely sure that he was unforgettable in the role.
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Unfortunately it took quite a while for me to see Basil’s detective. But it was worth while. His sleuth considers his profession the meaning of his life, but he approaches everything else with singular intelligence and tranquiltity. He is similar to the man who is familiar to us from the novels, who sees himself and the world as it is, who is ready to take responsibility for his deeds – the only thing which throws him off his balance is the lack of work. His main target is his own work, and his driving force is love – and he does not escape to work from his problems. It is very important, because in some later adaptations the main character worked of necessity. These detectives have special peculiarities: they are nervous, arrogant and sometimes they are irresponsible. Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock belonged to the first category, he was more humane and valuable. He is worthy to Doyle’s hero, who told in The Final Problem: „ I think that you know me well enough, Watson, to understand that I am by no means a nervous man. ”
Sherlockian websites describe the Holmes portrayal of my favourite actor as stunning by right. I regret one thing very much: that Basil did not have such an exceptional Mycroft like the one played by Mark Gatiss in BBC Sherlock. Of course I know that Sherlock’s brother is mostly a supporting character and Conan Doyle himself did not want him to be too meaningful. Mark Gatiss was a young boy when Basil donned the deerstalker. He admits Rathbone’s protrayal had an enormous effect on him, and I think much of that can be observed in his thrilling Mycroft. That is why I would be glad to see them in a movie together… Though Mr. Gatiss is not the only person who got inspiration from the wonderful Basil Rathbone. He was the model of Disney’s Basil of Baker Street (who is a mouse and Rathbone gave him his voice). The Sherlock Holmes silhouette was often shaped to resemble him, and the character of Sherlock Hemlock was also based on the brilliant actor. Basil received several awards and had three stars in Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. He was rewarded rightly, because he could shine in minor roles as well. Stanislavsky could have written about him: „ Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors. (…) Today you are Hamlet, tomorrow you’ll be a walk-on, but you are always an artist. ” Basil was never suppressed by his roles, because he was a real artist, who played every role with stylish perfectionism. Everything manifested in him what made British acting acclaimed around the whole world: exactitude, creativity, talent and devotion.
To portray Sherlock even better, Basil learned to play the violin and he sat for hours while the makeup artists made a mask for the disguise of Holmes. He played the detective in theatre, in radio plays and in advertisements. He knew that his name is united with the role so he cordially took on the sleuth every time his fans asked for it. He always talked affectionately about the London investigator, though Romeo was his favourite role, what he played onstage. He respected Holmes and portrayed him miraculously – that is why Sherlock fans never piqued at him. They had no reason for that. Just like Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone was a real gentleman, who always dared to stick to his opinion. In addition, he took over the lead with his ideas and took responsibility for his deeds. In the first World War he convinced his superiors that a raid is important – he received Military Cross for his valour.
Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the Sherlockian hearts
Rathbone’s detective had a foolish Watson, but Holmes had forgiven all his mistakes because it was clear for him that the good old doctor's guiding light was the biggest human graciousness. Basil’s Holmes took the time to explain him or others everything. His reasonings are always clear and there is no hint of condescension or humilitation in them. I have to mention here that the Watson of Nigel Bruce was an especially likeable character and Rathbone always praised his costar. The duo became good friends in real life, similar to Jeremy Brett and his Watsons (David Burke and Edward Hardwicke). When Nigel Bruce died Basil was deeply aghast and mourned his true and close friend for a long time. Soon he was mourned by the world. Both actors died because of a heart attack, just like Sherlock’s creator, Conan Doyle. But there will always be Sherlockian hearts that will beat for them with love. And as the great Basil said: „ Never regret anything you have done with a sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart. ”