Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Edward Hardwicke died May 16, at the age of 78. He succeeded David Burke, at Burke's recommendation, as Dr. Watson opposite Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes for the Granada produced series. The transition was eased as he picks up as Watson in "The Adventure of the Empty House" which takes place after the Great Hiatus, when Holmes was believed dead and thus some time had passed for Watson. Thus, an older looking Watson is not as jarring. Interestingly, while Burke's Watson looked quite a bit younger, there was only a difference of two years in the ages of the actors. Hardwicke also played Watson in the series' version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and easily the best of all the versions filmed.
The Granada series portrayal of Dr. Watson was a radical departure from the previous filmed versions and thus the popular view of the character. Instead of the bumbling and slightly comedic though well meaning sidekick, the series went to the actual stories by Doyle and followed that lead, often using dialogue lifted directly from the stories. In some cases, lines said by Holmes in the stories would come from the mouth of Watson in the episodes. The result was a character that was solid, dependable and intelligent and capable in his own way though not at the level of Holmes' genius. His character was empathetic to the needs and sufferings of the clients vs Holmes' indifference. The series and Hardwicke's portrayal highlighted Watson's nature as being understanding and long-suffering to a fault of Holmes' eccentricities, but also a relationship of deep respect and friendship between the two, each aware of the capabilities and faults of the other. In this series, one gets the feeling that Holmes likes and needs Watson as opposed to keeping him around for his own amusement and an easily impressed audience.
Hardwicke was also in the movie Love Actually playing Liam Neeson's father-in-law. I remember watching in the theater and recognizing him at the funeral in the beginning and kept waiting for something to be done with his character. Why cast a recognizable actor and not give him any lines? Unfortunately, his big and funny scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but can be seen on the dvd.
Edward Hardwicke also appeared in the movie Shadowlands, playing C. S. Lewis' brother opposite Anthony Hopkins. While a bigger role than in Love Actually, it's still a relatively small role for such a good and affable actor, mainly serving as a little insight into Lewis' background and character but not really a fully realized character in his own right.
I wish he had done more, but he will remain one of my favorite Dr. Watsons, helping make a character portrayed two dimensionally for so long into a well-rounded and flesh and blood human being.