IT IS with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished.
With these words, Arthur Conan Doyle began what was originally intended to b the last Sherlock Holmes adventure. As the story goes, by 1893, Conan Doyle had grown tired of the impact that his Holmes adventures were having on what he considered to be his "serious" writing. It was apparently after a trip to the Alps with his wife that he was inspired to kill off his famous creation at the majestic Reichenbach Falls. In so doing, he created a villain who, despite the small number of times he appears in the Holmes stories, became the great detective's most infamous nemesis: Professor Moriarty.
Backlash to the publication of "The Final Problem," which featured the (apparent) death of Sherlock Holmes, was swift and enormous. The Strand Magazine was inundated with complaints and subscription cancellations. Reportedly, many people could be seen around London wearing mourning clothes, due to the death of their beloved hero. Conan Doyle eventually felt enough pressure from his fans, that he published what is arguable his greatest Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, in 1901. As that novel was a flashback to an earlier adventure, rather than a true "resurrection," it still wasn't enough for Sherlock fans. In 1903, Sherlock Holmes truly returned in "The Adventure of the Empty House," in which it was revealed that the brilliant sleuth had not, in fact, died at the hands of Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.
Which brings us to the wrap-up of the first series of Granada Sherlock Holmes adaptations. "The Final Problem" (1985) is a fitting finale to the second season of that first series. It would prove to be David Burke's final performance as Dr. Watson. Edward Hardwicke took over the role for the second series, entitled (appropriately enough) The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which began airing in 1986. Burke turns in an excellent final performance as the good doctor, and as he takes pen to paper to write "The Final Problem" and bid farewell to his friend, the gravitas is palpable.
Jeremy Brett is in absolutely top form throughout the episode. One wonders if the series had been renewed by this point, or if he also felt that the episode may be his last chance to play Holmes, as well. Whatever the case, he is spectacular. Eric Porter turns in a menacing performance as Professor Moriarty. Overall, the episode is a fantastic adaptation of this most pivotal story, despite a rather clunky special effect that happens when Holmes and Moriarty go over the Falls. The stuntpeople are obviously suspended by wires for their "fall," and the bodies that hit the bottom are clearly dummies. Still, I imagine most of their budget was spent on the gorgeous aerial shots of the Swiss Alps, and what looks to be plenty of location shooting in Switzerland for the second half of the episode.
Despite the climactic ending of the story, there really isn't a whole lot going on in much of the original story, so the writers are forced to pad things out quite a bit. As a result, we have a rather lengthy and unusual sequence after the three attempts on Holmes' s life in London, wherein Holmes recovers the stolen Mona Lisa(!) Indeed, it is that event that precipitates Moriarty's decision in the episode to "dispose" of his nemesis.
I suspect, if you were only to choose to watch a few episodes of the Granada series, "The Final Problem" would be a must-see installment to have on your list. Or you could choose to do what I am doing: watch them all on YouTube!
Incidentally, as next week is Holy Week and I am a church musician, my schedule is going to be very busy next weekend. Therefore, I am not planning on doing a review next Saturdaay. I will resume my reviews the weekend after Easter, as I move on to the second series, The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I hope you'll join me!
(Apparently, this video is also age-restricted, no doubt due to the violent ending of the episode. You've been warned!)
This week, I come to what is surely one of the most delightful episodes of the entire series of adaptations from Granada TV! "The Red-Headed League" has long been a favorite story of most Sherlockians, and was on a list of Arthur Conan Doyle's favorite Holmes stories as well. The Granada adaptation shows Jeremy Brett at the absolute top of his game, and is a real treat for any viewer. Fans of British comedy will certainly recognize the actors playing John Clay (Tim McInnerny from the popular Black Adder series), and Duncan Ross (Richard Wilson from One Foot in the Grave).
This episode really has it all: humor, adventure, and as always, the rapport between Holmes and Watson, played to such great effect by Jeremy Brett and David Burke. The episode give Sherlockians so much to enjoy, including Holmes's reference to the famous "three pipe problem" and the great shot of Jeremy Brett, knees up and smoking, a picture perfect reference to a Sidney Paget illustration from the original story.
There are so many entertaining moments from this episode, but a couple stood out for me, one of which was Jeremy Brett's leap over the settee as Watson enters towards the beginning of the episode, accompanied by a shout of "You couldn't have come at a better time!" (Fans of the I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast will recognize the clip immediately from their intro sequence.) And then there's the reaction from Holmes and Watson as Mr. Jabez Wilson concludes his tale. Brett and Burke burst into laughter, which can hardly be helped, as Mr. Wilson tells them all the words he learned, transcribing the first volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Little moments of humor, some from the original story and others not, make the episode tremendously entertaining.
The episode also serves as a setup for the next week's conclusion to the first series, "The Final Problem." We get several scenes with Professor Moriarty, as well as fairly lengthy sequence in the bank vault, wherein Holmes and Inspector Jones discuss Moriarty's role in London crime. All this material, of course, is not from the source material, as "The Red-Headed League" was only the second Holmes adventure published in The Strand magazine, and "The Final Problem" came much later. But in the continuity of this first series from Granada, it works quite well to prepare the viewer for the big series finale.
As I prepare myself to watch "The Final Problem" next week, it's a bit of a bittersweet moment, as I know that episode also represents the final episode for David Burke as Dr. Watson. I enjoy Burke's Watson portrayal immensely. I don't know that Edward Hardwicke, who ended up playing the good doctor for much longer than Burke did, ever quite matched up to Burke's version. Harwicke was no slouch, of course, and he brought plenty of good moments to the role himself, but I suspect Burke will always occupy a special place in my heart.
As I continue this project of watching and reviewing all of the Granada Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I know that the quality of the series will have its ups and downs. As Jeremy Brett's health grew worse and worse over time, the overall quality tends to decline...or so I've always read. (And, having seen some of the later episodes, particularly the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I'm inclined to agree with that appraisal.) Meanwhile, it's a marvelous experience to watch all of the episodes in order, and to be able to enjoy the performances when they were at the excellent level of "The Red-Headed League." It was truly a real gift to legions of Holmes fans. Please enjoy watching the episode below...
"The Adventure of the Resident Patient" (from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) is a story with some macabre elements and a rather unsatisfying conclusion. It's yet another tale in which Doyle couldn't seem to think of a satisfactory manner of the murderers being brought to justice, and settled for a shipwreck bringing justice instead. (See "The Greek Interpreter" for more evidence of this technique.) The Granada adaptation, despite a little bit of acting that borders on melodrama, is fairly successful, I think. The main story is bookended by a couple scenes that are not in the source material: an opening at a barber shop, in which Watson attempts to use Holmes's own methods against him, and a humorous conclusion in which Holmes suggests a different title for Watson's story relating the events of the case. Sherlockian readers may be disappointed to see the barber shop scene replace the opening of the original story, which featured Holmes making some deductions about Watson's ruminations on the American Civil War.
One definite highlight of the episode for me was the scene following Blessington's suicide (spoiler alert!). Jeremy Brett excels in the somewhat lengthy (but immensely entertaining) sequence, wherein Sherlock Holmes prowls about the room, finding details missed by the police, allowing him to reconstruct the events of the previous night. Brett is fabulous, and the reactions of the other character watching him work are priceless.
There are a few other details that elicited a smile from me, such as the little whistle Jeremy Brett gives when he is told of Blessington's death, or the moment in which he tells Watson that he has sometimes feigned catalepsy to deceive someone. I think it's those kinds of little details that often make Brett's performance so enjoyable to behold. He inhabits the character of the great detective to an extent that very few actors have rivaled.
The performances of the actors who played Percy Trevelyan and Mr. Blessington (Nicholas Clay and Patrick Newell, respectively) I found just a bit too intense at times. As I mentioned above, they sometimes border on melodrama, but Brett and Burke serve to balance the overall tone of the episode.
I should probably also mention the exceedingly creepy scene that immediately follows the credits. Most of the Granada episodes I've seen thus far seem to insert a scene introducing the case, before bringing Holmes and Watson into the story. Some of these scenes work well, while others are simply confusing or bewildering. The opening of this episode falls into the latter category, in my opinion. Blessington's dream of seeing himself in a coffin does little to set up the story, and could easily be cut from the episode with no impact on the plot whatsoever.
Still, overall, despite a bit of confusion towards the beginning, the strong performance by Jeremy Brett makes the adventure pretty engaging. Maybe not one of my favorite episodes, but a worthy entry in the series, I think.
To my readers: I suspect the morbid nature of Mr. Blessington's suicide has (quite rightly) led to YouTube's age restriction on the video. Please proceed accordingly.
[Apologies that this review is just over a day late. I had some technical difficulties that prohibited me from posting the review on the regular Saturday. Next week's should be on time, God willing!]
I am very happy to report, the Granada adaptation of "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder," a story from The Return of Sherlock Holmes, is my favorite episode thus far! The writers took an enjoyable enough story, remained very faithful to the plot, and tweaked it just enough, resulting in a beautifully paced and gripping piece of storytelling. In the original, much of the story is Holmes telling Watson what he's been up to. It works fine for me as a reader, but would be exceptionally dull as a television program. By giving Watson more to do, and showing much more of the action onscreen, the pacing and flow of the story are improved tenfold. I found myself glued to the screen for the entire 50+ minutes of the episode.
Jeremy Brett is in absolutely top form, showing us Holmes at his lowest of lows, wallowing in despair that he may fail his client, as well as showing us Holmes at his most delightful level of playful deduction once the pieces fall into place. There's no shortage of interplay here between Holmes and Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade (played perfectly by Colin Jeavons). Matthew Solon is very well cast as the nervous, excitable Mr. John Hector McFarlane. He seems a bit younger than the character is described in the story; I would say he's in his early twenties, rather than his late twenties, as Watson describes him. Honestly, all the casting is perfect, but I was particularly struck by the excellent writing mentioned above. I felt like there was not a single minute of screen time wasted. There were some brilliant moments with no dialogue here and there that did a tremendous job of conveying the state of mind of the characters: Holmes's melancholy when he can't figure things out, Watson's concern for his friend, and Mr. McFarlane's despair when it looks like he may be hanged for murder.
I honestly can't say enough good about this episode. I have really enjoyed watching the Granada adaptations so far, but this one was a noticeable step above many of the other episodes. One gets the distinct feeling that the production team and the regular cast had really hit their stride by this point in the series. "Norwood Builder" is HIGHLY recommended!
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN, and a longtime fan of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.