Well, here we have a very unusual adaptation indeed! Readers of the original Sherlock Holmes canon will recognize "The Musgrave Ritual" as one of the few stories that actually takes place before Holmes and Watson meet. Right off the bat, this poses some difficulties for writers adapting it for the screen. The story consists largely of Holmes telling Watson about one of his earlier cases "before my biographer had come to glorify me." He tells Watson of cases that have long intrigued Sherlockians:
the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminum crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot, and his abominable wife.
As Holmes tells Watson the story of how one of his former university colleagues, Reginald Musgrave, showed up at his rooms in Montague Street, the story-within-a-story actually becomes a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, leading to double quotation marks within single quotation marks within double quotation marks. So, obviously something different needed to be done with the adaptation.
Now I would have expected the story to be told as a flashback, Holmes telling Watson about one of his cases in the old days. However, the writers chose to get a little more creative: they insert Watson into the story, and the scene is now Holmes and Watson being invited for a little vacation time at the estate of Reginald Musgrave. As the adventure unfolds, the dynamic duo are in the middle of the action, and the tale gets rather entertaining and interesting. Most of the major plot points are imported intact from the source material, as well as large chunks of dialogue from the original. Not the least of these is the "Musgrave Ritual" from the title. (I have removed all of the many quotation marks, for ease of reading.)
Whose was it?
As the adaptation unfolds, the mystery is rather engaging for the viewer, but there are some misssteps along the way. The most bewildering choice, I thought, was that Holmes inexplicably spends the first half of the episode wrapping himself in an afghan blanket, as if he is freezing, while no one around him seems to be too cold at all. I found that little detail to be incredibly distracting. Also, Jeremy Brett spends an entire scene holding back laughter, and then erupting into guffaws for...no reason whatsoever.
One might also be surprised (in the original story and in its adaptation) by an adventure in which Holmes solves the case of the mysterious Musgrave Ritual, but seems completely unconcerned by the missing Rachel Howells, who most likely was directly involved in the murder of the butler Brunton. The adaptation solves this problem, to a certain extent, by having the woman's body emerge from the pond, as another servant (with whom Brunton had an affair) discovers the corpse and runs away, shrieking. Considering, though, that the pond had been searched thoroughly at an earlier point in the episode, this doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.
So, is this a faithful adaptation of the story of "The Musgrave Ritual"? Well, yes and no. As I mentioned, most of the story is fairly similar, but there are certainly many liberties taken, rearranging it for ease of storytelling, as well as to have Watson be a participant. Still, it's enjoyable enough to watch, and there are great moments throughout, including a lovely shot of Holmes, Watson and Musgrave at work on the mystery, which I've shared at the top of the post, and a humorous moment when Watson miscalculates the length of a shadow (after Holmes has exclaimed, "The answer lies in trigonometry!"). Overall, an entertaining, if a bit unusual, entry into the Granada canon.
Shakespeare and Sherlock
Posted on May 6, 2014 by Sylvia Morris
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters in literature. So compelling has Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective proved to be since the stories were written over a century ago that he has been brought to life in scores of films, TV series and radio plays. And the character himself has inspired novelists and playwrights to write new stories. So powerful a hold does this fictional character have that a museum dedicated to him, furnished as if he had really lived there, is situated in Baker Street, London.
Nobody has opened a Hamlet museum, but if there was to be a Shakespeare character to have his own museum this would probably be it.
Once again, the "game is afoot!" The quote from Shakespeare's Henry V appears in many Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but it only appears in the canon in "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange." The adventure is a dramatic tale, one in which an abused woman lies to protect the man she loves, and in which Holmes ends up taking the law into his own hands, with Watson's full compliance. Nevertheless, justice is done, and right prevails. The Granada adaptation is fairly faithful to the story, although there are certainly a few sequences added to flesh it out a bit, including an unusual plot point about the Lady Brackenstall's pet dog, Fudge. The ending is slightly different (no spoilers!), and Holmes and Watson have a brief discussion as to the ethical consequences of the detective's decision to operate outside the precise confines of the law.
Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke are excellent, as always, and Brett displays quite a bit of agility in a scene in which he climbs on top of a huge mantelpiece, to examine a torn bell-pull. Although I don't know the order in which episodes of this season were filmed, I get the feeling that Hardwicke was feeling more comfortable in the role of Watson than he was in "The Empty House." (But I acknowledge I could be reading more into the performance than is actually there.)
Although the writing of the episode is quite good, I do have to say a few words about the unusual cinematography on display. I'm afraid the director relied far too much on odd camera angles and reflections. The latter is particularly noticeable: I lost count of how many times one character or another was reflected in a mirror, or a metal sign, or a window. Regarding odd camera angles, there were several shots from extremely high angles, or through partially obscured windows, or even a few from the point of view of a cab driver. I found all of these bizarre visual choices quite distracting, as there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to them, and they made the visual aspect of the storytelling confusing and unsettling.
Still, the story was extremely engaging, and I particularly enjoyed a scene where Holmes visits the shipping manager, who turns out to have read many of Watson's published adventures, and has applied some of Holmes's methods of deduction. The scene, which is only a simple paragraph in the original story, was tremendously entertaining, even though it featured another odd directing choice, as Holmes continually focuses on a chess set (caught mid-game). I really expected him to move one of the pieces, but was surprised when the camera abruptly cut away to the next scene.
So overall, "Abbey Grange" was an enjoyable installment in the series, despite its weird visual style. Maybe not one of my favorite episodes so far, but not a waste of time, either. Enjoy watching the YouTube video below, and feel free to share your own thoughts on the episode in the comments. (WARNING: there is some fairly explicit violence in the episode, including a bloody murder, so if you are easily triggered, be aware.)
And I'm back, after a most enjoyable Holy Week and Easter Sunday! Speaking of "resurrection"...
Sherlock Holmes is back for the second series from Granada TV, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and Edward Hardwicke taking over the role of Dr. John Watson from the inimitable David Burke. I'm sure Sherlockians weren't the only viewers who knew what was coming up in this pivotal episode, and adaptation of "The Empty House." There are no surprises here, especially when the series has the word "Return" right in its title!
Other than the slight detail of giving Watson a more active role in the case of the murder of Ronald Adair, the episode follows the original source material very closely. After an opening sequence that is a bit slow, dramatically speaking, we are treated to Holmes's surprise appearance in Watson's office, as he suddenly transforms from the old book seller into the great detective, causing Watson to faint "for the first and the last time in my life," as Watson puts it in the story. For me (and no doubt, for most viewers) this reunion scene was the main source of enjoyment. Much of the story is told in flashbacks, as Holmes relates what really happened at the Reichenbach Falls. Indeed, if one looks very closely, one can see that all the wide shots of Watson searching in vain for his friend are actually shots of David Burke playing the role in the previous season.
There's a very brief but very emotionally stirring moment during the flashback, when Jeremy Brett as Holmes just begins to shout out Watson's name, but immediately stops himself. It's a beautiful little detail that shows the deep fondness Holmes feels for his friend. Indeed, Watson's response to hearing that Holmes has kept the secret of his survival for THREE YEARS is remarkably gentle. It wouldn't be any stain on Watson's character if he had been just a bit angrier. However, Edward Hardwicke does show a bit of sadness, as he tells Holmes that he believes he could have been at least as deserving of Sherlock's confidence as his brother Mycroft.
Concerning Edward Hardwicke, he really did do a fine job at stepping into a role that had been played so capably by David Burke. Perhaps because Brett was already so comfortable in the role of Holmes, Hardwicke was able to make the transition into Watson's role as smoothly as possible. I still prefer Burke just a bit, but it will be interesting to watch the process of Hardwicke bringing his own skill set into the production. Certainly, by the end of the Granada series, Hardwicke was able to play Watson in a far greater number of adventures than his predecessor.
While it wasn't the most exciting episode I've seen thus far, "The Empty House" was a perfectly respectable way to begin the next phase of the Granada productions. And as I've mentioned, the joy of watching the Holmes/Watson duo resume their partnership was definitely worth the time I spent watching. Enjoy watching the YouTube video shared below! Once again, the game is afoot!
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.