Well, pursuant to my last post about the unfortunate disappearance of the complete Granada playlist from YouTube, I did manage to find the finale of the first season of The Return of Sherlock Holmes elsewhere on YouTube, so I am happy to report that I can, at the very least wrap up this third season of the Granada series with my review of "The Six Napoleons." And what a finale it was!
Of all the episodes I've watched thus far, this one may be the most entertaining. It really has it all: a lengthy opening scene in Italian, featuring a knife fight(!); Jeremy Brett in top form, as well as an admirable performance by Colin Jeavons as Inspector Lestrade; and a plot that follows the original story quite closely, while maintaining a flow of storytelling that works remarkably well. And to top it all of, there's humor...lots and lots of humor! Indeed, this was by far the most enjoyable and funny episode I've seen in the Granada series.
When I say that Jeremy Brett was in top form in this episode, there is no better example than the final scene in the rooms at 221B, when Holmes acquires the last of the six busts of Napoleon. After a very humorous sequence in which he purchases the last bust from a very finicky chap, he proceeds to set up his smashing of the bust with the same kind of flourishes one would see from a master illusionist. He even pulls the tablecloth from under the tea set that is on the table, lays it out, and then...BANG! his walking stick crashes down on the final bust. Priceless.
The original story is certainly very entertaining, but this TV adaptation perfectly captures many of the things we love the most about Sherlock Holmes stories: the banter between Holmes and Watson, Holmes always one step ahead of the local constabulary, and Holmes's delight in details that seem meaningless to others, but that turn out to be the heart of the case. I shall share the link to the video I watched, in the hopes that it won't disappear from YouTube any time soon. Enjoy!
Well, I was disappointed (but not 100% surprised) to discover this weekend that the YouTube playlist I'd been watching of the entire Granada series is no longer on YouTube. I realized all along that YouTube could pull it, as it is copyrighted material. But I had hoped maybe I would get through the series before it happened. I have DVDs of The Return of Sherlock Holmes somewhere, so I will try to locate them, and maybe continue the reviews soon. But beyond that series, I don't know what I shall do. Perhaps my local public library has other installments of the series.
Anyway, if you've been following the review series, I apologize for this break in the action, and that you can no longer watch the episodes to which I've provided links. I'll see what I can do to continue with the series, but for the time being, we are in a bit of a holding pattern. Thanks for reading!
It's Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday today, and today I return to my series of reviews of the Granada TV series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Once again, the game is afoot!
The Granada adaptation of "The Adventure of the Priory School" is dramatic and action-packed (particularly towards the end of the episode). But, although it retains some of the major plot points, it bears relatively little resemblance to its source material. Material from the original story is shuffled around, we are treated to a considerable amount of horse riding and bicycle riding, and there's an interesting scene where the main villain, Mr. James Wilder, meets a nasty end in a torch-lit cave. It's certainly an engaging story, but it's not quite the story Arthur Conan Doyle wrote!
Still, there is much to recommend, above and beyond the beautiful scenery of the English countryside. Noted Shakespearean actor Alan Howard portrays the Duke of Holdernesse to great effect. (His long red beard described in the story has been replaced by bushy red sideburns.) Jeremy Brett brings his usual intensity to the role, and Watson is given quite a bit more to do than in the original. The dramatic pacing of the adaptation is quite good, I think, and less dialogue heavy than the original, so the story flows fairly convincingly. As an occasional student of Latin, I also enjoyed the tiny little detail of the headmaster, Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable (surely one of the greatest character names in the whole Canon), greets all the students with, "Salvete discipuli!" (Hello, students!)
I was intrigued by a dinner scene towards the middle of the episode, wherein Holmes and Watson joke a bit about the origins of the Holdernesse family (they started out as cattle thieves). An outraged Dr. Huxtable gets a little peeved with Holmes' s disrespect of the Duke, which leads to a scene that is not in the original story where the detective shares his deductions on the role that the German teacher has played in the boy's disappearance. It seemed to me that it was a bit out of character to be joking about an aristocrat, as he usually shows great deference to those of high station, but the scene was certainly well played, especially with all the pipe and cigarette smoke that created a visually interesting effect.
Perhaps this is a good point to pause and consider the challenges inherent in adapting Doyle's stories to the medium of television. While they often have their fair share of action and adventure, many of the stories in the Canon tend to be rather heavy on dialogue. We are often given much of the exposition, and often much of Holmes' s investigations, in the form of characters telling other characters what has happened. To make an effective TV drama, of course, the writers have to show rather than tell, and to a great extent, most of the episodes I've watched thus far have done a pretty good job of doing so. Added to the visual nature of TV is the necessity to make stories fit into the format of a 50-minute episode. For some stories this means trimming the plot considerably, while for others it means padding the plot with more material.
Overall, I believe the adaptation of "The Priory School" is one of the better examples of handling the source material in a manner that retains much of the flavor of the original, while demonstrating a willingness to depart from the source where necessary, in order to provide a better dramatic structure for the medium in which they are working. I certainly found this to be a worthwhile installment in the series. Feel free to share your thoughts on the episode, particularly if you have ideas about how much an adaptation should adhere to the original story.
My apologies to anyone who has been following my series of Granada reviews, for skipping last week's post. We had a very busy weekend, and there simply wasn't time to watch an episode and write a review. This review will get us back on track as I near the midpoint of my viewing experience. Thanks for reading!
Well, right off the bat I have to say, this is not the greatest episode I've seen. Nor is it the greatest Sherlock Holmes story, either. Indeed, "The Man with the Twisted Lip" seems a singularly odd choice for dramatization. Of all the 56 short stories in the Canon, why adapt this one? Reading the story again, and watching this adaptation of it, I am struck by how incredibly dense Holmes is in this case. I hadn't even remembered the plot of the story when I began watching the episode, but early on, I thought, "It's obvious, isn't it? Neville St. Clair and Hugh Boone are the same person." Does it really require so much work on the part of Holmes and Watson to figure out something so plain?
That being said, the adaptation is fairly faithful to the source material. There is, of course, the adjustment of Watson still being a bachelor in the show, which actually improves on the story a bit. Reading through the story, I was wondering what Mrs. Watson would have thought when her husband doesn't come home after going out to find their friend's husband? And that's one interesting thing about the story: we begin with Watson going out to find a friend who has an unfortunate opium addiction, but that turns out merely to be a device to get Watson to the opium den. A very odd shift in the storytelling, I think.
The TV adaptation also fleshes out the character of Neville/Hugh a bit, by giving him all kinds of clever quotes from Shakespeare, Tennyson, and even W.S. Gilbert ("a policeman's lot is not a happy one," from The Pirates of Penzance). This is an example of what Doyle describes in the story as "the facility of repartee." Entertaining enough, but it gets pretty corny at the end, when Neville clumsily paraphrases Shakespeare, saying, "Farewell, sweet Boone...a flight of angels sing thee to thy rest." This is, of course, adapted from Horatio's farewell to Hamlet in the final scene of Hamlet: "Good night, sweet prince/ And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"
As there is no real crime in this story, apart from Neville being a colossal ass to his wife, there's really not a whole lot to recommend about the episode. I found myself occupied through most of the story with fairly trivial questions, for example:
As you can probably tell, this was not my favorite installment in the series. Indeed, I would say it is my least favorite episode thus far. By all means, watch it it for the sake of completeness (as I did), but if you choose to skip it, you won't have missed anything.
The Granada adaptation of "The Adventure of the Second Stain," the last case published in the collection entitled The Return of Sherlock Holmes, is a very solid episode in the series. Jeremy Brett is in particularly fine form in the episode, and the supporting cast is excellent as well, most notably (for me, at least) Patricia Hodge as Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope. (Fans of the British comedy Miranda will certainly recognize Ms. Hodge from her role as Penny, Miranda's mother.)
The adaptation follows the original story quite closely, merely rearranging a few scenes to heighten some of the dramatic tension, but following all the plot points quite closely. The most interesting change comes at the very end, where Holmes is given the chance to indulge in a fine bit of sleight-of-hand to deposit the letter into Trelawney Hope's dispatch box while he is sorting through the letters. In the original, Holmes deduces that Lady Hilda has a duplicate key, and has her place the letter in the box before her husband gets home. In the adaptation there is no second key, and there's a lovely shot where Jeremy Brett walks into the foreground, showing his face in profile as he lights his cigarette, immediately after his little trick.
A couple other little details caught my attention and made me grin with delight. The first is so random that I actually think it may have been a mistake while filming. As Holmes complains about his inability to find the letter over several days, he lights his pipe and flings the match aside. The match is clearly still aflame, and a few seconds later, Watson shouts, "Holmes!" The camera then shows that the pile of newspapers on a nearby chair has burst into flames, and Brett and Hardwicke proceed to put out the flames for a few seconds. There is no mention in the original of anything catching fire, and it has absolutely no impact on the plot, so I wonder if the fire was an accident?
The other detail that made me smile was when Holmes searches for the letter in the hidden compartment in Eduardo Lucas's floor. When he finds it empty, Jeremy Brett utters a snort that sounds exactly like a hog. It made me laugh out loud, but this moment was apparently Brett's interpretation of what the original story calls "a bitter snarl of anger and disappointment." Okay, it was more a snort than a snarl, but entertaining nonetheless!
The episode wraps up with Jeremy Brett jumping into the air in celebration, an action that seems a tiny bit out of character for the detective. However, as I consider Brett's approach to his portrayal of Holmes, I think one of the things that makes it so enjoyable much of the time is how much humor he injects into the role, without it devolving into slapstick. I have to admit that, every once in awhile, he carries it a bit too far, as in the adaptation of "The Musgrave Ritual." (See my previous review for my thoughts on that episode.)
Overall, I found this episode rather enjoyable to watch. I don't know if it would ever end up in, say, my top five favorites, but it did have a dramatic arc that I found rather satisfying. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments after watching the episode linked below.
NOTE: On the YouTube playlist I've been following, "The Second Stain" is listed as S03, E04, while IMDB's entry on this season lists it as episode 3. I apologize for any confusion this discrepancy may cause.
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.