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!
"The Greek Interpreter," one of the adventures from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, is of interest to Sherlock Holmes fans mainly due to its being our first glimpse of Mycroft, Sherlock's older brother. And Mycroft is certainly a fascinating character: described as "absolutely corpulent" by Watson, but with "the sharpness of expression which was so remarkable in that of his brother," Mycroft has, according to his younger brother, "better powers of observation than I." So the tale is notable for its expansion of the great detective's back story. Sadly, as the reader reaches the end of the story, it is profoundly disappointing compared to many of Holmes's other cases. The bad guys get away, and a man is dead. The Greek interpreter of the title survives, just barely.
Therefore, it's no wonder that the writers of the Granada adaptation felt the need to flesh out the plot considerably. As a result, the last ten minutes or so of the episode contain a plot original to the episode, that is frankly rather ridiculous. Sherlock, Watson and Mycroft go running (literally) after the villains, and confront them on a train. The whole thing becomes a "train adventure," complete with the violent death of one of the baddies, a smooth bit of pocket picking by Mycroft, and even a moment where Mycroft holds a pistol to the other bad guy's head. One gets the distinct impression that the writers knew the ending as Doyle wrote it was worthless, so they just took a sharp turn, and wrote the adventure they wanted to see the main characters have.
Still the episode is not completely worthless. Charles Gray does an admirable job as Mycroft. (My impression was that he was too old to play the role, but I see from a quick Wikipedia search that he was only 5 years older than Brett.) I don't know that Gray was quite as "stout" as Watson describes him in the story, and he doesn't seem nearly tall enough. However, considering the trend in many Holmes adaptations for a slim Mycroft (BBC Sherlock, Elementary, and Enola Holmes spring to mind), I think the casting was pretty good. And we are treated to a lovely scene at the Diogenes Club, wherein Sherlock and Mycroft trade deductions about a random guy in the street below, to Watson's very clear delight.
Speaking of Watson, I am always impressed by David Burke's Watson. I only wish that he had been able to continue the role after this first series. Edward Hardwicke was very good, too, but Burke was the best, in my opinion. Indeed, if I had to rank all the Watsons I've seen over the years, I believe David Burke would be at the top of my list. It is also important to remember that, at the time, Burke was a breath of fresh air for a role that had been largely defined by Nigel Bruce's comic portrayal of the character.
Overall, in "The Greek Interpreter," we are left with an episode that is enjoyable enough for its character development, but that inherits many of the defects of its source material, and tries to over-compensate with a new ending that borders on the ludicrous. So, not a complete waste of time, but not one of the better episodes I've seen thus far.
Postscript: The Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem, the Sherlockian group in which I participate here in Nashville, TN, just discussed this story a week ago at our monthly meeting. Many of the opinions I've shared above (about the original story and its adaptation by Granada) were voiced by other members of the group. Indeed, we had a lively discussion about the story. And a good time was had by all...
Season 2 of Granada's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starts with a gripping, dramatic episode, complete with a creepy "bad guy" (played to great effect by British actor Joss Ackland), a winsome heroine (the late Natasha Richardson playing Violet Hunter), and a bloodthirsty hound (not that hound, mind you). Honestly, re-reading "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" just now, I felt like the Granada series took a fairly average story and made it into something much more exciting. Overall, they were very faithful to the source material, but they managed to rearrange a few plot points and use a fine cast to elevate the adaptation beyond its original form.
For one thing, Joss Ackland is extremely creepy as Mr. Rucastle. Sure, he's jovial enough most of the time, but Ackland is a talented enough actor to make every line seem sinister. From the very first time we meet him, we feel as if things just aren't quite right with this "generous" employer. Meanwhile, Natasha Richardson as Violet Hunter gave the role the right balance between a young lady who's getting more and more frightened and the kind of ingenuity that obviously wins the great detective's respect.
Jeremy Brett and David Burke are excellent, as usual, and there's a particularly delightful sequence at the opening of the episode where we are treated to one of Holmes's rants about how Watson has injected too much romance into the stories that Holmes thinks should be cold, logical case studies. We also are treated to a classic Holmes line, as the detective and his sidekick take the train to meet up with Miss Hunter: “Data! data! data! I can’t make bricks without clay.” (This line, which happens back at the flat at 221B Baker Street in the story, is moved a bit later in the TV episode, which I think works quite well.)
I should also mention the little detail of the slight change of setting of Mr. Rucastle's daughter's prison: in the original story, it is merely a mysterious, shuttered wing of the Copper Beeches estate. In the adaptation, however, it has been transformed into a mysterious "turret," which I think works a bit better. That's what I enjoyed about this episode: the writers, while staying quite faithful to the original story, made minor tweaks to the plot, which ended up giving the story a lot more drama and forward momentum.
This was really a top-notch episode to begin the second season of the successful series. Before I wrap up the review, I should probably mention the entertaining final scene, in which Watson is clearly reading his most recent write-up of the events at the Copper Beeches, with no little delight at the effect his "romantic" storytelling has on his friend. By this point in the series, one can easily tell how comfortable David Burke and Jeremy Brett were becoming in their own roles, as well as in the camaraderie shared by the two friends. It really was a very fine episode to begin the second season!
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" is a perennial favorite among Sherlockians, no doubt due to its setting "the second morning after Christmas." It's short, easy-to-read tale that sends Holmes and Watson on what looks like it could become a literal wild goose chase. The Granada adaptation captures much of the fun of the original story (despite its rather silly opening sequence that shows the violent history of the jewel in the title). This is also an example of one of several cases in which Holmes simply lets the villain go at the end, a questionable ethical decision at best.
The adaptation follows the beats of the story fairly closely. It fleshes out the story of the man who has been wrongly accused of the theft of the Blue Carbuncle with a few effective scenes involving John Horner and his family. We are even treated to a happy scene at the end of the episode in which Horner is reunited with his family. And there's a lovely little arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" in the score, which quite deftly intertwines with the main theme melody of the series. A very nice musical moment, to be sure.
There were three scenes I particularly enjoyed, the first being Holmes' s deductions about the bowler hat belonging to Mr. Henry Baker. Jeremy Brett is delightful in the scene, as he smokes his cigarette and issues forth on the deduced history of the hat. The other scene is when Holmes and Watson bring the real villain, James Ryder, back to the flat at 221B, and Jeremy Brett produces the Blue Carbuncle "from thin air" with a dramatic flourish. It's very entertaining watching Holmes have a little fun at a bad guy's expense. Finally, when Holmes lets Ryder go, his quiet disgust followed by a brief outburst of rage is complemented nicely by David Burke's reaction as Watson.
Apart from the aforementioned cheesy opening sequence, this episode is one of the more enjoyable ones I've seen. It's funny, with good pacing, and really entertaining from top to bottom. Furthermore, it's a great episode to watch during the Christmas season, which I did a couple months ago, and which was what gave me the idea to review the entire series! Definitely a must-see adaptation for any Sherlockian...
I would like to start this review off by stating (again) how much I love David Burke's portrayal of Watson in this first season of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes! Right at the beginning, when he says, "You're interested!" the playful smile on his face makes me think that he has perfectly captured the excitement that makes Watson want to be Holmes's biographer. I was also pleased that the writers of the episode managed to keep some snippets from Watson's delightful introduction to the case:
...it seemed rather a piquant thing to us to chevy him about the playground and hit him over the shins with a wicket.
In the original story, this is a humorous line that Watson writes, but does not say out loud to Holmes. It made me smile to read it, and it made me smile even more to hear Watson say it. But I digress...
Another one of my favorite moments in the story is when Holmes and Watson meet Mr. Joseph Harrison. When Holmes deduces (without being told his name) that Mr. Harrison is not a member of the family, Harrison figures out immediately that Holmes had caught a glimpse of his JH monogram. Harrison, unlike most characters in the canon who are witness to the detective's ability to instantly make surprising deductions, is particularly unimpressed, remarking, "For a moment I thought you had done something clever." In the adaptation, Jeremy Brett responds to this criticism with the slightest raise of an eyebrow. It's a tiny detail, but I love it.
I'm afraid I can't help but be a bit entertained, reading the original story and watching this adaptation, by Percy Phelps's case of the good ol' Victorian plot device of "brain fever." I understand having a nervous breakdown because of an enormous setback in one's government job, but the sight of this posh British chap in his dressing gown succumbing to an attack of "the vapors" (as his fiancée dabs his brow) is more than a little comical. After all, the event had taken place two months ago, and the guy has been an invalid the whole time! Meanwhile, Holmes just looks on, almost completely unsympathetic.
Holmes's "flower monologue," after he has heard the details of Percy's case is an odd thing to read, but even more odd to see on screen. (The "flower cam" that show the flower from Holmes's point of view is unintentionally hilarious.) Miss Harrison is clearly not at all pleased with the great detective's seeming lack of interest in the case, a displeasure which is conveyed very clearly in the set of the actress's jaw. One can hardly blame her, I suppose...
The "flower cam" is not the only unusual shot in the episode. I was struck by the composition of this shot of Holmes and Watson discussing the case after leaving poor Percy.
"Hey, I've got an idea! Let's shoot the actors through a window, with two candle holders in the foreground. Won't that look great?" (Hint: it doesn't.) And that's not the only bizarre camera work in the episode: when Holmes and Watson are interviewing Lord Holdhurst, the camera inexplicably pans to a point of view where the actor is almost completely hidden by the chandelier. Later in the episode, Holmes's violent encounter with the villainous Mr. Harrison is filmed in a rather strange sort of slow-motion sequence. (Interestingly, Holmes can be seen to carry a sword concealed in his walking stick.) Very bizarre direction...
Still, despite some of the odd camera work, and some rather slow pacing, I am still incredibly impressed by how good Jeremy Brett and David Burke are in their roles. The camaraderie between the two characters, the little details each actor inserts into his portrayal, it all adds up to a delightful presentation of one of literature's most famous friendships. As usual for the Granada series, the costumes are top-notch, as are the overall production values.
Overall, it's not my favorite episode, but it was mostly enjoyable to watch. It's a decent adaptation of a lengthy story with a surprisingly anti-climactic ending. While it can't compare to a more exciting adventure (such as, say, "The Dancing Men"), it is still well worth watching, mostly in order to see Brett and Burke at the top of their game.
Welcome to my newest project here on Baker Street Babble: reviews of all 41 episodes of Granada TV’s Sherlock Holmes series, which ran on the ITV network in Great Britain, as well as PBS in America, from 1984 to 1994. This first review may run a bit longer than subsequent reviews, as I shall attempt to “set the scene,” as it were, and give some background on the series and its cast. The Granada series starred Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and Brett’s performance was hailed by many as the quintessential Holmes of his generation, and perhaps of all time.
Before the Granada series began, many fans of Sherlock Holmes had considered Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of the great detective to be the most iconic in film history. Certainly Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson was a bit less popular with many Sherlockians, as many of them objected to Bruce’s portrayal of Watson as a buffoonish, bumbling sidekick. Also, despite the two films Rathbone and Bruce did for 20th Century Fox being presented in a Victorian setting, the rest of the Rathbone/Bruce films had been set in the 20th century. One of the aims of the Granada series clearly was to return Holmes and Watson to an authentic Victorian setting. Beyond simply returning the duo to the late 19th century, there was clearly a desire to be as faithful to the original stories, as well as the Sidney Paget illustrations that had accompanied them. To a very great degree, the series was successful in this mission.
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes was, by all reports, obsessed with making his performance as close to the original canon as possible. David Burke, who was the first actor to play Watson in the Granada series, was a very different character from Nigel Bruce’s bumbler. Burke’s Watson was far closer to the Watson we read about in ACD’s original stories: a Victorian gentleman, intelligent and loyal to a fault.
As I review each episode in the series, I shall share my thoughts as to how the adaptation compares to the original story, as well as my opinions as to how successful each episode is, not only as an adaptation, but as visual storytelling in its own right. I shall provide links to YouTube video of each episode and to an online version of each story, so the reader may access both story and adaptation. My thoughts and opinions are my own, and I fully expect some Sherlockians (and non-Sherlockians who may read the reviews) to have differing opinions. So without further ado, let us proceed with the first episode, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
“A Scandal in Bohemia” was the very first Sherlock Holmes short story to be published in The Strand Magazine in 1891. Arthur Conan Doyle had published two Holmes novels before the short stories began to appear: A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890). Neither novel was particularly successful to begin with. But the scene had been set: a brilliant detective and his loyal partner. “A Scandal in Bohemia” as a story begins with words that immediately capture the reader’s attention: “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.” Thus are we introduced to Irene Adler, a fairly minor character in the Sherlock Holmes canon, but nonetheless one whose presence in Holmes pastiches and film/TV adaptations has been immense.
This episode first aired on April 24, 1984. Readers who are familiar with the original story will notice the difference in the visual storytelling that opens the adaptation immediately. Instead of Watson’s narration beginning the episode, we are given a short introductory scene in which some thugs are ransacking Irene’s home. The plucky woman catches them in the act and calmly holds them at gunpoint. As the camera zooms in on the woman’s face, we hear Watson’s familiar narration begin. (Perhaps the tiniest bit unfamiliar to an American viewer, when Watson pronounces Irene’s name as “Ee-ray-na” rather than “Eye-reen.”) The scene then shifts to Watson arriving at the iconic lodgings at 221B Baker Street, where a sizable number of scenes throughout the series will take place.
There are some changes made to the opening scene between Holmes and Watson, where we are first introduced to the famous duo, that are not different enough from the original story to be distracting, but are certainly interesting to readers of the stories. Right off the bat, the observant reader will notice that, instead of stopping by the old flat after having been separated from Holmes due to his recent marriage, as he is in the story, Watson’s voice-over in the episode informs the viewer that he and Holmes still share a flat together at the time of the story, but that the doctor’s medical practice has called him away to the country for several days. So at the beginning of the series, gone is the married Dr. Watson visiting his friend and former roommate, to be replaced by a bachelor who still resides at 221B Baker Street. The iconic partnership is unbroken.
The episode then replaces the banter about marriage and medical practice with a sequence that was originally from the opening of The Sign of the Four, wherein Dr. Watson criticizes his friend for his drug use, the famous “seven-per-cent solution” of cocaine. The scene closely mirrors this passage from The Sign of the Four:
I suddenly felt that I could hold out no longer.
Although it is quite different from the beginning of the original story, it is quite effective at setting the scene. And I was impressed by how intelligent David Burke’s Watson is, especially when compared to the old Nigel Bruce model. When Holmes asks him to examine the letter he has received, Watson is more than capable of some pretty nifty deduction of his own. But, of course, one of the more striking elements right away is Jeremy Brett.
Brett is a marvel: every mannerism, every gesture, every word creates a version of Holmes that, at the time the episode aired, had rarely been seen its match in the faithfulness to Doyle’s character. I remember thinking, when I first saw some of the Granada episodes when they first aired on PBS during my teen years, “This is it! This is how Holmes is supposed to look and sound.” Indeed, throughout this first episode, the production values, the costumes, the sets, all reflect to a remarkable degree the nuances of Sidney Paget’s original illustrations.
It’s all extremely well done. For the reader of the original stories, the attention to detail, the fidelity to the original, the acting and the writing, are all top notch. That’s not to say that this is the perfect opening to a Sherlock Holmes series. To begin with, “A Scandal in Bohemia” is kind of an unusual Holmes story: there is no real mystery to be solved, and despite a little bit of deductive prowess towards the beginning of the episode (figuring out where the letter had come from before his client arrives, that sort of thing), there’s not a whole lot of the deductive prowess one expects from the legendary detective. In fact, even in the original story, one may come to the conclusion that Holmes is working for the wrong side. Irene is clearly the wronged party, and the King of Bohemia is not a very nice guy. By the end, Irene has tricked Holmes rather nicely. But his delight at having been tricked (by a woman, of all people!) is delightful to read, and it’s delightful to watch in the episode.
Meanwhile, we are also treated to Jeremy Brett as Holmes showing his talent in disguise, as he portrays a stable groom and an elderly clergyman. The actress who plays Irene (Gayle Hunnicutt) is quite good, a real Victorian heroine. The only thing I find puzzling is that she speaks with a British accent, even though Irene is clearly described as an American from New Jersey, and the actress was from Fort Worth, TX! Why not let her do an American accent? Still, watching the episode for the first time in a couple years, I was pretty impressed by how this one sets the scene. We know right off the bat that this series will set a very high bar as far as its faithfulness to its source material. The acting and the writing is all top-notch.
Even though I think there are more exciting episodes to come, I find “A Scandal in Bohemia” to be a very fine opening to an excellent series. Very high marks in every respect.
Even though Sherlock Holmes is the character who has become one of the most popular in all of literature, it is impossible to consider Holmes without his trusty companion/sidekick, Dr. Watson. In the earliest days of cinematic adaptations, this apparently was not the case. In the earliest film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Watson was given a very minor, or even nonexistent role. But ever since the famous Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce partnership of the 1930s and '40s, the story of Holmes has always included Watson. Sure, Bruce gets some flak theses days about portraying Watson as too bumbling, a comic foil for Rathbone's heroic posturing. Certainly some of Bruce's slapstick comedy is a little difficult to watch for long.
I agree with John Trumbull, who wrote this excellent article on the website entitled Atomic Junk Shop: we owe a debt of gratitude to actors David Burke and Edward Hardwicke, who played Watson to Jeremy Brett's iconic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. They were really the first actors to successfully break out of the "bumbling sidekick" stereotype that had been made so famous by Nigel Bruce.
Not all actors who have played Watson since Burke and Hardwicke have been quite as adept at defying the old Watson stereotype as these two, but some have: Jude Law, Martin Freeman, and Lucy Liu all spring to mind.
After all, where would the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels be without Watson, our trusty narrator? I think most Holmes fans would agree that the tales that have a third person narrator or Holmes himself as a narrator are quite inferior to most of the stories told by Watson. We see most of Holmes's brilliance and ability through Watson's eyes. Sure, every once in awhile Watson shows a bit too much incredulity at Holmes's deductions. But he generally tells the story with grace and flair. He doesn't even seem to mind Holmes's criticisms most of the time. For example, when Holmes says in The Hound of the Baskervilles, "I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous," does Watson take any offense? None that he reports in the narrative. Indeed, Holmes often highly praises Watson's gift for stimulating his own deductive powers. As early as A Study in Scarlet, Holmes made the following statement about Watson: "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.” High praise, indeed.
A lot has been made in recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations of Holmes's cocaine use, and Watson's role in weaning him off the drug. I think the current stereotype of Holmes as drug-addled coke addict is overused much of the time. But certainly, looking at Watson's criticisms of cocaine use, and considering the general public attitude toward cocaine at the time, Watson's point of view seems to have been unusually progressive and forward thinking. Would Holmes's career have had much longevity if the good doctor had not come into his life? One has to wonder...
This article from sherlockcares.com explores the Holmes/Watson friendship quite a bit more than I have in this post. I highly recommend it. I will leave you with this quote from the article...
Bearing in mind that the reflection we see in the mirror is the opposite of what others see, it has been argued that, in fact, our closest friends are not “another self” but those who complement us, whose strongest qualities are those we lack.
An accurate description of the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I think.
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.