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.
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.