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 (His long red beard described in the story has been replaced by bushy red sideburns.)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!
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.