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...
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.