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.