MPI // 1991 // 390 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // October 20th, 2004
"These are deep waters; deep, and rather dirty." -- Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett), "Shoscombe Old Place"
Although Jeremy Brett is not quite the lean and hungry Holmes from the previous series (can Mrs. Hudson's excellent cooking be to blame?), he nevertheless still manages to demonstrate why his portrayal is beyond a doubt the best ever committed to film. The lavish production values, excellent script adaptations, and brilliant casting all combine to create an experience that brings Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's world-famous detective to life as never before.
Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett, Rebecca) and his trusted friend Dr. John Watson (Edward Hardwicke, Shadowlands) return for six adaptations of classic Sherlock Holmes tales in this continuation of the long-running Granada series.
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes was the next-to-last Granada series starring Jeremy Brett, and it drives home the strength of the relationship between Holmes and his stalwart friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson. Never before has Watson been allowed to shine as he does in this series of programs; where in previous incarnations Watson has been portrayed as buffoonish or slow-witted, Hardwicke takes the character in entirely the other direction, giving us a Watson who is thoughtful, complex, and adroit. Hardwicke's Watson does not always accept his friend's eccentricities without objection -- he is a man of independent mind, and if he errs, he does so because of his humanity and not his stupidity. Holmes's respect for Watson's intelligence and bravery is evident in the fact that Holmes rarely chooses to embark on an adventure without his trusted companion at his side. Indeed, although Holmes's almost pathological need to have Watson share in his life has always been in evidence, here it has reached a fever point (perhaps because he no longer relies on the infamous "seven-percent solution" for emotional highs?), with Holmes going so far as to demand Watson drop what he is doing at a moment's notice (even if what he is doing involves patients!) and at one point even tracking Watson down while the poor doctor is relaxing in the country on a no doubt well-deserved vacation.
Holmes would seem to be oblivious to Watson's discomfort, for the most part; the stranger unfamiliar with the depth of his affection for Watson might think Holmes a tyrant. Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Holmes is so complex, however, that he is always likable, even when we feel an almost unbearable twinge of sympathy for the doctor and for Holmes's landlady, Mrs. Hudson. It is a testament to Brett's amazing talent that his Holmes remains charming, whether racing along in a manic high, intensely concentrated on the trail of evidence, or sulking disconsolately at 221b between cases. We are always engrossed by the detective; although his portrayal of Holmes is so familiar that it feels right, there is an element of unpredictability about the character that keeps us guessing and never seems stale or staid.
Put-upon as he is, Watson seems a bit annoyed in these episodes; could he perhaps be tiring of the whirlwind of intrigue and danger that seems to follow Holmes like a storm cloud? Certainly, Watson now seems happier in a smoking jacket enjoying a cigar, or fly-fishing in the country, than he does chasing after bizarre monstrosities or being assaulted by knife-wielding thugs. But Watson, ever the perfect Victorian gentleman and always the stalwart ex-military man, never flinches from duty and never allows an opportunity to see justice done pass him by. Not to mention the fact that Brett's Holmes is difficult to dislike; it would take a sterner man than I, and certainly a sterner one than Dr. Watson, to resist the call of adventure when trumpeted by such a fascinating and colorful eccentric as Holmes. Watson's temper may be stretched thin from time to time, but he cannot help but forgive his friend his nature in the end, and so the game is afoot once more.
* "The Disappearance of Lady Carfax"
Driving home the implication that Watson might be in need of some down time from his good friend's adventurous lifestyle, this episode finds the doctor on a relaxing holiday in the English countryside. That is, it's a relaxing holiday until he becomes swept up in the mystery of the odd and rather "modern" Lady Carfax (Cheryl Campbell, Chariots of Fire) and the mysterious bearded man who seems to be haunting her. Watson suspects that something is amiss, and his need for relaxation is overcome by his need to help a lady who may be in trouble, so he writes his friend for advice. Holmes considers the situation and sends his reply: The Lady, he believes, is in grave danger. Unfortunately, Holmes's instructions arrive too late, and by the time that Watson receives them he finds that Lady Carfax has vanished, seemingly into thin air. Despite having committed, as Holmes puts it, "every possible error," the two quickly find themselves on the missing woman's trail -- and, quite by accident, on the trail of one of Europe's most notorious criminals. But will they run the villain to ground in time to save Lady Carfax from a terrible end?
* "The Problem of Thor Bridge"
Holmes finds himself in the thick of romantic intrigue when he is retained by the volcanic American Senator J. Neil Gibson (Daniel Massey, Star!). Senator Gibson's wife, Maria, a hot-blooded Brazilian, was known to have had issues with her children's governess, Grace (Catherine Russell, Clockwork Mice) -- issues that were not entirely unfounded, given the romantic feelings that the senator had developed for the young woman. So when Maria is found murdered on Thor Bridge, clutching a note from Grace, the case seems clear-cut, at least to the local constabulary. Senator Gibson, however furious he may be at Holmes's method and manner, knows that Grace isn't capable of such an act, and he hires Holmes to unravel the mystery and prove the young governess's innocence. The solution to the mystery is as devious as ever was conceived in the depths of a vengeful mind, but of course it all seems quite simple after Holmes has put all the facts in their proper place -- and shown a rather reckless disregard for Watson's personal property!
* "Shoscombe Old Place"
No peace for poor Dr. Watson, not even over morning tea; not when Holmes has fastened onto some new problem to decipher. After a moment of silent commiseration with the equally long-suffering Mrs. Hudson, Watson discovers the situation that has the detective flinging newspapers about and neglecting his breakfast: All is not well at Shoscombe Old Place, at least in the opinion of the stableman. Sir Robert Norberton (Robin Ellis, Cluedo), is up to his neck in debt and has pinned all his hopes on his prize racehorse, Shoscombe Prince. But a week before the race, Sir Robert's chief creditor mysteriously disappears, his ailing sister Lady Beatrice (Elizabeth Weaver, Fraud Squad) stops speaking to him, and human remains are found in the cellar furnace. And strangest of all, Sir Robert gives away his sister's beloved spaniel! The loyalty of this handsome little dog gives Holmes the crucial clue to this mystery, allowing the master detective to shed light on the ghoulish doings at Shoscombe Old Place. Brilliantly dramatized by Gary Hopkins, this episode is one of the best of the entire series, with the perfect blend of suspense, mystery, fright, and humor -- some of it from the wonderful Rosalie Williams, who gets one of her rare opportunities to briefly take the spotlight as Mrs. Hudson. And, as a bonus treat, keep an eye out for an 18-year-old Jude Law.
* "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"
This time, Holmes goes so far as to track Watson down while the poor doctor is on a fishing trip. A wealthy Australian gentleman farmer has been murdered, and the dead man's son, James McCarthy (James Purefoy, Resident Evil), is accused of the crime. Young James was seen to have been arguing with his father moments before the elder McCarthy's head was bashed in, but the girl next door, Alice Turner (Joanna Roth, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), steadfastly believes in young James's innocence and has hired Holmes to prove it. Unfortunately, the evidence is stacked against the young fellow -- and it doesn't help matters that he refuses to tell just what he and his father were arguing about just before the murder. Soon, Holmes is faced with a dilemma involving dark family secrets and the future happiness of two people -- leading to a satisfying, if unorthodox, resolution to the situation.
* "The Illustrious Client"
This story was one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's personal favorites, and viewers of this crackerjack adaptation will easily see why. Of course, Holmes has been approached with all sorts of unusual requests, but Colonel Sir James Damery (David Langton, Lent) has one that might just take the prize: Acting on behalf of the mysterious titular "illustrious client," Sir James wants Holmes to stop the impending marriage between Violet De Merville (Abigail Cruttenden, Charlotte Gray) and the notorious Austrian nobleman Baron Gruner (Anthony Valentine, Raffles). Gruner is a terrible, ruthless, cunning man, almost certainly a murderer -- but Violet is convinced of his sincerity and believes that he is a changed man. After investigating, Holmes is convinced otherwise. But how can you trap a man who has already confessed his terrible crimes to the woman who loves him, and loves him in spite of them? The answer is as shocking as it is gruesome, and Holmes finds as dangerous and memorable a foe in Gruner as ever he did in Moriarty.
This episode is captivating in its intensity. After a vicious attack on Holmes by Gruner's henchmen (that Watson learns about from the morning papers!) leaves the detective bedridden, Watson, loyal and fierce as he is, offers to "thrash Gruner within an inch of his life." Holmes has other plans for revenge, however: "Watson, I need you to make a thorough study of Chinese pottery!"
* "The Creeping Man"
Holmes is an alpha male -- a "silverback," if you will -- and those who approach him abrasively had better be prepared to face the consequences. In "The Creeping Man," ill-tempered physiologist Professor Presbury (Charles Kay, The Importance of Being Earnest ) is less than civil to Holmes and Dr. Watson, throwing them out of his home and winding up his vituperative tirade by informing Holmes that he has "no confidence" in the detective's abilities.
"Never mind," replies the unperturbed Holmes. "I have confidence enough for us both."
Undoubtedly the strangest case that Holmes and Watson have ever investigated (discounting, of course, that strange, untold tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra), this episode finds the two friends in the university town of Camford, searching for a prowler who has threatened the professor's daughter. While there, they uncover all sorts of strange doings, all connected to a bizarre creeping figure that has terrorized the area. Holmes's keen deduction and Watson's intrepid investigations uncover the shocking truth -- a truth so horrifying, it seems more out of the pages of Edgar Allan Poe than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! This episode features one of the all-too-rare appearances of Colin Jeavons as the perennially dense Inspector Lestrade.
I heartily recommend this DVD set and, indeed, the entire Granada Sherlock Holmes series, not only to Sherlockians, but to anyone who enjoys a good mystery. Plus, these episodes are transferred from the original negatives, as the package so proudly proclaims, giving us a much sharper picture than previous Holmes sets have been able to manage. A good show, all 'round.
Not guilty, despite Inspector Lestrade's objections.
Review content copyright © 2004 Maurice Cobbs; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 390 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Director John Madden on "The Disappearance of Lady Carfax"
* Interview with Actors Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke
* Sherlock Holmes Museum Short