That enigmatic fellow skulking around the underbrush with a magnifying glass is Judge Maurice Cobbs, hot on the trail of that most perfidious of villains: the Barebones DVD.
"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.
Facts of the Case
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"
• "The Problem of Thor Bridge"
• "Shoscombe Old Place"
• "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"
• "The Illustrious Client"
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"
"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.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director John Madden on "The Disappearance of Lady Carfax"
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