GRANADA TV / ITV: SHERLOCK HOLMES

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection: Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, Eric Porter, Charles Gray, Rosalie Williams, Colin JeavonsLondon’s Only “Consulting Detective”

In his foreword to Bantam’s Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Loren Estleman called the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson literature’s warmest, most symbiotic and most timeless: rightfully so. Not surprisingly, literary and film history is littered with adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s tales and Holmes pastiches (using the protagonists but otherwise independent storylines). Yet – and I’m saying this with particular apologies to the fans of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce canon and the most recent series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch – none of these others incarnations can hold a candle to the ITV/Granada TV series produced between 1984 and 1994, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and first David Burke, then, beginning with the Return of Sherlock Holmes cycle and in near-seamless transition, Edward Hardwicke as a refreshingly sturdy, pragmatic, unbumbling Dr. Watson.

Jeremy Brett was the only actor who ever managed to perfectly portray Holmes’s imperiousness, bitingly ironic sense of humor and apparently indestructible self-control without at the same time neglecting his genuine friendship towards Dr. Watson and the weaknesses hidden below a surface dominated by his overarching intellectual powers.

The Granada TV series takes the titles of its four cycles of shorter episodes – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes – from four of the five short story collections featuring London’s self-appointed only “consulting detective” (published 1892, 1905, 1894 and 1927, respectively); thus nominally omitting the 1917 collection His Last Bow, which is, however – but for its title story – completely represented in individual episodes spread out over the other four cycles. While the grouping of instalments doesn’t necessarily correspond with Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original story collections, and the series’s premise – Holmes’s and Watson’s shared tenancy of rooms at 221B Baker Street – was no longer true even at the beginning of the Adventures, particularly the first two cycles (Adventures and Return), as well as the two feature films based on the novels The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of the Four are must-haves for any mystery fan.

The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of
Sherlock Holmes
  • A Scandal in Bohemia
  • The Dancing Men
  • The Naval Treaty
  • The Solitary Cyclist
  • The Crooked Man
  • The Speckled Band
  • The Blue Carbuncle
  • The Copper Beeches
  • The Greek Interpreter
  • The Resident Patient
  • The Red-Headed League
  • The Final Problem
The Return of Sherlock Holmes CollectionThe Return of
Sherlock Holmes
  • The Empty House
  • The Abbey Grange
  • The Musgrave Ritual
  • The Second Stain
  • The Man with the Twisted Lip
  • The Priory School
  • The Six Napoleons
  • The Devil’s Foot
  • Silver Blaze
  • The Wisteria Lodge
  • The Bruce Partington Plans
The Casebook of<br />Sherlock Holmes CollectionThe Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
  • The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax
  • The Problem of Thor Bridge
  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery
  • The Illustrious Client
  • Shoscombe Old Place
  • The Creeping Man
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes CollectionThe Memoirs of
Sherlock Holmes
  • The Three Gables
  • The Dying Detective
  • The Golden Pince-Nez
  • The Red Circle
  • The Mazarin Stone
  • The Cardboard Box

 

The Sherlock Holmes Feature Film CollectionThe Feature Film Collection:
Gothic Holmes

“Yes, the setting is a worthy one. If the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men …”

With these words, Sherlock Holmes comments on the mystery presented to him in The Hound of the Baskervilles. And the “if” is a big one indeed, as he immediately makes clear: Asked by Dr. Watson whether he is inclined to place belief into the supernatural explanation of the phenomenon haunting the Baskerville family, Holmes points out that the devil’s agents may well be of flesh and blood, thus instantly discounting the idea of the supernatural, and explains that there are two questions only to be resolved in this matter – whether any crime has been committed at all, and if so, what that crime is and how it was committed. Similarly, in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, Holmes dismisses all allegations of the work of bloodsucking fiends as “rubbish” and proceeds to prove in his seemingly effortless and strictly logical manner the perfectly natural solution to the events recounted to him by his client.

And herein lies the distinction between the movies contained in this collection and Arthur Conan Doyle‘s literary originals; and at the same time, the movies’ overriding common element. For what is presented here is not necessarily, as in the TV series’s shorter episodes, a faithful rendition of the stories conceived by Conan Doyle, but rather, a set of five more or less classic gothic tales which happen to feature the famous detective from Baker Street and his companion Dr. Watson. If I am nevertheless able to enjoy even those movies which significantly depart from the literary originals, it is because I have, over time, come to see them as entirely new entries into the Sherlock Holmes canon – validated almost singlehandedly by the stellar performance of Jeremy Brett, as well as that of Edward Hardwicke; and by the two unequal heroes’ profound friendship.

Quill-Inkpot Review Icon The Last Vampyre

Based on the aforementioned Sussex Vampire short story, this is in a way the most obviously problematic of these dramatizations, in that it departs from Holmes’s (and Arthur Conan Doyle’s) perspective on the supernatural by turning the tale into essentially an average horror story. Moreover, contrarily to the remaining feature films and the shorter episodes, the setting here is researched less faithfully and with less care for detail; and it shows. However, the movie is saved by the as always outstanding performance of Jeremy Brett who, himself already afflicted by the illness which would eventually kill him, reached new and never before explored depths in Holmes’s soul here. Although perhaps the gravest departure from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s story, noteworthy is also the performance of Roy Marsden (the Commander Dalgliesh of the TV productions based on P.D. James’s mysteries) as St. Claire Stockton, the village community’s chief suspect of the alleged vampirism; a role demanding just the right degree of ambiguity in order not to lose credibility, and surely in the hands of a lesser actor the one role which would have brought the movie below the point where even Brett would no longer have been able to save it.

Quill-Inkpot Review Icon The Eligible Bachelor

Conceptually equally problematic as The Last Vampyre in my view, this movie turns a fairly simple and (as Sherlock Holmes stories go) straightforward tale of a bride disappearing on her wedding day into a confusing labyrinth of nightmares, doomed heiresses, madness, and family curses; trying hard, but alas, unsuccessfully, to look like a cross between Hitchcock’s Rebecca and an adaptation of the Brontës’ Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Approach-wise, this is even more unpardonable than in the case of The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, because unlike that latter story – which is contained in the last Holmes collection, 1927’s Casebook, and at least thematically fits in with the darker mood of those tales, driven by the psychological devastation brought about by World War I – this particular story’s original version, The Noble Bachelor, is part of 1892’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and thus one of the earliest adventures which open only rare glimpses onto Holmes’s personal ghosts.

Quill-Inkpot Review Icon The Master Blackmailer

This movie is based on the Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905) story The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton and, while containing some narrative padding, is one of the more faithful realizations here. Outstanding in particular is the performance of Robert Hardy, who has Holmes’s antagonist Milverton – the master criminal specializing in blackmailing women of society with letters he has secretly obtained – down to the story’s last detail, complete with his insincere, “perpetual frozen” smile and “the hard glitter of [his] restless and penetrating eyes.” In the tiniest departure from Arthur Conan Doyle, Brett‘s Holmes displays genuine sympathy for the housemaid with whom he fakes an engagement to obtain information about Milverton’s household. The story’s somber climax, however, is taken directly from its literary original.

Quill-Inkpot Review Icon The Sign of the Four

Decidedly more faithful to Arthur Conan Doyle‘s works, finally, are also the realizations of the two novels The Sign of the Four (1890) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) (with the notable exception of the first novel’s end, which would have been irreconcilable with the series’s idea of a shared tenancy at 221B Baker Street). Both novels contain allusions to the supernatural, juxtaposed with Holmes’s detached, logical analysis; and relieved of the need to add flesh to the narrative bones of the shorter tales, the movies stay the course very well and bring to life in all their horror the events unraveled by Holmes over the course of his investigations. – The late, great John Thaw of Inspector Morse fame guest-stars in The Sign of the Four as Jonathan Small, the mysterious stranger returned to England to claim from the Sholtos fulfilment of the long-ago made promise by The Four in India.

Quill-Inkpot Review Icon The Hound of the Baskervilles

Arthur Conan Doyle‘s genuinely spookiest and probably most famous tale, finally, stands out most positively here when compared to earlier movie realizations. Stripped of their antics and occasionally not much better than B-movie special effects, it relies primarily on the superb acting skills of its stars and supporting cast and straightforwardly tells the story of the Baskerville family’s apparent curse, a mysterious, larger-than-life dog living in the moors surrounding their estate and occasionally heard howling at night; allegedly a hound from hell haunting the family since the days of their evil ancestor Sir Hugo Baskerville. Thus, this adaptation truly manages to terrify where earlier versions were merely unintentionally funny. True to the story’s literary original, this is also the only one of the feature fils that sees Dr. Watson performing an investigation of his own. (He embarks on similar, albeit generally less elaborate missions in some of the series’s shorter episodes, such as The Solitary Cyclist) This movie realization alone, together with the series’s installment of The Sign of the Four, is usually sufficient to reconcile me for the lesser successful and overextended versions of some of the short story adaptations contained in this collection.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Granada TV /  ITV (1984-1994)
  • Directors: various
  • Producers: Michael Cox & John Hawkesworth
  • Screenplay: John Hawkesworth, Jeremy Paul, Derek Marlowe, et al.
  • Based on novels and short stories by: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Music: Patrick Gowers
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Mike Popley / Ray Goode / Ken Morgan / Mike Blakeley
Recurring Cast
  • Jeremy Brett: Sherlock Holmes
  • David Burke: Dr. Watson (13 episodes, 1984-1985)
  • Edward Hardwicke: Dr. Watson (remaining series, 1985-1994)
  • Rosalie Williams: Mrs. Hudson
  • Colin Jeavons: Inspector Lestrade
  • Eric Porter: Professor Moriarty
  • Charles Gray: Mycroft Holmes

 

Favorite Quotes:

The Hound of the Baskervilles

“The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?”

A Scandal in Bohemia

“By the way, Doctor, I shall want your cooperation.”
“I shall be delighted.”
“You don’t mind breaking the law?”
“Not in the least.”
“Nor running a chance of arrest?”
“Not in a good cause.”
“Oh, the cause is excellent!”
“Then I am your man.”
“I was sure that I might rely on you.”

The Red Headed League

“Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

“It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”

The Naval Treaty

“Her cuisine is limited but she has as good an idea of breakfast as a Scotchwoman.”
[Sherlock Holmes on Mrs. Hudson’s cooking.]

The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

“You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?”
“No, indeed!”
“You’ll be interested to hear that I’m engaged.”
“My dear fellow! I congrat–”
“To Milverton’s housemaid.”
“My dear Holmes!”
“I wanted information, Watson.”

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

“I fear that if the matter is beyond humanity, it is certainly beyond me.”

“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.”

The Bruce-Partington Plans

“It is fortunate for this community that I am not a criminal.”

 

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9 thoughts on “GRANADA TV / ITV: SHERLOCK HOLMES

  1. siddiebowtie says:

    I only recently became acquainted with Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.I realise i’m pretty late to the party, but generally i’m fairly neutral on anything to do with the subject of Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t until i noticed this series in the DVD collection of a family member recently that i put it on out sheer boredom. By the end of the first episode though, i was hooked. Holy hell. Brilliant! I wasn’t expecting to be so drawn in! The entire cast was great, but Brett brings the real magic. He is just so utterly engaging. What a an actor. So passionate and dedicated. I’m very glad i watched.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ThemisAthena says:

      Yey — a new fan! I’m so glad for everyone who agrees on this, however early or late to the party. Brett died way too young and too early … what an actor we’ve lost with him. It doesn’t bear thinking how much else he could have given us all. So, all the more reason to treasure the Sherlock Holmes series for all that it is! And, you know, I envy you for being able to discover it all for the first time …

      Liked by 1 person

      • siddiebowtie says:

        Definitely a fan now! It is really sad that he died so young, and under such circumstances. For all he went through, it seems that he remained totally dedicated to his craft to the end. I suspect that Mr. Brett was every bit as intelligent and eccentric as Sherlock. I like to think so, anyway 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • ThemisAthena says:

        Oh, I agree. It takes a very special kind of person to be able to interpret that character as authentically as did Mr. Brett. When he first approached the role, he made a minute study of everything that Conan Doyle ever wrote about Holmes — every gesture, vocal inflection, habit, etc. — and he eventually could recite that by rote; so there’s that on the one hand, but you really have to be able to understand a character like Holmes from the inside out, and that’s a gift you either have or you don’t … and Brett obviously had it in spades!

        Liked by 1 person

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