The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991)
Well, in The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991) The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: Season 1, Episode 4, dramatised by John Hawkesworth, we’re pursuing the theme of Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) forced outside his comfort zone and into the countryside. This time, he’s responding to a plea for help from Alice Turner (Joanna Roth). Her spunkiness is, in no small part, due to her Australian ancestry which, in Victorian times, was code for a wild savage. Her father owns most of the countryside around Boscombe Valley. Ah, those were the days when colonials could wander back to the Old Country and buy up a big hall and a few villages. Today, it’s left to Russian oligarchs and rock dinosaurs to keep up the tradition. So, en route to Boscombe, he stops in at a trout stream to collect poor Dr Watson (Edward Hardwicke) who’s enjoying a well-earned holiday from curing people and fighting crime. He’s given half-an-hour to pack up and be on the train. A few hours later, they are put up at the beautiful Gawsworth Old Hall masquerading as a local inn.
The story is now presented in a strictly chronological order. Inspector Summerby (Jonathan Barlow) takes them to meet Crowder (Cliff Howells) the gamekeeper. Although we get his story through flashbacks, the man himself is played for laughs and the Inspector contemptuously dismisses him as an ignorant local. As proof of his stupidity, the man cleaned the gun found at the scene, so there’s no evidence to show whether it was the murder weapon. The sum total of all the facts is that James McCarthy (James Purefoy) was seen arguing with his father, William (Leslie Schofield). A short while later, James came running to the gamekeeper saying there’d been a terrible accident. When they returned, they found James dead, his head bashed in. With no explanation of how his father died and no apparent evidence of anyone else present, James was charged by a coroner’s jury and now lies in jail awaiting trial for murder. We now meet Alice, the client, and learn of her love for James. Unfortunately, John Turner (Peter Vaughan), her father, does not agree to the marriage. Sherlock then visits James in prison and learns two points of interest. He has no explanation of how his father came to die, but confirms the man’s dying words dying words made some reference to a rat. Second, he had been through a form of marriage to a barmaid in Liverpool while drunk. Fortunately, he’s recently learned she was already married. This means his marriage was a nullity as bigamous and, so long as Alice does not learn of his infidelity and reject him, he’s free to marry her.
Holmes now does a finger-tip exploration of the ground where the killing occurred and offers one of his famous descriptions of the killer. He was left-handed, so tall, walked with a limp, used a holder to smoke cigars and kept a blunt penknife in his pocket. Inspector Summerby is dismissive because he cannot understand the method. Later Holmes explains that the angle from which the fatal blows were delivered to the head shows the blows could only have been made with the left hand. The strides were so far apart and that translates to height. The footprints were alternately heavy and soft showing a limp. There was ash proving he smoked cigars. One was found partly smoked. It had been roughly cut, suggesting a blunt knife and the “business end” had no teeth marks implying the smoker used a holder. In due course, this analysis is enough to secure the acquittal of James who is right-handed, has full use of both legs and does not smoke.
All it remains to do is comment on a few details. As always, Peter Vaughan is wonderful as the Australian made good although the scenes recreated to show the source of his wealth were laughably primitive. I’ve seen better at Wild West shows in country fairs. That Granada could not spend a little more to make it look better is rather sad. Secondly, Jeremy Brett’s health was failing quite badly when he made these episodes and, at times, the performance suffers. Finally, we come to the ultimate in morality questions. Not only does Holmes cover up the marriage attempted by James, he also conceals the identity of the left-handed killer. I’m not sure that this sentimentality fits the great man but, since that’s the way Conan Doyle wanted it, we should look the other way. John Hawkesworth has done his best to string this out to an hour and, although there are elements of repetition and gratuitous bits of business, he does the job reasonably well. The Boscombe Valley Mystery is quite good value for money.