The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Illustrious Client (1991)
Well, The Illustrious Client (1991) The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: Season 1, Episode 5, dramatised by Robin Chapman, is not really a classic mystery to be solved by the application of brain power. Rather it’s a sad story of Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) completely failing to protect himself as he takes on a ruthless criminal who seduces women into marrying him and/or giving him money so he can collect very rare Chinese Porcelain. A wiser detective would quietly but thoroughly investigate our villain from a distance, giving no sign of his passing. This precaution would protect him from the fate that befell Le Brun, a French investigator who was beaten almost to death. But, of course, this would mean no melodrama. So not only does our hero confront the villain but, when threatened, ignores the warning and so gets beaten within an inch of his life. This is genuinely one of the few occasions when it’s legitimate to call Sherlock a complete idiot.
This is a thred-bare story from Arthur Conan Doyle and we should accept the dramatisation and the acting as making the best of a bad job. Sherlock just blunders around like the arrogant and self-important man he is and then pays the price for it. All he needed to do was talk carefully with Miss Kitty Winter, the last mistress and key witness, realise what is important, and then adopt the approach used against Irene Adler. He could then discredit the man, save the girl, receive congratulations from all concerned, and avoid serious pain.
Everything stands or falls by the performance of Anthony Valentine as Baron Gruner. It actually proves to be a worthy effort. He’s given just enough to do and so demonstrates both “foreign” sophistication and a deadly side. The scene with Dr Watson (Edward Hardwicke) distracting him goes on slightly too long but is forgivable as an expert might play with an amateur just to humiliate him. As a matter of practicality, Robin Chapman as scriptwriter, does have to produce the right number of minutes on screen. Everyone else hits their marks. David Langton is the go-between, Abigail Cruttenden is suitably pigheaded as the intended victim (no real suggestion of hypnotism in the screenplay, just natural perversity). The only minor concern is Kim Thomson as Kitty Winter. In a way, she has to tread a narrow line between victim and a woman bent of revenge. Baron Gruner is supposed to be a collector of women. Miss Winter does not appear to be a very great beauty (although I’m old now and my aesthetic standards may be dropping). Neither does she sparkle with wit and intelligence. She’s just an artist’s model from the East End and I have a slight credibility problem that the Baron should have wanted to add this woman to his collection. She seems to lack the quality he would want to destroy. That said, The Illustrious Client is a fair to middling episode that trespasses too far into pure melodrama without many redeeming features to even approach a “good” standard.
For reviews of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series, see:
The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991)
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991)
The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991)
Shoscombe Old Place (1991)