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The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Illustrious Client (1991)

September 11, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Anthony Valentine as a collector of beauty

Anthony Valentine as a collector of beauty

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)

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.

Peter Vaughan wearing a thoroughly Australian hat

Peter Vaughan wearing a thoroughly Australian hat

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.

For reviews of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series, see:
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991)
The Illustrious Client (1991)
The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991)
Shoscombe Old Place (1991)

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: Shoscombe Old Place (1991)

More by an accident of arcane knowledge than any superior kind of deductive reasoning power, I knew who had committed the crime within the first ten minutes. I claim no credit. It simply represents a sometimes misspent youth during which I seem to have picked up a vast array of information only useful when teaming up in a pub quiz, or solving crosswords and television crime cases. Alternatively, my Alzheimer’s is kicking in and, even though I’m often not entirely sure what day of the week it is, I’m suddenly able to remember stories that I read more than fifty years ago. That said, the adaptation of Shoscombe Old Place by Gary Hopkins is crisp and to the point (The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Season 1, episode 3). There’s only a little padding and the 50 minutes plus ads passed quite satisfactorily until I was able to pop the champagne along with Mrs Hudson (Rosalie Williams). We’d both used inside information to back the right horse.

Frank Grimes introduces Jude Law before he was famous

So what’s the story? Well, here’s Sir Robert Norberton (Robert Ellis), a trainer with a stable full of potentially great horses at Shoscombe Old Place except, despite all the fertiliser in the stables, not all is roses in the garden. The trainer is up to his eyes in debt and being harassed by his creditors. He needs a win win to avoid financial disaster. If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that he’s not the owner of the rather fine hall, the stables or the horses. His sister, Lady Beatrice Falder (Elizabeth Weaver) has a life interest in the all the property with the title then passing over to another relative. To some extent, a personal bankruptcy would not unduly damage his family’s position. Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) gets involved because John Mason (Frank Grimes), a concerned head of stable, hears that Samuel Brewer (James Coyle), one key creditor, has gone missing. When allied to other information, there’s clear evidence suggesting that Sir Robert may have killed Brewer. Apart from this speculation, life at Shoscombe proceeds more or less as normal except for the dismissal of one of the servants, allegedly for stealing, and the banishment of the dog. Lady Beatrice and her maid, Carrie Evans (Denise Black) are routinely seen by the indoor staff and on their daily carriage ride around the estate. We should also note an early screen appearance for Jude Law as Joe Barnes, a wannabe jockey.

Jeremy Brett thinking

So what we have is Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke displaced out of London to Dunham Massey Hall near Altrincham disguised as Shoscombe. Having installed themselves at a local pub, they acquire the banished dog and enjoy scenic walks around the countryside. There are tendencies to the Gothic as a ruined Church is given a “reputation” by the superstitious locals (reinforced by Patrick Lau, the director insisting on candid shots of gargoyles and muffled fiendish laughter from stage left). All of which means Shoscombe Old Place is reasonably entertaining once you look past the showiness of some of the direction.

For reviews of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series, see:
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991)
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991)
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Illustrious Client (1991)
The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991)

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991)

The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991) is a slight story that is spun out to an hour by Granada TV but fails to hold attention. It’s from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes which, in publication terms, represents the final twelve short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring our famous detective and, in television terms, is Season 1, episode 2. My sympathies are with Jeremy Paul who drew the short straw of adapting this for the screen. The script is actually quite faithfully to the original although it features quite long sequences where figures stride about the landscape looking distraught but, for the most part, not saying anything to each other. I understand the game that must be played to try to fill the screen with interesting action. To that extent, the arrival of the horseless carriage in Baker Street is a masterstroke. Indeed, the appearances of this wonderful machine brightened my day significantly. More to the point, it was just the kind of showy extravagance that a nouveau riche American would make a point of being seen in while abroad in London. It would have been considered tasteless by conventional society, but given him a significant boost among the other arrivistes.

Daniel Massey in confrontational mode

So, if we put the performances of Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke to one side, the whole shooting match stands or falls on the characterisation of this jumped-up American by Daniel Massey. In his day, Massey would have been considered one of our leading actors, perhaps surprisingly, being nominated for an Oscar and winning the Golden Globe for his role in Star! I suppose his good looks and natural charm won everyone over — being the godchild of Noel Coward also probably helped. Anyway, what with the success of Dominic West in The Wire, Hugh Laurie in House, and Matthew Rhys in Brothers and Sisters, we’ve grown more used to seeing our British stars making a hit on US TV (except for people like Joely Richardson in Nip/Tuck who fail to move their accents across the Atlantic). Massey’s attempt is one of these magnificent failures. He blusters and stomps his feet, waving his arms around when all else fails. Sadly, none of these physical efforts can distract from the stagey awfulness of the accent. Since his role is pivotal, it leads us down the path to melodrama. Maria Gibson (Celia Gregory) wears her slightly revealing dress with great style and walks around the country house hoping to find a welcoming smile, but she knows in her foreign heart that her husband no longer loves her. He’s in the thralls of that prim-looking Grace Dunbar (Catherine Russell) Ay, caramba! or whatever the Brazilian women spurned say at this point in their lives.

Celia Gregory with a wild foreign look

So then on to the bridge itself and, from the outset, we all know the alleged seductress didn’t do it. Poor Grace is locked away in a cell, but still manages to look fresh and strangely unabashed. To get to the answer, all you have to do is ask a couple of questions based on some simple facts. We start with a matched pair of guns in an easily accessible box in the house. Maria is found shot in the head. There’s no gun beside her. A gun is found in Grace’s wardrobe. The other gun in the pair is missing from the box. If you are in need of inspiration, the CSI episode in Season 5 where a Sherlock Holmes impersonator is shot will supply the answer.

The magnificent car that steals every scene it’s in

Put all this together and The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991) is very poor value. When distilled to its essence, we have a bullying Yank who’s quick to fall in love with a Brazilian beauty and then, with equal suddenness, drops her in favour of the English governess. Even at the best of times, Victorian and Edwardian servants were victimised by despotic landowners and their sons, and this poor English rose is no exception. Quite what she sees in this appalling man is never clarified although, I suppose, she may be thinking she can defend the children. Whatever the reason, she endures jail and then submissively consents to be taken away from it all by this dangerously unreliable man. Not even the great Jeremy Brett can save this melodramatic rubbish from sinking into oblivion.

For reviews of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series, see:
The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991)
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991)
The Illustrious Client (1991)
Shoscombe Old Place (1991)

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991)

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (1991) as produced by Granada Television is from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (Season 1, episode 1) which, in publication terms, represents the final twelve short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring our famous detective. In total, Granda adapted some forty-two of the Holmes stories into thirty-six episodes. More would probably have been made had Jeremy Brett not fallen seriously ill. When he died, the series was ended. The actor had rather made the role his own and although it was possible to recast Dr Watson (David Burke was replaced by Edward Hardwicke), it was not thought appropriate to recast Holmes for the remaining stories.

Jeremy Brett considers who might be guilty in the disappearance

There are times when an original short story can be enhanced when adapted for the screen and, on this occasion, T R Bowen has produced a dark and quite powerful adventure on a limited budget. To understand the scale of the problem arising from the story as written, it has Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) too busy to leave London so, when Lady Carfax is reported missing in Switzerland, he sends out Dr Watson (Edward Hardwicke) to investigate. Initially, this is an honest decision and not a smokescreen as in The Hound of the Baskervilles. As a result of his inquiries, he follows the trail to Baden but there’s no sign of her after that. In fact, Watson’s regular reports have alarmed Holmes who arrives in time to save Watson’s life — a rather tedious piece of melodrama. Together, they return to London and, for the most part, the television script follows the original plot. To shoot period railway scenes and a Channel crossing to show Watson’s adventure in Switzerland and Germany would be an unnecessary expense. The actual location for her disappearance is irrelevant so long as the right people are present at the time. Hence, the decision was made to focus the main location work in the Lake District around Applethwaite which, if nothing else, is wonderfully picturesque and a suitable place for Dr Watson to be having a holiday. He’s been feeling the pain in his leg and shoulder, and finds fell-walking a good therapy.

Edward Hardwicke and Cheryl Campbell on holiday in the Lake District

This gives us a chance to meet and be impressed by Lady Frances Carfax (Cheryl Campbell) who’s shown to be physically active and very daring for a woman of that time. The point of this is, of course, to build up our sympathy for her. To add fuel to this fire, for all the bravado, she’s shown to be vulnerable. She sails across the lake to the church without a problem, but falls in when coming back to the hotel. Note the voiceover from Watson commenting on the upper body strength of Albert Shlessinger (Julian Curry) who rescues her. No questions about his ears, it seems. She’s also shown bullied by her brother and apparently threatened by the clichéd dark, bearded man on a horse. All this is reasonably within bounds. We know from the title she will disappear so it’s as well we invest our emotions in her safety. Quite why Victorian and Edwardian women should inexplicably fear glowering men on horses has never been satisfactorily explained to me. I suppose it must be in their DNA. We then have an additional fear reaction when she runs from Sherlock Holmes in the London bank. This is an unnecessary scene. Worse, even in those days, there would be no unlocked backdoor through which she could leave. It would be impossible for her to avoid Sherlock Holmes or the inevitable security guards.

Julian Curry looking suitably defiant

I suppose the backstory of the woman being lost at sea and the subsequent headlines in London newspapers does give a plausible reason for her to panic when she sees cuttings in her temporary London home and so force the hand of those who have lured her to London. The pawning of some jewellery and the viewing of the coffin are also nicely handled. However, what marks this dramatisation out as being something rather more interesting is the ending. Arthur Conan Doyle has Lady Carfax recover from her ordeal. T R Bowen prefers greater realism and her Edgar Allan Poe experience leaves her in a psychologically damaged state. This is brave and probably justified. It gives much greater weight to Sherlock Holmes considering this case to be one of his failures. So put all this together and The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax is a winning way to start this series.

For reviews of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series, see:
The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1991)
The Illustrious Client (1991)
The Problem of Thor Bridge (1991)
Shoscombe Old Place (1991)

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