Posted: 10/27/2004


The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes


by Parama Chaudhury

Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke return with more adventures from the journals of the world’s greatest detective. “Watson, the game’s afoot!”

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By 1994, his failing health had started to catch up with the inimitable Jeremy Brett, and so the filming of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes was marred by his frequent absences. On one occasion (The Mazarin Stone) Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, was written into the story to replace the ailing hero. Nevertheless, the strength of Conan Doyle’s stories and Brett’s presence throughout most of the series makes this collection a worthwhile buy.

The Memoirs includes two of my favorite Holmes stories, The Golden Pince-nez and The Cardboard Box, both of which are brilliantly brought to life by the Granada production team behind this presentation. In the former, a dead man is found clutching onto a pair of pince-nez - a bizarre clue and one that was mostly overlooked by the likes of Scotland Yard. Holmes uses this hint as a cue to open a window into a mysterious tale which takes us back to war-ravaged Russia. Frank Finlay, who plays Professor Coram, the key to the whole intricate story, puts in a superb performance by making his character intriguing without resort to over-the-top theatrics, while Mycroft Holmes, played by Charles Gray, steps into replace the busy Dr. Watson and acts as a perfect foil to the showmanship of his brother, Sherlock. The Cardboard Box which was actually the last broadcast episode of the Granada series, has a much less exotic backdrop, but is riveting nevertheless, with its mixture of middle-class decency and unbelievably grisly events. Joanna David, who stars as Susan Cushing, is a veteran of TV mysteries like the Miss Marple series and A Touch of Frost, and she more than holds her own against the commanding presence of Brett in one of his final performances.

A couple of the stories in The Memoirs are a little melodramatic to start with, and the directors’ choice of exactly how to juxtapose the past and the present, heightens the overly exotic nature of the stories. The Three Gables is probably the episode that suffers most from this malaise. While the foundations of the story lie in an extremely colorful and almost outlandishly glamorous setting, introducing this at the start of the story distracts the audience, and makes the presentation much too gaudy to be attractive. We do eventually go back to the somber English country house and the mourning grandmother which are the focus of the story, but by that time, the entire set-up has started to feel a little ridiculous. To a lesser extent, The Red Circle is also led astray by this kind of a technique. The story in this case is actually much more interesting that The Three Gables - mafia vendettas, the sign of a secret society scrawled on the wall and mysterious foreigners who are fiercely protective of their own - so the constant references to the foreign origins of the story are unnecessarily disruptive and not very well done at that. In spite of all this, there are enough twists and turns in this story to makes it worth watching.

Critics often argue that the stories in this collection are much weaker than the best of the lot - say, The Speckled Band or The Scandal in Bohemia, for example - and in fact, there were some notable exclusions in the Granada Series, including the novel A Study in Scarlet and short stories like The Five Orange Pips. For a die-hard fan like me, this is an unimaginable loss given that there will never again be a Holmes like Jeremy Brett. For those of you who, like me, just cannot get enough of this series, the DVD released by MPI Home Video includes extras like a screenwriter’s commentary and an interview with Adrian Conan Doyle. MPI has also done an excellent job of putting together the production notes, which give you an insight into how Brett reads the character of Holmes and the adjustments that the producers had to make in order to shoot the series. All in all, The Memoirs is a very worthy addition to a mystery lover’s collection. On a personal note, thank goodness David Suchet (the wonderful Hercule Poirot) is still alive and active!

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Parama Chaudhury is a writer and educator living in New England.

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