MPI have collected the late, great Jeremy Brett's complete run as ‘the greatest detective who never lived' and released the material over twelve discs aptly titled Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series. Brett played the role for the Granada Television produced series from 1984 until 1994 and over the course of that decade he indelibly left his stamp on the character becoming to many fans the ‘definitive' actor to play the part. Though it reportedly took some convincing to get him to agree to the part, once he did he quickly proved not only a natural for the role but quite dedicated to presenting the character in a manner as close to that depicted in the original stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as possible.
The set also includes the two made for TV movies in which Brett played the role, they being The Sign Of Four and The Hound Of The Baskervilles made in 1987 and 1988 respectively. These were made while Brett was on medication for bipolar disorder and the side effects of the medication he was on did result in some noticeable weight gain but he soldiered on and even here, his acting and his take on the character are excellent. Brett passed away in 1995 after leading a troubled life but his legacy lives on, this set is proof of that.
The content that makes up this collection is presented in the following order:
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes:
A Scandal In Bohemia: In this first adventure, Holmes runs up against an American actress named Irene Adler (Gayle Hunnicutt), a woman who is in possession of a rather incriminating picture that documents an affair that she once had with the King of Bohemia (Wolf Kahler). Given that the King is soon to be wed, she takes advantage of this opportunity by threatening to expose the picture but her motives for doing so remain mysterious as she has requested no ransom. The king hires Holmes and Doctor Watson (David Burke) to get the photo back and the great detective uses not only his skills of deduction but his mastery of disguise too. However, Adler is a considerably more formidable foe than he first imagined…
The Dancing Men: Hilton Cubitt (Tenniel Evans) comes to Holmes when his American wife of three years, Elsie (Betsy Brantley), becomes unusually scared by some primitive pictures illustrating some little dancing men. It would seem to tie into a letter she got some time ago from Chicago but intensified when the drawing was seen on the wall of a garden. Holmes quickly realizes that the drawings are a code but is unsure how or why it ties into the woman's past, possibly before she moved to England.
The Naval Treaty: A clerk named Percy Phelps (David Gwillim) who works in the Foreign Office finds that a naval treaty has been stolen by an unknown thief. He comes down with a fever that takes him out of commission for some time but once he's better he writes Watson and asks him to bring Holmes to help figure out what happened. If he cannot retrieve the treaty, there will be consequences but Holmes will have his work cut out for him.
The Solitary Cyclist: Violet Smith (Barbara Whilshire) comes to Holmes for help with her unusual predicament. Recently she took a job working for a man named Carruthers (John Castle) to teach music to his daughter Sarah at their manor, Chilton Grange. When not working during the week, she heads home to visit her mother but has noticed recently on her commute that a man on a bicycle has been following her. She fears that the man may be Woodley (Michael Siberry), with whom she had a recent altercation and rejected some advances from. Holmes takes the case and he and Watson try to figure out who this man is and what he's really after.
The Crooked Man: An acquaintance of Watson's named Colonel James Barclay (Denys Hawthorne) is found by his servants to have been murdered by a blow to a head not long after he and his wife Nancy (Lisa Daniely) had a rather nasty fight. Nancy is arrested and things do seem to point to her as a killer but at Watson's insistence Holmes starts investigating and finds that her background at a local homeless shelter and a few other clues may be able to help deduce who the real murderer is.
The Speckled Band: Helen Stoner (Rosalyn Landor) lives with her perpetually angry father (Jeremy Kemp) and fears for her life since the sudden and unexpected death of her sister Julia (Denise Armon) some time ago, only days before she was to be married. She comes to Holmes for help and as they review the details of what happened to Julia there are signs made clear that, as Helen is soon to be wed, her life may be in similar danger.
The Blue Carbuncle: This case begins on Christmas Eve when Holmes and Watson are tasked with sorting out how a blue carbuncle wound up being found inside a goose. The inspector in the area brought Holmes on to help and as details emerge, it seems to tie into an event wherein the officer prevented some thugs from accosting an old man. When this happened, the old man left the goose behind, and this in turn ties into news stories about the theft of the carbuncle. Obviously it's complicate but Holmes is on the job.
The Copper Beeches: A governess named Violet Hunter (Natasha Richardson) comes to Holmes after being offered a job to work at Cooper Beeches, the home of a wealthy man named Jephro Rucastle (Joss Ackland). She will be paid well but must cut her hair to his liking and abide some other bizarre requests from the man. This in and of itself is strange enough but Holmes becomes genuinely intrigued when she tells him she suspects someone is being held captive in the house.
The Greek Interpreter: On their way to meet Sherlock's brother, Mycroft Holmes (Charles Gray), Holmes and Watson learn that a Greek interpreter named Mr. Melas (Alkis Kritikos) was woken in the middle of the night to interpret who was beaten and tied up by some men holding his sister hostage. When Melas is asked to interpret a second time, Holmes and Watson find themselves in a race against time as they learn that a life is on the line.
The Norwood Builder: A man named John Hector McFarlane (Matthew Solon) who has been accused of murder comes to Holmes for help before the police can put him away. It turns out he was a lawyer asked to draft a will for Jonas Oldacre (Jonathan Adams) who has decided to name him as the sole beneficiary to a vast fortune. Oldacre claimed that although he'd never met John prior, he was friends with his parents years ago and has no family to leave his estate to. The night after John did the paperwork Oldacre was found dead and Inspector Lestrade (Colin Jeavons) suspects that John was indeed the killer.
The Resident Patient: A doctor named Percy Trevelyan (Nicholas Clay) recounts to Holmes how his benefactor, a man named Blessington (Patrick Newell) offered to get him out of his small office and into an upscale practice, effectively as a partner earning a percentage of the profits in exchange for his investment. This was all well and good until Blessington became unusually paranoid when a robbery in the neighborhood set him on edge.
The Red Headed League: Jabez Wilso (Roger Hammond) was offered a job by a strange organization called The Red Headed League wherein he was to sit in an office and transcribe alphabetically a volume of encyclopedias, all by hand. After working at this for some time he's fired for no apparent reason after which Holmes starts to connect the pieces of this odd puzzle for him.
The Final Problem: When Holmes returns to Baker Street after months away in France where he helped to return the stolen Mona Lisa, he realizes he and Watson are being targeted by none other than Professor Moriarty (Eric Porter). Holmes and Watson head to Switzerland to escape him, but he gives chase, determined to take them out of the picture.
The Return Of Sherlock Holmes:
The Empty House: When The Honourable Ronald Adair (Paul Lacoux) is shot, Watson (now played by Edward Hardwicke) testifies and is then followed by a disguised Holmes. He's surprised, obviously, as he presumed Holmes had been killed by Moriarty but obviously that was not the case. Holmes has been in hiding for some time in his effort to avoid Colonel Sebastian Moran (Patrick Allen), a man who is out to kill Holmes on Moriarty's behalf.
The Abbey Grange: Inspector Hopkins (Paul Williamson) requests Holmes' help when Sir Brackenstall (Conrad Phillips) is murdered in his home with a fire poker. His wife, Lady Brackenstall (Anne-Louise Lambert), claims that he was killed when a trio of thieves broke in, tied her up and stole their valuables before getting drunk on their wine. Holmes realizes something doesn't add up…
The Musgrave Ritual: Holmes and Watson head to the country home of friend Reginald Musgrave (Michael Culver) for some rest and relaxation where it is discovered that the butler has not been minding his own business but peeking at some old family documents. This one document in particular appears to relate to a ritual, something that comes into play when both the butler and the maid he has been involved with seemingly disappear.
The Second Stain: When Lord Trelawney Hope (Stuart Wilson) and the Prime Minister himself call on Holmes for help finding an important letter that was stolen from Hope's home, he obliges. As it turns out, the contents of the letter could send the country to war if they fall into the wrong hands. As Holmes narrows down his list of suspects to three people things get even more unusual when he receives an unusually secretive and very unexpected visit from Lady Trelawney Hope (Patricia Hodge).
The Man With The Twisted Lip: While searching for a woman's missing husband, Watson finds him in an underground opium den alongside a disguised Holmes also searching for man. It seems that a poor, crippled man with an interest in poetry who lives nearby may be committing murder in the area.
The Priory School: When a student goes missing at a prestigious private school the headmaster calls upon Holmes and Watson to solve the disappearance at the behest of the student's wealthy father, The Duke Of Holdernesse (Alan Howard). The Duke's behavior is strange, however, as he seems more interested in keeping all of this quiet than in solving the case.
The Six Napoleons: When Holmes' friend Inspector Lastrade (Colin Jeavons) arrives, he tells him about a series of burglaries all of which find a bust of Napoleon as their subject. Lastrade isn't too concerned about these but Holmes rightly ties the crimes into the death of an Italian man with ties to the mafia.
The Devil's Foot: Holmes is in poor shape. Stressed out and depressed, he heads with Watson to Cornwall for a break. Things take a strange turn when a card game between a young woman and her two brothers results in her death and their insanity. Holmes, struggling with his addiction problems, takes the case.
Silver Blaze: Colonel Ross (Peter Barkworth) is so upset by the disappearance of his prize horse, Silver Blaze, that he brings Holmes and Watson in to solve the case. As it turns out, it ties into a pending horse race but the murder of the horse's trainer and the drugging of a stable hand point to something very sinister.
Wisteria Lodge: In a rare moment of downtime, Holmes finds himself bored and so takes on a case in which a cartographer who spent the night at an associates home woke up the next morning to find everyone, servants included, had disappeared. An ambitious detective named Inspector Baynes (Freddie Jones) is out to solve the case before him.
The Bruce Partington Plans: A patent office employee is killed near the railroad tracks and Mycroft once again enlists the aid of his brother in trying to sort out what happened to the man. It seems the victim was involved in the theft of some secret submarine schematics but when only some of the stolen material is found on the body, Holmes realizes that this man's death was no mere accident.
The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes:
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax: Watson meets a woman named Lady Frances Carfax (Cheryl Campbell) while vacationing at a hotel. He becomes intrigued when he realizes just how frightened this otherwise very empowered woman is when she recounts to him seeing a strange bearded man. Watson writes Holmes of this who figures out that Carfax is indeed in danger. By the time he arrives at the hotel to help, however, she's disappeared.
The Problem Of Thor Bridge: A woman named Maria Gibson (Celia Gregory) is standing on her family's estate on Thor Bridge when she's shot in the head and murdered. The police arrest the governess, Grace Dunbar (Catharine Russell), after they find the gun in her room but she claims to be innocent, something that Maria's husband, Neil (Daniel Massey), believes. He hires Holmes to come to the family home and investigate in hopes of clearing the good name of Ms. Dunbar, a women for whom he holds great affection.
Shoscombe Old Place: A horse trainer named John Mason (Frank Grimes) who works at the Shoscombe Estate comes to Holmes because he finds the behavior of his employers, Sir Robert Norberton (Robin Ellis) and his sister Lady Beatrice Falder (Elizabeth Weaver), to be increasingly bizarre. It seems Robert is in debt to Samuel Brewer (James Coyle) and that Brewer intends to collect even if Norberton is shot on funds with which to repay him.
The Boscombe Valley Mystery: A woman named Alice Turner (Joanna Roth) comes to Holmes for help and so desperate is she that Holmes feels obliged to bring Watson in off of vacation to assist. It seems her friend James McCarthy (James Purefoy) has been accused of murdering his father and she believes him to be innocent though she knows that the two men were arguing before the killing took place. As Holmes looks into the case, he finds that all of this ties back to the past shared not only by James and Alice but by their fathers as well.
The Illustrious Client: Sir James Damery (David Langton) hires Holmes to help him stop the pending marriage of Violet Merville (Abigail Cruttenden) to Baron Gruner (Anthony Valentine) because he knows that the Baron is dishonest and he may in fact have a criminal past. Violet, however, is quite smitten with her husband to be while Holmes has to wonder to himself who Damery is working on behalf of and why.
The Creeping Man: When Edith Presbury (Sarah Woodward) sees a shadowy man watching through her window one night she complains to her fiancé Jack Bennett (Adrian Lukas) who hires Holmes to look into things. What stands out here is that Edith's bedroom is on the second floor. Edith's father, a widower (Charles Kay), is also to be wed soon, to a woman much younger than he named Alice Moprhy (Anna Mazzotti). When he finds out Jack, who is in his employ, has hired Holmes and Watson, he refuses to cooperate and has them kicked off of his property.
The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes:
The Three Gables: Mrs. Mary Maberley (Mary Ellis) come to Holmes to tell him the strange story of how she bought and lived in her home, Three Gables, with her grandson until he passed away. Shortly after his passing a real estate agent showed up very intent on purchasing the property from her and she was ready to sell in hopes of moving past all of what she'd been through but he would only buy on the condition that she leave every single thing in the house and walk away without any of the contents. Holmes looks into things and tries to figure out what exactly the agent was after and how it ties into her grandson's death.
The Dying Detective: Adelaide Savage (Susannah Harker) is worried her husband Victor (Hugh Bonneville) who has started taking opium on a regular basis. His behavior has also become erratic, something which she attributes to his drug use. She comes to Holmes, who takes the case, and they head to the family home where a cousin named Culverton Smith (Jonathan Hyde) also lives. When Victor dies, Watson assumes since Smith is an expert on a strange poison that he was the man responsible but Holmes figures otherwise.
The Golden Pince-Nez: Watson is tied up at his practice leaving Holmes to join up with his brother Mycroft (Charles Gray again) to help figure out what happened to Willoughby Smith (Christopher Guard) who was found dead by his maid some time ago. The strange thing about this is that when he died Smith held a lady's golden pince-nez in his hand and uttered "Professor… it was she" before passing. Holmes has to wonder how this ties into Smith's employer, Professor Coran (Frank Finlay) or possibly a teacher named Abigail Grosby (Patricia Kerrigan).
The Red Circle: A woman who runs a boarding home is worried that a man she rents to may be up to something illegal given that he's paying extra to have complete and utter privacy during his stay. Holmes takes the case and finds that the boarder is an Italian with ties to New York City and possibly to a criminal element located there and he tries to figure out his all of this ties into the existence of a mysterious criminal organization called The Red Circle.
The Mazarin Stone: When the Prime Minister needs Holmes' help but can't find him, Mycroft steps in to assist and solve the mystery of the disappearance of the Mazarin Diamond recently stolen from a museum before it could be returned to its French owners. British politicians are worried that its theft might lead to an international falling out of sorts and Mycroft figures that a man named Count Sylvias (Jon Finch) might be the key to finding it. Meanwhile, Watson tries to sort out what happened to a missing university professor.
The Cardboard Box: Susan Cushing (Joanna David) comes to Holmes in hopes that he will help her find out what happened to her missing sister, Mary Browner (Lucy Whybrow). Though she was recently married to Jim Browner (Ciaran Hinds) some wonder if she didn't run off with another man. Initially Holmes passes on the case until Ms. Cushing gets a pair of human ears sent to her in the mail.
The Feature Film Collection:
The Sign Of Four: A woman named Mary Morstan (Jenny Seagrove) has puzzlingly received a pearl in the mail annually ever since her father vanished and she has no idea who has been sending them. Holmes and Watson investigate the case and find that during a war in India that took place in 1857, four convicts made amongst themselves a pact that in turn relates to buried treasure and murder most foul!
The Hound Of The Baskervilles: When Sir Charles Baskerville (Raymond Adamson) is killed out in the remote moors that surround his massive estate, there are many that believe he was the victim of the fabled hound that roams the countryside and kills any man it comes across. The heir to the estate is an American named Henry Baskerville (Kristoffer Tabori) and when he arrives to take over the estate, Holmes and Watson are called to the scene by Doctor Mortimer (Neal Duncan) in an attempt to uncover the truth about Sir Charles' unusual death.
The Master Blackmailer: Charles Augustus Milverton (Robert Hardy) is a very successful art dealer who also happens to be, as the title implies, a master blackmailer. Given his ties to the rich and famous members of London's populace through his legitimate business he is able to uncover all manner of dirty little secrets which he can then use against them for profit. It was only a matter of time before one of his victims hired Holmes and Watson to put a stop to him…
The Last Vampyre: Holmes is brought to a small, rural village to investigate a rash of recent murders. The catch here is that the people in the village are descendants of an angry mob that killed a wealthy family in the area years ago. When the new murders seem to tie into the presence of one man related to the murdered family, it almost seems as if there is a vampire on the loose.
The Eligible Bachelor: Holmes is suffering from some health problems as he is plagued by nightmares when he tries to sleep. When awake, he's bored and not in a good state which causes Mrs. Hudson (Rosalie Williams) to call for Watson. When Watson hears what is happening he suggests they travel to Vienna to talk to Doctor Sigmund Freud but before they can do that Lord Robert St. Simon (Simon Williams) comes to them to help find his missing wife, Hettie, which would seem to tie into the man's own complicated past.
Though the later era material in this set isn't as good as the earlier stuff due in no small part to Brett's declining health at the time it was made, as a whole this is an excellent collection of adaptations that typically stay very true to source. Brett does a fantastic job of creating an eccentric and fascinating character, his Holmes is a calculating and ingenious man but so too is he quite cold and often times seemingly completely devoid of compassion. His deductive reasoning skills are beyond reproach but he lacks the ability to relate to people in certain ways. Brett completely nails this, his Holmes is manic, obsessed at times and often times as frustrating as a person as he is amazing as a detective. It's fascinating to watch the actor really sink his teeth into the role here and while obviously this body of work was done over a fairly prolonged period of time, despite changes in his physical appearance caused by those aforementioned health issues, there's great consistency of character on display throughout Brett's run. He takes the part and he runs with it and he completely makes it his own and with all due respect to many of the great actors who have played the role before and after Brett's run on British TV, it's clear as day why he was and continues to be considered ‘definitive' in the part.
Complimenting Brett is a cast of great supporting players that pop up throughout the series too. David Burke and Edward Hardwicke are both very good in their respective roles as Doctor Watson and both men play the character not as the bumbling fool he's occasionally portrayed as but as the intelligent companion to Holmes (and as he was originally written in the source material). While there's definitely some humor between the two men, much of which is genuinely funny and quite clever, the role is played straight and not for the purpose of introducing a comic sidekick into the proceedings. This, along with the clever writing and Brett's fantastic work, really cements the fact that the series was not ‘dumbed down' and as such, the show rewards attentive viewers with heavy and often very layered dialogue between the two leads indicating where each respective story will go and how it will get there. It's also fun to see Charles Gray (best known as the Criminologist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show appear throughout the run and Eric Porter makes for a great Professor Moriarty in his two part run. Rosalie Williams in her recurring role as Mrs. Hudson is also quite good here. Indeed, the series as a whole is well cast with a slew of talented actors and actresses in both lead and supporting roles across the board.
The series also benefits from some solid production values and good attention to detail. Granted, there are some episodes that are hampered by modest budgetary restraints but for the most part the team behind this run was skilled at finding great locations to use and appropriate period attire in which to dress the cast. The Sherlock Holmes stories were products of their time and there's no shame in that. Thankfully nobody tries to hide that here with unnecessary updates or what have you. This, too, goes to further the purpose behind this series as one in which the powers that be were intent on presenting the Holmes stories in their purest possible incarnations. Of course, as with any series containing this many episodes there are going to be some that work better than others. As Brett's run comes to a close there is a drop off in quality that is hard not to notice. Maybe everyone involved was getting tired or burnt out, maybe not, but the writing, while still very strong by anyone's standards starts to become less than perfect. Even in these weaker links in the Brett/Holmes chain, however, there are moments of greatness and plenty of entertainment value easily gleamed and the series remains a highpoint in the history of televised mystery and suspense programming.The Blu-ray:
MPI presents Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series in a series of AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers all of which are framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, which would be how they were originally broadcast and the aspect ratio for which they were composed. All of this material was originally shot on 16mm film (save for The Sign Of Four which was 35mm) an the transfers are pretty solid even if the first series looks like it's had some digital noise reduction applied to it resulting in some noticeable waxiness. As the series progresses this becomes less of an issue. There are a few problems to note, the most obvious being some odd color timing on The Sign Of Four where some day for night shots are not properly tinted, meaning it goes from night to day to night as the action is playing out on screen. Additionally, The Three Gables might be a DVD upscale as it doesn't look as good as the other episodes it shares a disc with.
Having said all of that, we definitely do get cleaner, richer and more detailed picture quality here than we did on DVD, and by quite a noticeable margin. There aren't any issues with edge enhancement and any compression artifacts that pop up are minor when they're even noticeable at all. Color reproduction is quite good, skin tones look warm and lifelike and black levels are pretty strong here as well.Sound:
Each and every episode and movie in this collection gets an LPCM Mono track in English with optional English subtitles. There are a few spots throughout where some minor synch issues are slightly noticeable but otherwise the audio quality in this set is just fine. Sometimes the range is a bit limited for a TV series shot some time ago, it's completely reasonable for that to be the case. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue sounds clean and clear.Extras:
The extras are spread across the set as follows:
The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes includes a vintage promotional piece made to advertise the series when it was new. It runs 2:52 so it's pretty brief but interesting to see as it focuses on different aspects of Holmes' personality (the violin, the magnifying glass, etc) and includes some pertinent clips from the series to showcase the quality of the performances.
Extras for The Return Of Sherlock Holmes include a commentary with Madden on The Priory School, again joined by Sothcott as moderator and with input from David Stuart Davis. Like the first commentary in the set this is a pretty detailed explanation of what went into making the episode but so too does Madden talk about how he was brought on board by Granada Television to direct and how he was such a fan of the original stories that he was quite intrigued by the prospect. He notes how they tried to make the series very cinematic, what it was like working with the cast and crew and more. It's an active and detailed talk packed with a lot of great information not just about this episode specifically but about the series as a whole. There's also an interview here with Edward Hardwicke entitled Elementary My Dear Watson that runs 18:41. Here the actor speaks expresses his admiration for the original stories that the series was based on, what it was like working with Brett on the show, how he got the part of Watson in the series and quite a bit more.
The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes includes audio commentary track with director John Madden for The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax which is moderated by Jonathan Sothcott and features input from writer David Stuart Davis. Here Madden speaks quite frankly about working with Brett on the production, how all of this came together, some of the locations used for the shoot and more. He also spends a great amount of time talking about what went into adapting the original source material into something that would translate properly into a television feature.
Casebook also includes a vintage 8:44 minute long TV interview from Daytime Live with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. It's quite a good interview as it lets Brett talk about some of the concerns he initially had about taking the role in the first place. Also on hand is the Sherlock Museum Short in which Arthur Wontner makes an appearance at a Holmes exhibit at 221 Baker Street in London accompanied by Arthur Conan Doyle's son. This is a black and white newsreel style piece and it's an interesting addition to the disc that runs 2:35.
The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes features a commentary track with screenwriter Jeremy Paul on The Red Circle moderated by David Stuart Davis. They talk about the work leading up to this particular episode, Brett's enthusiasm for the material, what it was like adapting Conan Doyle's work in the book to the screenplay on which this episode was based and a fair bit more. They also talk about shifts in format for the show and how this affected things and the changes that were going on at Granada Television at the time all of this was going on. Also included with Memoirs is An Interview with Adrian Conan Doyle that runs 20:39. Here the son of the creator of Sherlock Holmes talks from the remote castle estate in which he lives about how he has dedicated his life to keeping his father's work alive. He takes the camera and interviewer around the home and shows off various mementos from various famous cases and talks about the different characters that his father created and where some of the inspiration for the character and more specifically his methods originated from.
The set additionally includes a nice insert booklet featuring some extensive essays on each of the entries that make up this collection written by the late Richard Valley, editor of Scarlet Street magazine. Regarding the boxed set packaging, the box itself, while nice enough in appearance, is pretty flimsy and the plastic ‘stackers' inside (which house two discs, one slightly on top of the other) are easier to break than you might hope for. Note that the commentary tracks are no accessible by the menus in this set, you have to know that they're there and you have to access them by switching audio tracks with your remote.Final Thoughts:
MPI's Blu-ray boxed set release of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series isn't flawless but it is very good and fans of Jeremy Brett's definitive interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective should be quite pleased with this as a whole. The transfers are solid indeed and the audio quite good and if the set isn't jam-packed with extras it does appear to carry over all of the supplemental material from previous domestic DVD releases. The material itself holds up incredibly well even by today's standards