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The View from the East End (70)

By Inspector Hopkins

July 29, 2007

The Granada Film Series    (part 1)

by Inspector Hopkins

Only after the newer Sherlockian has read and re-read the Canon a number of times can he or she fully appreciate what we reverently refer to as the “Granada Film Series”, starring Jeremy Brett as our beloved hero . . .

This upcoming set of articles will attempt to examine and analyze what all modern day Sherlockians consider as the ultimate tribute to Sherlock Holmes, as well as acknowledging what the current interpretation of his character is all about. I may step on some toes here, but I am going to go out on a limb and will state that the previous interpretations of Sherlock Homes by William Gillette and Basil Rathbone have been well superseded by the famous series begun in the mid-eighties, and which continue on today in the form of DVDs available from MPI Home Video.

To begin with, the newer Sherlockian must believe the old saying that one cannot fully appreciate the “Movie” until one has read the “Book” first. In that light, dear reader, I beg that you that will have fully availed yourself of the Canon beforehand.  In this set of articles, I will assume that you have in fact by now read and re-read the Canon enough times to have become so thoroughly familiar with it, that you will have no problem in following my thoughts much more precisely as we go along.

There is so very much to appreciate in the Granada Film Series!

Above all, the casting is absolutely brilliant. With very few exceptions (which I shall note as we continue onwards), the creators and producers of the Granada Films have absolutely gone out of their way to reproduce the characters in the same fashion as was described in the Canon by Dr. Watson. Most of these characters have been very faithfully reproduced . . .  so well in fact, that it is difficult (if not impossible) to rate them on any sort of scale.  But I will still try to do so as we forge onwards.

Next, the scenery and photography are excellent!  There is an amazing amount of detail, and much effort has been made to keep the scenery and locations as accurately as possible as described in the Canon.  

Finally, just as in reading and re-reading the Canon, it seems that each time I watch one of these episodes, I usually notice some detail that had escaped my attention before. As a quick overview, the first three parts of this series will follow the famous “Spaghetti Western” pattern:

The Good

In several cases, the Granada Film series offers some definite improvements in the way that Watson records the events in the Canon. Indeed, some of the Films make the Canonical stories more believable and help to improve some of the weak spots in the plotlines. For example, consider the case of The Man with the Twisted Lip. In the Canon, we are given the background that Mrs. St. Clair was walking along Swandam Lane on her way to the railway station, when she suddenly heard “an ejaculation or cry”, then looked up and saw her husband’s face in a window, saw him wave his arms and seem to be pulled back.

This explanation does not make sense. If Neville St. Clair was trying to keep his activities a secret from his wife, all he would have had to do was keep quiet.  She would have walked along without looking up and he would not have been discovered. Well, the Film fixes this issue very neatly by having Mrs. St. Clair cause a commotion in the street (due to her well dressed appearance in the seedy neighborhood). This resulting noise then draws Neville St. Clair to the window where he is then spotted by his wife. A very simple repair to a weak spot in the plot, and one which does not contradict anything in the story.

Another example is the case of The Norwood Builder. The Film makes much more sense by proposing that Jonas Oldacre killed a tramp and burned his body in the fire than to suppose he had used “a couple of rabbits” as Sherlock Holmes suggested. Even given the early stage of the development of forensic science in those days, investigators could certainly tell if a human being had been burned in the woodpile compared to a few rabbits! Again, another weak spot in the plotline fixed in the Film version without contradicting anything else in the story.

There are other examples as we shall see.

But unfortunately there also some Films which did not improve on their corresponding Canonical stories.

Until next time, when we will take a brief look at some of them, I am indeed as always,

Yours Faithfully,