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The View from the East End (77)

By Inspector Hopkins

November 4, 2007

The Granada Film Series (part 8)

by Inspector Hopkins

For any television series or movie to be successful, there must be believable portrayals of the characters in them. And one of the very best features of the Granada Film Series is their expert and artful presentation of the characters, i.e. the casting.

Kudos to Bartlett

For the majority of the time, Carolyn Bartlett’s expert casting of the Canonical characters (besides Holmes and Watson of course) has been superb! Out of the 41 episodes, she had personally supervised 25 of them, followed in turn by James Bain, Judi Hayfield, Joan McCann, Susie Bruffin, Doreen Jones, and Jose Scott. She also had assistance from Pam Bailey in three episodes.  As you read the Canon, Watson’s vivid descriptions of the characters make it is easy to form mental images of them and what they looked like.  Granada’s casting directors really picked up on his descriptions so well that the film characters seem as if they just walked out of the pages of the book!  In fact, there are so many expertly cast characters, that it would be easier to mention the ones that don’t quite fit.  Naturally, this topic is quite subjective, and your opinion may differ from my own, but let’s take a quick look at some examples of both types:

The really Good

As we saw last time, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and Mycroft Holmes were key supporting characters. Although Watson never described her in any way throughout the entire Canon, Rosalie Williams portrayed what I always envisioned Mrs. Hudson to look like: a busy, bustling, middle-aged lady of medium build. After watching her in the films, I can never read the Canon anymore without picturing her in my mind’s eye now. At last, Mrs. Hudson has a face!

Some of the best all-around casting examples can be found in COPP, SIGN, and TWIS where every single character, from Jephro Rucastle all the way down to the lascar in the opium den, is an excellent match to Watson’s descriptions.  Coincidentally or not, these three stories are among the most faithful to the Canon in terms of the plotline also, and two of them were cast by Carolyn Bartlett. (Even the dogs in the stories were accurate!)

I must confess that one aspect of the Films I particularly enjoy is watching the portrayals of the women in the Canon.  Besides the casting, Granada does an admirable job of recreating the Victorian period clothing seen in the Films. There’s just something about the way the women looked in those days that really gets me . . . I can’t help it! Their long hair, neatly braided and piled on top of their heads, their elaborate hats, gloves, bustles, corsets, petticoats, “proper” lady-like manners and British accents, all combine to make them so very feminine.  I am quite hard pressed to name my favourite female character, but stay tuned for a separate article on this issue for next time.

The observant newcomer to Sherlockiana will even note that Granada very carefully preserved the Australian accents of the characters in BOSC and ABBE.  This was a very subtle, but very accurate, finishing touch to those stories.

The not so Good


All that being said, there are several instances where the casting did not quite fit the Canonical descriptions as well as they might have.  As I had mentioned before, two different actors, Paul Williamson (ABBE), and Nigel Planer (GOLD), portrayed Inspector Hopkins. Perhaps there was a difficulty in hiring Williamson again for GOLD because they were filmed four years apart.  Additionally, there were two different casting directors for these episodes, so that may account for these discrepancies. Regardless, both actors were older than the way Watson described Hopkins in the original version of these stories. To me at least, this seems to be a casting flaw that could have easily been prevented.

Other examples include the portrayals of Baron Gruner in ILLU by Anthony Valentine and of Culverton Smith by Jonathan Hyde in DYIN. Their characters look completely different than the way Watson described them in the Canon. Although he did have a very slight accent, Valentine was not raven haired with a waxed mustache, and he seemed too old. Conversely, Hyde was too young, handsome, and dashing to portray a frail, bald headed, evil scientist specializing in fatal diseases.  If these two actors and their roles were reversed it might make a closer, but still inaccurate, Canonical match.

Nonetheless, even the less-than-perfect casting did not ruin the basic storylines. But when you read the Canon as much as I do, the overwhelmingly superb casting in the Films really stands out and truly makes the Canon come to life.  And that’s what the Series is all about, isn’t it?

I look at it this way:  the casting in the Granada Series is a lot like pizza  . . . when it’s good, it’s REALLY good . . . and when it’s not so good, well . . . it’s still pretty good.

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I sincerely remain,

Yours Faithfully,