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The View from the East End (78)

By Inspector Hopkins

November 18, 2007

The Granada Film Series (part 9)

by Inspector Hopkins

Besides high performance automobiles, golf, and Sherlock Holmes, one of my favourite subjects for discussion is the fairer sex.  Ah . . . women!  They allure, tease, frustrate, excite, and constantly challenge their men! But what else could make our lives so interesting?


The Women of the Granada Films

As I mentioned last time, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Films for me is watching the portrayals of the women in the Canon!  I say again, there’s just something about the way the women looked in those days that is really appealing to me. Currently, the average male is saturated with a constant exposure to sexual allure  . . . short skirts, high heels, makeup, suggestive poses in advertising, etc. to say absolutely nothing of all the various men’s magazines out there.

The newer Sherlockian needs to recognize that in Sherlock Holmes’s day, it was considered vulgar for a woman to expose her legs and/or elbows, or to have short hair, or even to travel in a hansom (a two-seated carriage) with another man, unless she was married to him. Aside from the corset she may have worn to accentuate her figure (by decreasing her waistline), a Victorian woman was essentially not allowed to exhibit any parts of her body. She had to rely on her face, her hair, her mannerisms, her personality, and her dress to attract men . . .

Based upon these observations, let’s take a look at some of the many skillful choices that Granada’s casting directors made in portraying the women of the Canon, and how they helped to create more enjoyment of the stories:


Good Looking Women!

Now, keeping in mind that that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, exceptionally attractive women were almost always used to portray the “higher class” of women in the Canon. Notable examples might include Irene Adler (Gayle Hunnicutt) of SCAN, Lady Hilda Hope (Patricia Hodge) of SECO, and Lady Brackenstall (Anne Lambert) of ABBE.  I think that Hunnicutt’s portrayal of Adler was extremely effective, but more on that later.

But really good-looking women were also used to portray some of the “regular” non-aristocratic class of Canonical ladies, including Beryl Stapleton (Fiona Gillies), Helen Stoner (Rosalyn Landor),  Violet Hunter (Natasha Richardson) and Elsie Cubitt (Betsey Brantley).  These actresses are all remarkably attractive, and an absolute joy to watch . . . over and over again!  And let’s not forget Hattie Doran (Paris Jefferson) or Mary Morstan (Jenny Seagrove), either . . .


Not quite as Good Looking

It is very important to note that the casting also included women that were not quite as beautiful. For example, consider the maid Rachael (Johanna Kirby) in MUSG who became mentally unstable (“brain fever”) over Brunton. She was the correct age, but was just unattractive enough to correctly portray her “excitable Welsh temperament”. In contrast to her, Janet Tregallis (Theresa Banham) was just attractive and flirtatious enough to make Brunton’s affair with her believable.

Similarly, of the three Cushing sisters in CARD, Sarah (Deborah Findlay) was just different enough to accurately portray the flirtatious one. I liked the little cleft in her chin, too! J   The key to these observations lies in subtlety . . . one of the great hallmarks of Granada’s casting of their female characters, whether attractive or not.

Additionally, there were also some rather unattractive actresses used to portray various other minor Canonical characters, but we won’t go into that area . . .


Age IS Important

In addition to being attractive where appropriate, it was important that the particular actress be of the appropriate age as well.  Carolyn Bartlett took this into account, and picked the absolutely perfect actresses to portray both Irene Adler (Gayle Hunnicutt) in SCAN and Isadora Klein (Claudine Auger) in 3GAB.  Hunnicutt appeared just slightly older than Sherlock Holmes. This is a very important point for Sherlockians.  In order for Holmes to have been impressed by her, I believe she would have had to be more mature than he was, or at least equal to his age. Also, her razor thin nose, her voluptuous lips and sensual personality, combined with her obvious gift of intelligent discernment, certainly could have easily explained his attraction to her.  No wonder we salute her to this very day with “Toasts to the Woman” at many scion society meetings!

In addition to noticing her beauty, the appreciative male eye can also detect a little bit more of that “just slightly older” age bracket into which Auger fits. (Consider that if all the actresses used by Granada Films were all gorgeous and all in their early twenties, it certainly would not reflect reality, would it?)  In particular, Isadora Klein’s mature appearance contrasted sharply with that of the young Douglas Maberley (Gary Cady) making her character quite credible. I myself would have found it quite difficult not to fall under her charms (evil though they may have been), and so I can certainly understand how Maberley fell in love with her. Ah . . . women!  Unlike us men, they don’t get older; they really do just get better!

And after considering all the possibilities, I still can’t make up my mind as to which woman is my personal favourite  . . .  (*sigh*)  . . . so I guess I’ll have to keep on watching, eh? 

Until next time, when we will finally finish up this series, and thanking you again so very much for your attention, I am indeed,  

Yours Faithfully,