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The View from the East End (72)

By Inspector Hopkins

August 26 , 2007
 

The Granada Film Series    (part 3)

by Inspector Hopkins

As the series progressed, fidelity to the Canon worsened, although some of the representations were still interesting. Not too surprisingly perhaps, there seemed to be a correlation between the degree of fidelity and to Jeremy Brett’s declining health . . .

The Downright Ugly

The seventh, and last, season in particular saw a disappointing trend towards much less canonically-based representations of Holmes’s adventures. Stylized photography, overlaying shots, and supposedly “artistic” close-ups could not make up for Brett’s deteriorating appearance and performance. Indeed he looked ghastly in some of the later films, and it was obvious that he was quite ill.

The series lasted from 1984 through 1994 and was aired on PBS over seven seasons, with gaps of one to three years between some of them. The newer Sherlockian needs to be aware that Jeremy Brett’s health was on a slow downturn over the years and he suffered from severe manic-depression. His wife died of cancer in July of 1985, reportedly right after The Final Problem was finished at the end of the second season, and Brett took a leave of absence. He returned in 1986, but became more and more depressed, especially towards the end of the Film series. His depression even required hospitalization, and may explain some of the gaps in production. He died in September of 1995 of heart failure, complicated by both his depression and his heavy tobacco usage.

In spite of all these difficulties, it is an extreme credit to the writers and producers of Grenada Films, as well as to the actors themselves, that they were able to work around them. I can give you my assurances that there is no greater fan and supporter of Jeremy Brett and the Granada Films than myself, and I emphasize that the “Ugly” here refers only to the infidelity to the Canon, and not to Jeremy Brett’s failing abilities in the last season.

With that firmly fixed in mind, it is a tossup as to which film is the “ugliest”. As I had written once before, my personal vote goes to The Three Gables. Jeremy Brett’s depression not withstanding, there was simply no excuse to stray as far from the Canon as the Granada Films series did in that particular case. It was overly complicated, confusing, and fraught with stylistic imagery. If you didn’t read the Canon beforehand, you probably would not understand the story at all. Although the casting was superb and Claudine Auger’s and Peter Wyngarde’s performances as Isadora Klein and Langdale Pike were quite well done, Holmes’s reaction to Watson getting beaten up by Steve Dixie was disturbing and totally out of character. I simply cannot understand why Granada Films could not have followed this story more exactly. They would have saved some money too, I am sure, by eliminating all that “mardi-gras” footage which had nothing to do with the story anyway.

A “second place” nod goes to The Mazarin Stone. This one was so bad it was my original choice for the worst because Holmes hardly appeared in it at all. And they tried to combine and intertwine both MAZA and 3GAR within the same storyline, resulting in more confusion and being incredibly non-Canonical as well. Why not break these up into their proper separate stories?  Upon a great deal of reflection, though, I came to realize that Jeremy Brett was probably so sick at the time of this filming that the producers decided to continue on as best they could without him, and to give Edward Hardwicke and Charles Gray an opportunity to showcase their individual talents as primary actors rather than their usual supporting roles.  This was probably a good compromise, since they both had done a great job beforehand, and the film was definitely well presented and entertaining.

Still . . .

In preparing my writings for this set of articles, I watched (and re-watched) almost all of the Granada CD’s again . . .  as much as four to six hours at a sitting.  Under those “marathon style” conditions, it was truly heartbreaking to see Jeremy Brett’s deterioration from one episode to the next, and I found myself getting more and more depressed as I did this.

The only sure cure for that depression, though, is to begin watching the “Adventures” series all over again . . . which I will start doing right away.

Until next time, when we will continue our analysis of Granada’s films, I am indeed,

Yours Faithfully,
STANLEY HOPKINS