Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review - "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes"

I do apologize to any of the few people who may frequent this blog that I have not been posting a whole late lately. I found myself extremely busy of late, which is surprising as I am not one of those people with an extremely busy schedule. Nevertheless, I haven't had much to review lately. There seems to be a bit of a lull in the number of Sherlock Holmes-related items to review, and I do like to keep a nice balance of Sherlock and "Doctor Who" on this blog. So, I'm reaching into my archives to review the BBC mini-series, "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes."

Some twenty-odd years after he gave up the role of Sherlock Holmes, Ian Richardson returned to Sherlockian territory in this series. Based off of a series of novels by David Pirie, the books examine Arthur Conan Doyle's days studying under Dr. Joesph Bell (Richardson) and how they solved mysteries together. The series commenced with a two-part made-for-television movie entitled "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle." Robin Laing starred as the youthful Doyle who meets Bell for the first time and they embark on a mission to bring a multiple murderer to justice in sleepy Victorian Edinburgh.

The concept for the series of magnificent. Having Bell and Doyle solving mysteries side-by-side is genius and it is fascinating to watch the origins of the Holmes and Watson friendship. The best thing about the original movie is the acting. Ian Richardson is wonderful and always and Robin Laing makes for believable, level-headed Arthur Conan Doyle. However, the script ruins the enjoyable experience. It seems as though the scriptwriter for the film was under the impression that if the story ins't dark as a piece of coal and bogged down with racy, controversial material it's no good.

The main problem is that much of the plot is centered on the wealthy aristocrat who lives in the town (played very well by Charles Dance) who makes his ventures into a house of ill-repute about as subtle as a nuclear bomb explosion. Of course suspicion falls on him when his wife grows ill and people in the city begin dropping like flies. Although he is vindicated of his crimes, he doesn't get away Scott-free. Aside from acting as the world's biggest and most obvious red herring, he adds very little to the plot and when we finally do discover the murderer's identity, it's in the last few minutes of the movie and he gets away without being brought to justice. An excuse for no proper ending is provided by saying that the murderer would later go on to be connected with the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. This adds nothing to the plot whatsoever, and I'm inclined to think this was just a way of speedily wrapping up the story.

With the series getting off a shaky start, I decided to give it one more chance. Ian Richardson returned, but this time Doyle was portrayed by Charles Edwards, who I feel is a bit better of an actor. He is a little less whiny and much more shrewd than Laing. In "The Patient's Eyes," a young woman comes to Doyle because she fears she is being pursued by a ghost on a bicycle. This nod to "The Solitary Cyclist" is one of the best things that can be said for the episode - a jumbled mess which really falls apart in the end.

As is standard with BBC productions, the costume and set design are beautiful and really do a handsome job of transporting you back to the Victorian era. As I noted above, Ian Richardson really brings the character of Dr. Bell to life and is far and away the best thing about the series. The coy nods to Doyle's canon are nice too (Bell deduces things about Doyle's father from his pocket watch ala "The Sign of Four"), but overall the series lumbers under the weight of poor scripts. To the Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, I do recommend them just to see Ian Richardson's fantastic performance, but the series isn't all that spectacular. I give "Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes" a 2.5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way. It's perfectly understandable and you don't need to feel like you must apologize for it.

    As for the series, I had a feeling it'd be a bit like what you describe. Not particularly keen on seeing it, but I honestly wasn't to begin with...

    All this Holmes stuff reminds me I must really revisit The Great Man soon. Perhaps when midterms are done I'll coax a lull into my reading schedule.

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