Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Review - "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.
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.