Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Top 10 Greatest Television Sherlock Holmes (Of All Time) Part I

It's time for television to get its time in the limelight since it was removed entirely from my last Top 10 list. This time I look at the best of the best when it comes to television shows, episodes and TV movies. Keep in mind that this is of course all subjective, and I hope to defend a few of my choices when we get 'round to them. So, let's plunge right in!

#10 - A Royal Scandal (2001) - Okay, so the controversy starts already! I'll say it now: I like Matt Frewer's Sherlock Holmes. So often he's put down for being an unworthy footnote in the history of Sherlockian entertainment, but he is judged too harshly. Sure, his first outing in 2000's The Hound of the Baskervilles was a bit too over-the-top, but it seemed pretty clear to me that Frewer was having an absolute ball playing Holmes, and that carries through in this made-for-television movie.

By the time that Frewer starred in A Royal Scandal, he'd toned down his theatrical performance a bit, and I'd say that his performance here is his most down-to-earth and humane. An extremely clever combination of Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia and The Bruce-Partington Plans, the complex plot showcases Holmes and Irene Adler as well as a group of German spies and a pretty villainous Mycroft Holmes. Frewer's performance is grand, in particular the fine scene in which he relates to Watson how he was duped by Miss Adler in the past. Speaking of Watson, Kenneth Welsh is an excellent Watson, oneof the finest in most recent years, but a sadly overlooked one. His firmly grounded performance helps to reign in Frewer's Holmes, making their chemistry on screen all the better. Though it may be Sherlockian heresy to say that I like all of Matt Frewer's Sherlockian turns, A Royal Scandal stands out as one of the best.

#9 - The Master Blackmailer (1994) - I was never fond of the feature length Granada Sherlock Holmes stories. In my mind changing the formula which worked so well was tampering in a domain in which they did not belong. It did not help that Jeremy Brett was beginning to show signs of failing health as Granada attempted to switch formats, so when the series needed a leading man to carry off the switch successfully, it did not have one. Yet, The Master Blackmailer is easily the best of the feature-length TV films, and a fine example of Granada's high quality, even in its later years.

The real star of The Master Blackmailer is Robert Hardy as Charles Augutus Milverton, the titular blackmailer. Hardy's performance is excellent, wonderfully evocative of Doyle's original descriptions. The screenplay supplied by Jeremy Paul is equally well done, managing to expand on Doyle's original (arguably slim) story and transforming it into a two-hour television film. Yet, most of the plot details from Doyle's original short story are contained, and very little is actually altered when it comes to the movie's plot. Add to this Jeremy Brett, who still manages to show he could still be on top form, along with the ever likable Edward Hardwicke as Watson, and you have a recipe for an extremely well-written, well-acted television film.

#8 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet (1968) - A while back I reviewed this series (or what's left of it) on a whole, and though I came away with some mixed feelings, it is for the most part a good Sherlockian effort. The highlight for me was without doubt the adaptation of A Study in Scarlet. By eliminating both the introductory stages of the novel and the American flashback, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes managed to condense the mystery into an hour, with surprising good results.

The scenes never feel rushed, though there's a lot of plot to include, and Peter Cushing carries it all. His performance is toned down from his last turn in 1959's The Hound of the Baskervilles, but his softer, more gentle Sherlock Holmes is still a pleasure to watch. He has excellent screen chemistry with his Watson, Nigel Stock, which greatly enliven the episode. The examination of the crime scene features it's dialogue almost verbatim from Doyle's original, and Cushing pulls it off brilliantly, spouting out some of the episode's finest lines: "Rache is German for revenge." Though this show ran the gambit in terms of quality, A Study in Scarlet is a quality episode, and a surprising one in that it was the first time the story had been filmed since 1914.

 #7 - Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004) - I can hear you all sputtering in front of your computers: "But...you reviewed this and gave it 2 stars out of 5! How can this possibly be on the top 10 list?" Well, I've had a change of heart. It doesn't happen a whole lot, me being the person so fixed in my ways that I am. Yet, on a recent re-watch of Case of the Silk Stocking, I was struck by how hasty my judgment had been before, and how much merit this made-for-television movie really deserves.

Sure, the plot is more likely to be found on an episode of Law and Order than Sherlock Holmes, but the cast performs very well. Rupert Everett's Holmes is a melancholic thinking man, and it is perhaps at first jarring to see the great detective portrayed as quiet individual. Ian Hart makes for a fine Dr. Watson, and he plays off well opposite Everett. It's a shame that the two men couldn't share more scenes together. Again, in terms of plot, it is a little odd to find Holmes and Lestrade analyzing the psychosis of the murderer in order to track him down, but if you're willing to go along with it, than it works. At least it's detective work of a kind, and in another time, Sherlock Holmes would have made an excellent criminal profiler. Is Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking perfect - no. But should every DVD copy be found and destroyed - good heavens no! It is a well though-out change of pace, and every once in a blue moon, there's nothing wrong with that.

#6 - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982) - My recent discovery of the much-loved Russian Sherlock Holmes series of the 1980's was one of the most spectacular finds in recent memory. While the entire series was filmed with much love, the efforts of cast and crew seem at their highest when it came to this adaptation of Doyle's most famous work. Remaining doggedly faithful to the source material, this adaptation of Hound is a Sherlock Holmes TV movie of epic proportions, cramming so much plot into its 2+ hours. Plot aside Vasily Livanov is in top form as Holmes, and Vitaly Solomin carries much of the film on his own as Dr. Watson, and he proves to be one of the best Watson's in screen history.

The atmosphere is brilliantly created, the lonesome Russian countryside, though not exactly an exact fit for Dartmoor, evokes a great deal of mystery and isolation. This is reinforced by a haunting soundtrack, and a truly creepy hound, which sadly only appears on screen for the briefest of time. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a real gem for any Sherlock Holmes fan, due mostly to its strong adherence to Doyle's source material. Yet, the adaptation does not drain the life from the story, which makes this an incredibly entertaining movie too. Next time I'm in the mood for Hound and I've got two hours on my hands, I think I'll make a return visit to this particular adaptation.

Well, that's all for now. What do you think of these picks so far? Too many controversial ones for your liking? Feel free to leave a comment below and return next week for Part II.

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