REVIEW: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE SILK STOCKING, ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, BBC 1, 2004
Continuing my trawl through past adaptations ....
In 2004 the BBC aired a tele-film, ;">Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, starring Rupert Everett as the lugubrious detective and Ian Hart as his avuncular sidekick Dr Watson. The production was directed by Simon Cellan Jones with a script from Alan Cubitt.
Overall this is an enjoyable tele-film, although it sadly wilts a little in the closing stages. It's a small wonder this was not re-commissioned, most especially given its sprinkling of genuine stardust through the spindly, handsome form and patrician features of Rupert Everett in the title role. Rupert Everett, to my mind, is one of the UK's best quality celebrity actor exports. The BBC should have coddled him, treasured him, and ensured he signed on for a longer contract than a single tele-film.
His Holmes is tall, angular, slickly feline with a cool demeanour. His pallid complexion and weary, crinkled eyelids denote his perpetual state of ennui - and, more importantly, his drug addiction. This Holmes rarely eats, rarely sleeps ... he is a quasi-mythological being, a thing of the spirits, of darkness, of inner stillness, of strange, unseen fluxes in mood and moment. On the outside he is acid-tongued and bitchy, and, one suspects, misogynistic too. His sometime companion Dr Watson, played here by Ian Hart, is remarkably patient, stoically enduring all sorts of ill-treatment from Holmes, who singlemindedly pursues his detective work with obsessive zeal.
Cellan Jones's London is an evocative place; mysterious, haunting, sinister, wreathed in thick white fog for most of the action. A serial killer stalks, abducts, and kills his prey amidst these murky conditions. His victims are the teenage daughters of the great and good of the land; the aristocracy. And the killer is revealed to be driven by deviant sexual fetishism. His mode of murder is distinctive and telling. He strangles his victims with a silk stocking, having forced the other stocking down the poor girl's gullet. Cellan Jones depicts these abductions with their dire consequences and the effects of the anguish which they understandably engender with assurance and panache.
Similarly effective are the early scenes showing Holmes to regularly haunt the Chinese opium dens of London. This is a cold, grey world, a fuggy dream-state, riddled with uncertainties, fears, paranoid insecurities. The ambience is amplified by the tele-film's hugely effective musical score, which is both thrilling and chilling throughout.
It is unfortunate then that after a lengthy period of atmospheric eeriness, this tele-film eventually falls victim to the rather clunky mechanics of its own plot resolution. Holmes is at his best when acting by instinct, as he creeps cat-like around London's lofty rooftops, tracing his killer's footsteps. But once the police force is involved, once a suspect is found, there is a harsh rupturing of the mood Cellan Jones, and perhaps more crucially, Everett's portrayal of Holmes have skillfully brewed.
Everett's best 'interactions' are with Helen McCrory, one of Britain's finest yet sadly underrated actresses, who plays Watson's American psychoanalyst fiancee. Holmes is determined to be disdainful of her, but succumbs to her stinging wit and powerful intellect. Their exchanges, especially when first meeting, are electric, almost cerebrally 'sexual.'
(Spoilers coming up). The climactic scenes are played out in a candle-lit basement, the murderer's lair, where one young girl Roberta (Perdita Byrne), who has been deliberately deployed as 'bait' by Holmes, has been snatched. However, we have recently discovered a strange and rather incredible twist - Holmes's detection work on this case has seemingly been hampered by the murderer having an identical twin, who covers for his dastardly deeds. Somehow, Holmes informs us, he suspected this all along – although just how, we have no idea, which is the obvious downside to his self-contained, pensive persona. Nor do we get any inkling, any time soon, as the plot rushes full steam ahead to its final denouement, which sadly lacks excitement, as one is instead left ruminating the intricate workings of the plot rather than simply succumbing to the dramatic events unfolding on-screen.