In 1983, Granada Television filmed and broadcast two Sherlock Holmes mysteries starring Ian Richardson as the beloved detective. Sadly, due to an unforeseen copyright difficulty, the next four films out of the planned six were never made, and Richardson would not play Holmes again before his death in 2007.
Here’s our review:
Firstly, it is important to note that these are television productions, and despite a lively visual style with occasional moments of genuine grandeur, it does show with frequent interior scenes, and exteriors mostly shot on sets with smoke machines fully billowing. Also, there is little continuity between the two films, with David Healy playing a restrained Dr. Watson in The Sign of Four whereas Donald Churchill portrays a more buffoonish Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles; The Sign of Four features a thinly-disguised Lestrade parallel named Layton, while The Hound of the Baskervilles features the real deal (unlike the novel it’s based on!). Of the two, The Sign of Four is superior, offering both a more cleverly-constructed mystery, and a brisker adventure with a James Bond-like boat chase down the Thames and an Indiana Jones-like swordfight against a gang of circus freaks. But the most satisfying element of both films is Richardson’s portrayal of Holmes, capturing all of the depth that the literary character often loses in adaptation: his nobility, his ego, his tendency towards pomposity, his occasional sentimentality, his warm affection towards Watson, and his dry humour. In all, it’s unfortunate that an actor so suited for the rôle never got another shot at it, though he did play Holmes’ inspiration, Dr. Joseph Bell, in 2000’s Murder Rooms.
Audio and Visuals
Second Sight boasts of the brand new 4K restoration both films have been given but, again, these are television productions from thirty-three years ago, and there is a limit to how good they can look and sound, which must be borne in mind.
The lurid, comic-book visuals on the boxes evoke some old cult film getting an Arrow rerelease. They don’t complement the actual films particularly well, but they do look mighty cool.
The only extra to be found on either disc is a commentary by Holmes expert David Stuart Davies. Amusingly, he isn’t too fond of either production, though he seems to enjoy The Sign of Four more out of the two, and is very complimentary when it comes to Richardson’s performance. But the two commentaries have significant overlap, which makes them tedious unless viewed some time apart.
While either film presents a perfectly entertaining choice for some rainy Sunday afternoon, it is better to hope ITV gets around to repeating them than it is to shell out money on a disc that’s unlikely to be a repeat watch.
Both The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four are available today (25th April) on DVD, Blu-ray, download and on-demand. Will you be getting your hands on a copy? Let us know in the comment box below!