Based on the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Directed by John Gorrie, Peter Hammond, Ken Hannam, and Brian Mills
Starring Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Colin Jeavons, and Charles Gray
Released by: MPI
Rating: NR, suitable for audiences 12+
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in original 1.33:1 aspect
My Advice: Holmes fans and mystery lovers must own it, all others should at least rent.
Much as Doyle had to resurrect Holmes after the seeming tragedy at Reichenbach Falls, Granada TV, due to popular demand, brought definitive Holmes actor Jeremy Brett back to the small screen in a second (of what was to be a quartet) television series with The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Eleven more episodes, beginning with "The Empty House," which brings Holmes home to Baker Street after a three-year absence, pit Sherlock against the English underworld in a battle of wits. These episodes contain all the familiar Holmesian faces -- the inept Inspector Lestrade (Jeavons), whose respect for Holmes occasionally cracks through his antagonistic demeanor; the reclusive and retiring Mycroft (Gray), smarter than his brother but significantly less motivated; long-suffering Mrs. Hudson, fussing over Holmes despite his protests; and of course, Dr. Watson (Hardwicke), the loyal friend and partner. Alas, David Burke did not return to take up the good Doctor's service revolver, but Edward Hardwicke grew on me quickly, despite my reservations.
It was this shift in casting that most concerned me on first glance. The Burke-Brett chemistry in the original series was magnificent, and I couldn't see how anyone else could do much besides play second fiddle to that performance. Hardwick takes the character in a slightly different direction (one that's slightly less intellectually sharp than Burke's Watson), but he and Brett jump off the screen with as much believability and charisma as Burke did. Brett continues to be what I would call the definitive Sherlock Holmes in this series, and just further manages to cement himself as the finest actor to step across the threshold of 221B Baker Street.
The stories selected for adaptation in this series tend to a more grisly bent than in the first series, but that's at least to some degree reflected in Doyle's own writing. Once the character was established and the public hue and cry had called for his resurrection, Doyle had a little more confidence that stories of a more serious nature wouldn't repulse his readers. Multiple murders creep up several times, and even the "simple" thefts often seem to turn bloody. Some of the standout stories in this series are "The Six Napoleons," with a guest appearance by a young Marina Sirtis of later Star Trek fame; "The Devil's Foot," detailing a grisly multiple murder in the Cornish countryside; and "The Man With the Twisted Lip," with a somewhat rare (for Doyle, at least) moral to the tale.
The DVDs present an excellent picture and solid sound, without any of the minor glitches that plagued the first set. The video shows its age a bit, but other than minor pops and crackles here and there, nothing terribly distracting mars the visuals. Sound is steady (if mono) throughout, with no muffled voices or mixing issues to speak of. The extras on these discs are even more sparse than the first set MPI released, which is a shame, but it doesn't detract from the value here. This is a must for any Holmes fanatic or mystery lover out there.
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