Sunday, November 9, 2008


“The quack of yesterday is the professor of tomorrow.”


Rampant cadaver abuse in the name of science, snooty Scotland Yard detectives, snooty English actors, snooty bucktoothed actresses, snooty deduction and accusation, and a snooty BBC television mystery with an interesting historical perspective on a literary legend, but still snooty.

More details here.


A newspaper boy on the streets of London cries out breaking news: Sherlock Holmes is dead! A near-riot erupts and there is outcry, outrage, and a demand for justice for the murder of Britain’s beloved citizen and crusader. But this isn't a story about the great detective. A mob gathers outside the headquarters of The Strand magazine, and Holmes' creator Arthur Conan Doyle (Robin Laing) barely makes it inside alive to meet his editor. The editor is baffled at the decision to kill off this most popular creation, and Doyle lays out his reasoning by flashing back to his days in medical school. Doyle is a curious and observant student, eager to gain the acceptance of pioneering forensic scientist Dr. Joseph Bell (Sir Ian Richardson), who has a reputation as an eccentric in the school. Bell's tactics, theories, and unique detection skills are seen with skepticism amongst his peers but are popular with the students of the University of Edinburgh. Doyle slowly earns Bell's attention and he takes him on as his apprentice outside the classroom where Bell helps investigate murders with the police. Meanwhile, Doyle is preoccupied with the mental deterioration of his father and a romantic interest with one of the first women to be accepted into the medical school. A group of men opposed to the admission of women physically threatens the love interest and Doyle comes to her rescue. Bell and Doyle solve several crimes using science, reasoning, and keen observation and become relied upon by Scotland Yard. But as time goes one, Doyle becomes doubtful of Bell’s approach to investigation and their heads butt on several conclusions. On one particular case - a murder in a brothel - they almost come face-to-face with the assailant. The killer gets away only to kill again with increasing ferocity, pushing the limits of the new team and testing loyalties. The wife of a prominent lord is poisoned, the bodies pile up, and Doyle’s new girlfriend has an unseen threat stalking her every move that may be related to the brothel murder. Bell and Doyle have to set aside their differences if they want to capture the killer, solve the crime, and pave the way for a billion Holmes stories, paperbacks, and movies.


This BBC made-for-TV movie is an edited version of a miniseries titled Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes and is a fascinating, but probably heavily fictionalized, look into the inspiration for the legendary fictional detective. One of the most interesting facts that emerged and was used in the main plot was that the real-life Doyle did attend medical school with an infamous serial killer who may or may not have become the inspiration for Moriarty in the Holmes stories. The movie is a typically fine BBC mystery production: a well-written script with twists and turns albeit at a slow pace. Sir Ian is terrific as Dr. Bell, the prototype for Sherlock Holmes and displays the mannerisms and trademarks that will be formulated in the creation of the character. He is warm and affable yet stern and analytic without Holmes’ signature abrasiveness and cold intellectualism. The characters work well against each other and the production values are top notch. But because this version is a pared down version of the miniseries, there remains holes and giant leaps in the overall plotline. Laing as Doyle disappears in the second half of the film and the groundwork they laid down at the beginning (sick father, insecurity about medical school, love interest) gets lost in the investigation of a series of murders that at first don’t seem very interesting. But eventually the balance between the two principals, the references to future Holmes adventures, and the early forensics and logic at work to propels the story to a satisfying conclusion. Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle make a fine team worthy of their literary inspiration. No shit here, Sherlock.

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