Greatest Sherlock Holmes #9: Brothers in Arms
Granada and Jeremy Brett were really hitting their stride at the time of “The Greek Interpreter” in 1986, and even adding a brand new actor to their cast did not cause them to miss a step. This episode was the first appearance of Charles Gray as Mycroft Holmes, and his performance is a great highlight. He is probably most well-known for his performances in the James Bond films, but in this episode, Gray truly became Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, complete with his broad shoulders and imposing appearance. In total, this episode has style, good dialogue, and a great ending Conan Doyle didn’t even write.
The Greek Interpreter begins with a short introduction to our antagonists, played by Nicholas Field and George Costigan. A British actor, this was one of Fields’ rare appearances, and it is near impossible to find out his status today. I presume that at some point he stopped acting, as his credits end shortly after this episode appearance. Whatever the case, he does an excellent job as the immoral Harold Latimer. George Cositgan arguably does a better job as Wilson Kemp, a role that was barely even touched on in the book and his performance is great.
Latimer and his gang kidnap Mr. Melas to translate for them, trying to force a Greek gentlemen into signing over some money. It is a fairly simple plot, though seems strange at the outset. A simple signature is needed to forcibly gain legal possession of this family property, which seems unbelievable at first, but considering legal possession relied, and still relies, on paperwork, it becomes more believable. It might be even more believable if the Greek gentlemen Paul Kratides was the senior male of the house.
Paul Kratides is played by Anton Alexander, in one of his first ever starring roles. Alexander has no lines of English in the episode, which is why he needs an interpreter, I guess. He is actually Norweigen, not Greek, although looks distinctly European in descent, so I couldn’t tell the difference visually. Alexander is best known for his appearance in Cemetary Man in 1994, but here his part is very small. He rambles on and on in Greek as he is tortured by Kemp, who tries to force him to sign the paper.
The real star of this episode is Mycroft. He is described as seven years older than his brother, somewhat overweight, brilliant, incredibly lazy, and his occupation is a government countenance of some importance. He has as strong presence in the episode until Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes takes over, then stays mostly in the background, having some lines here and there. It is a decent supporting role.
There is also a huge revelation in this story, which describes Sherlock and Mycroft’s deductive powers as hereditary. A viewer might be disappointed given this, as it may take away from the overall career of work done by Holmes, considering the crutch of genetics. To make matters worse, his brother has just as much skill with deduction as Holmes, but his lazy attitude shows that it is of no effort at all.
This episode was written by Derek Marlowe, based on Conan Doyle’s original story. The dramatization works very well and the dialogue is especially good. Marlowe only wrote two episodes, this one and “The Resident Patient”, and they are both two of my favorites. Marlowe added a couple of things to this episode over the story, most notably the ending. The original story runs out of gas somewhat and we are given a summary of what must have become of the villains through exposition. Holmes and Watson never confront them, and the whole train scene featured heavily in the episode, never occurs in the text.
The train scene plays out very well. The only thing I have a problem with is when Holmes allows Latimer to die, instead of saving him or allowing Watson to save him from falling out of the train. Holmes delivering justice can also be seen in other episodes of the series, most notably the prior episode “The Blue Carbuncle”, where he let the criminal escape out of pity. Holmes has the opposite feeling here.
Conan Doyle always ranked “The Greek Interpreter” at the bottom of his list of favorite Holmes stories, and I can see why. The story never really concludes in a satisfactory way, and the characters are left underdeveloped. The television episode corrects both of these things, but the story still is a bit shallow nonetheless. Still, Costigan brings his best to a small part and hits it out of the park, and Gray shines as Mycroft.
This is a great story to learn more about the background of Sherlock Holmes, as we don’t ever get a biography of the great detective. We learn more about Mycroft than Holmes, such as his job, his habits, and his membership in the Diogenes Club, the strangest club in London. The club shuns talking or noise of any sort, so men can sit around in peace, reading the newspaper or staring out windows. The servants wear padded shoes, so as to not disturb the silence. People don’t even look at each other, and conversation, company, and comradery is foreign. Pretty weird.
After the death of Latimer, Holmes and Watson return to London by the train. It is a dead of night and they chat on the station platform, until Holmes turns and walks off into the mysterious mist. The camera centers on him, as if wondering where he is going, as the exit seems to be in the opposite direction. He just walks off though, down the length of the platform, until he disappears into the dark.
All in all, this is a good episode. They turned a mediocre Conan Doyle story into something entertaining, which is highlighted by the performance of Charles Gray. Gray passed away in 2000 and I wish him and his family the best. He was a great actor. Jeremy Brett and David Burke aren’t too shabby either, but they’ll have more to do in later episodes.