Greatest Sherlock Holmes #10: Better Holmes and Gardens
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes has an average outing versus “The Norwood Builder” in this 1985 television episode, making us think twice about trusting construction workers. Mr. Jonas Oldacre is not really a construction worker in this Holmes tale, but a “builder”, which I assume is a contractor or real estate agent of some kind. He certainly has a lot of deeds or papers and he talks about large building projects. The episode itself heavily features Brett, a little bit of David Burke, and a good supporting cast.
This episode of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” has many things repeated from other episodes, but they are redone here in classic fashion. The episode has your typical interview segment with a new client, and a bit with Watson and Holmes trying to deduce something about him. Holmes investigates, examines clues, goes undercover in a disguise, and confronts a bad guy. This has all been done before in other episodes, but Brett and Burke now have the dialogue and interaction down to a science.
Some of this dialogue and interaction favors David Burke, so Watson has more to do in this episode than stand around in the background. The production company made sure to alter the original story for that purpose. That’s the bad thing about this 1894 story, as it is not really much better than average, beyond the mystery itself. The most enjoyable moment for me is when Brett dons a simple disguise and goes undercover.
Jonas Oldacre seems like a successful man at first glance, but that assumption is proven wrong. John McFarlane is accused of murder shortly after meeting and doing business with Oldacre, having been commissioned to draw up his new will. Unfortunately for McFarlane, Oldacre planned the whole thing as a setup in order to frame McFarlane and fake his own death, to avoid some rather large debts.
McFarlane goes to Holmes and Watson, desperate for help. They eventually uncover the setup in investigation of the scene in Norwood, where Oldacre is said to have burned to death. In his disguise, Holmes discovers from a local that a homeless tramp went missing, and Holmes deduces that it was this man, not Oldacre, who perished in the fire.
This is one episode done with a simple set done on a backlot. A house stands in for Oldacre’s home and not many other locations were added. This gives the episode a more closed-in feeling, although the director compensates for this with a variety of shots. There are close-up shots when people are talking, as well as others zooming in from a low angle. When the camera requires movement, it pans with Brett as he leaps about.
Matthew Solon plays McFarlane and he made me really believe he was an asmatic, as well as a frail man. Solon is a good speaker and recites his dialogue at a fairly even pace, which makes his performance seem polished and not rushed. He does a good job in this episode, but disappears a bit toward the end. His character really needed to shine for the interview scene when he recounts his troubles to Holmes, and I think he comes off alright.
Jonathan Adams plays Oldacre and he comes off fairly bland, but it is an okay performance, I guess. Adams plays Oldacre with quiet anger and he seems like he’s thinking something evil or underhanded all the time. Adams doesn’t have all that many lines of dialogue, so he doesn’t have to carry a scene, unlike Brett. Oldacre seems like a sullen, jaded man, which is pretty much how I pictured him.
Brett and McFarlane have the majority of the dialogue in this episode, which makes it a challenge for the director. He again shows some creativity, as he doesn’t always have Holmes centered in frame, although he’s in almost all the scenes in this episode. For example, Watson watches Holmes run around outside investigating and we can see him from Watson’s perspective, which is an interesting shot that doesn’t need dialogue to make it work.
After Holmes examines the house, he reveals a telling clue in a short bit of dialogue, then bounds down the stairs, turning back to Watson with a smile, because he’s solved it. This is probably the most brilliant moment in the whole episode because Brett plays it perfectly. It is almost as if Holmes is showing a bit of pride in unearthing the clue to solving the mystery.
I keep complementing the director, Ken Grieve, without naming him. He is a Granada staple, having been part of their production for many years. He has directed many television shows, including episodes of Doctor Who, Granada’s Coronation Street, and others. This is his only outing as director of a Sherlock Holmes episode and he does a fine job. He directs it like you might expect from a man experienced in television. The episode isn’t all that grand anyway, so his talents aren’t wasted.
The episode clearly follows the original story, except for some beefing up of Watson’s part in it. I’m not sure if I’m giving the original story not enough credit or too much, as the story itself seems fairly ordinary amongst the other Holmes stories. As a television translation, it is a fairly tightly paced episode and Holmes interacts with almost all of the cast, including LesTrade, who is way behind him in the deduction department.
All in all, this is a fairly workmanlike episode from the Granada crew. There’s no evil mastermind and Moriarity isn’t even mentioned, but Oldacre lacks any credible screentime to become as menacing. The episode dialogue and performances are good, but easily eclipsed by other episodes. That doesn’t make this episode disappointing, as the little moments are more than enough to carry it.