Return of the Greatest Sherlock #4 = The Musgrave Award

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Holmes and company on the lawn

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle puts “The Musgrave Ritual” very low on his list of favorite stories, mostly because it is slow and dull, but Jeremy Paul took that story and developed it into an award winner.  Paul won an Edgar Allen Poe award for his script from the Mystery Writers of America, and it is well-deserved.  The story has a riddle, a puzzle tied to history, although probably elaborated on with fiction, but this realism gives a great appeal and automatic tie to something the audience knows.  The mysterious puzzle naturally increases the pace, as Holmes and Watson fly forward trying to solve it and find out where the butler disappeared to.  Jeremy Paul used these details to his advantage in his quest for an award winner. 

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On the road

In the story, the episode opens with an prologue, like most stories, and Holmes and Watson have a conversation in Baker Street.  They examine a box of Holmes’ old cases and talk about The Musgrave Ritual, which Holmes goes about explaining for most of the story.  He describes his pal, Reginald Musgrave, and how he tried to help him with a problem once.  Jeremy Paul turns this all around in his script, and for good reason.

Paul dropped the flashback and the part about Holmes telling Watson about a story from his past.  That was gone, and I will agree, it was silly to tell a Sherlock Holmes story that way.  In the Granada episode, Paul opens the story with Holmes and Watson traveling to see Musgrave, who lives in the country.  In fact, this is only episode I can recall where there are no scenes in Baker Street at all.  Paul tossed out the whole beginning, and had the prologue take place in a two minute span as Holmes and Watson ride up to the house.

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Michael Culver as Musgrave

Despite the changes, the details are essentially the same at the core.  Musgrave and Holmes are still old school chums, and Musgrave is still a wealthy land owner who has a mystery.  Paul shortened the conversations between Musgrave and Holmes and Watson and Holmes because they don’t really matter, although Jeremy Brett adds a bit of color to both of them, so they feel casual and personable.  After that, we’re into the mystery.  It’s perfectly done.

The mystery still relates to Charles the First as in the story, but the fun part is getting there.  Holmes finds the riddle and you can see in Brett’s face that he is intrigued.  After reading the “Musgrave Ritual” out loud, Watson exclaims “It’s a treasure hunt!” and I always chuckle at that part, because they do go on a literal treasure hunt.  The pace is almost lightning quick at this point, because in a moment’s notice they’re all on the lawn trying to figure out where the treasure is.

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James Hazeldine as Brunton

Michael Culver plays the dim-witted Musgrave the best he can, but James Hazeldine puts on a great performance as the butler Brunton.  Brunton has to be really intelligent, and has to be just a simple butler too, but Hazeldine pulls it off.  “If Brunton can do it, so can we!” Holmes lets out in the episode, which is another great line of dialogue written by Jeremy Paul.  It perfectly captures Brunton’s intelligence, because we don’t get to see Brunton actually solving the riddle, although we all know he already has at this point, because Holmes and Watson are following his trail.  There’s a bit of music as Holmes marches along following the riddle’s clues.  They twist and turn amusingly enough, and eventually find Brunton dead at the end of the puzzle’s solution.  

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Holmes pulling up the treasure

After pulling up some soiled remains at the bottom of a small chamber, Holmes explains how it connects to Charles the First.  Again some harpsichord chimes in, and Holmes lifts a gold coin, then recreates the broken King’s crowd from the dirty remains.  “No no Holmes, it’s too fanciful!” Musgrave exclaims, unable to believe that the dirty and discolored metal is the Crown of England.  Holmes reassembles the crown in maybe the most visual set piece in the whole series and actually SHOWS us the mystery, the MacGuffin to end all MacGuffins.  The whole story comes full circle, as it connects back to Musgrave’s family, and to history, when Charles was executed.  

musgrave11Overall, this is a great episode, and probably one of the best ever done that season.  The reason is Jeremy Paul, and his script, but the flavor contributed by Jeremy Brett adds to the overall appeal of the whole thing.  Holmes is restless, uneasy in the country, and dislikes it like you might expect, but once he finds a puzzle to solve, he’s off like a bloodhound.  The changes from the original story are very much welcome, as Watson is an active part of the whole thing, and we get to witness events firsthand.  In actuality, Jeremy Paul wrote a huge number of scripts for Granada’s production of Sherlock Holmes, but he only won two awards over his ten year tenure on the show, which is a shame because he is an underrated talent.  He made this whole episode work, because he knew when to let Conan Doyle shine through and when to toss him out with the cat in exchange for good drama and better dialogue.   Paul’s work is the perfect brew for an award-winning episode.

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Link to the Sherlock Holmes episode guide

The Return of Sherlock Holmes Episodes
The Empty House – July 9 1986
The Abbey Grange – Aug 6 1986
The Musgrave Ritual – July 30 1986
The Second Stain – July 23 1986
The Man with the Twisted Lip
The Priory School – July 16 1986
The Six Napoleons – Aug 20 1986
The Sign of Four – Dec 29 1987
The Devil’s Foot – Apr 6 1988
Wisteria Lodge – Apr 20 1988
The Bruce Partington Plans – Apr 27 88
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Aug 31 1988
Silver Blaze – Apr 13 1988

 

 

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