Return of the Greatest Sherlock #5 – The Second Stain Hides Sherlock’s Retirement
In the 1904 publication of The Second Stain, Watson reports that Sherlock Holmes is retired and tending bees, but he narrates an old case, which has been hidden away for many years, due to sensitive international politics. The Granada version of The Second Stain starring Jeremy Brett does not begin the same way. Watson isn’t recalling Holmes’ old cases. Quite the opposite, because Hardwicke as Watson and Brett as Holmes seem to be at the top of their game, and this story fits seamlessly into the continuity Granada established. It was Granada’s political thriller, with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke worming out the conflicts and vendettas within.
This episode was directed by John Bruce, who also did three other episodes of Sherlock Holmes for Granada. You can see his style almost immediately, as the camera captures the personal moments and lingers on faces for a long time. The picture zooms in many times throughout the episode, and unspoken expressions are fairly obvious. The most clever and focused camera work comes when Holmes and Watson are at Godolphin Street, being shown the crime scene by Lestrade. As a Constable reports what happened, the camera stays on Jeremy Brett instead, and you can see Brett’s interest and attention on the subject. This is a good way to bring weight to the small details.
The beginning of the episode follows the original story. The Prime Minister arrives at Baker Street and commissions Holmes to recover an important document, which has been stolen. The dialogue is almost an exact copy from the original story, except for a few lines here and there, but the episode itself feels like Conan Doyle come to life in the most excellent way. Even the additions are perfect.
The ending to this episode follows the story, but with a tiny little caveat of celebration tacked on at the end. Holmes jumps in celebration, the image freezes, and the credits roll. The image dissolves into a pencil sketch of the image, almost as if Sydney Paget had imagined it himself. Why did the producers and writers include this bit of emotion from Holmes? Maybe to humanize him?
Throughout the whole thing, we really don’t know how Holmes feels, although it is clear from this ending he takes some personal satisfaction and professional pride in solving this case. I think this was good for the character. It also helped the audience celebrate the success too, which is clearly what Granada wanted, in order to keep viewers coming back to witness Jeremy Brett’s wit and panache.
Overall, the highlight of this episode was probably the investigation of Godolphin Street. As I mentioned, the camerawork was especially good and the supporting cast was top-notch. Colin Jeavons returned as Lestrade and he does a good job.
Patricia Hodge does well as a stereotypical 19th century woman, but somehow, her portrayal doesn’t come across that way. She showed Lady Hilda’s intelligence, instead of relying almost entirely on a sad and depressed mood, as in the original story. She eyes Jeremy Brett at one point and purses her lips, as if displeased and frustrated all at once. Her performance was good.
Overall, this was an excellent episode by Jeremy Brett and crew. The whole thing is almost lifted right off the page, and Granada’s loyalty to Conan Doyle is admirable. You’ve got to credit this show, because the supporting cast continued to be good for each episode, although Edward Hardwicke could have had a little more to do in this one. In any case, Granada productions and Jeremy Brett carried on for several more years, but The Second Stain is a great highlight. The “original” story of The Second Stain hinted at Sherlock’s retirement, but Granada’s Second Stain predicted a bright future.