What is Wisteria Lodge? (Jeremy Brett Knows) #sherlockholmes

wisteria1The Return of Sherlock Holmes episode “Wisteria Lodge” aired in April of 1988, but it differs more than any other Jeremy Brett’s adventures from Conan Doyle’s canon.  There are several problems with the narrative, but the characters and the dialogue try to mold the tone into: “…some underlying suggestion of the tragic—the terrible…”.  Does it work?  It’s debatable.

This is an episode with some Spanish flavor, but a lot of things are missing from the original story.  The details about voodoo are excluded and Garcia’s cook has a different motivation.  Henderson is the villain of this story, and he appears briefly while Holmes visits his house, but we never really get to know his character, only a story of Latin American politics that involves his ruthless behavior.  The episode doesn’t focus on Henderson directly, because he’s really just a figure of evil meant to join the plot together, not flesh it out.   That’s for the mystery to do.

For some reason, Garcia has invited Scott Eccles to Wisteria Lodge.  Is he a friend?  Is he merely a patsy?  An idiot?  Eccles explains that he befriended Garcia because of their interest in cartography.   Eccles is a bit on the dim side and seems to be easily taken in by socialization, which he himself describes as his habit of fraternizing with many people in his large group of friends.  Garcia found Eccles easily drawn into his plot for the purposes of being an alibi, so he could sneak out at night and confront Henderson. Eccles seems to be patient and acceptant of almost anything, so he puts up with the rude treatment, and stays the night.  By the time we learn why Henderson and Garcia are rivals, we don’t need much more out of Scott Eccles; it’s enough he’s called attention to strange events by being Garcia’s friend.  

wisteria5This episode is directed by Peter Hammond, who is a veteran of the series, having several other adventures to his resume.  On the whole, the camera angles are strange and it doesn’t feel up to Hammond’s other efforts in the series.  There’s a lot of repetition in his shots, like using mirrors over and over.  Still, there’s great effort to bring color to the episode and provide a different tone compared to the usual Sherlock Holmes fare.  The soundtrack does this quite nicely and thematic elements like power, distortion and perspective provide an interesting depth to the story.  The shots in the mirror do well to reinforce some of these themes, such as when Henderson’s reflection bends and cracks as he looks into a mirror, which represents his twisted nature or his two-sided personality.  Other than that, I don’t know why that weird shot is in there.

wisteria2Freddie Jones plays Inspector Baynes with great energy and his ability to deliver dialogue seems to rival even William Shatner.  His eccentric dialogue deliver aside, the performance is a good one.  He gives life to a gifted Inspector capable of capable of keeping up with Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes and Watson investigate the death of Garcia and eventually light on Henderson as the most likely suspect.  They save Ms. Burnet in the process and discover Garica’s motivation for wanting to kill Henderson.  She gives a monologue at the end of the episode, then conveniently faints.  Cue exit.  Inspector Baynes apparently researched The Tiger of San Pedro, so he chimes in with his own monologue on the subject.

What is Wisteria Lodge?

“…it ended in his inviting me out to spend a few days at his house, Wisteria Lodge, between Esher and Oxshott…” (Wisteria Lodge)


Church and rectory

Wisteria Lodge is a large house between Esher and Oxshott somewhere in Cheshire, England.  The filming location was Grimsditch Hall, a 40,000 sq ft estate in Cheshire.  It’s sorta funny that most of the filming takes place in the entryway and a small dining area.  The entryway is just inside the main doors and it’s where Holmes and Inspector Baynes first talk about the case, a scene which goes on for about 10 minutes.  The dining area is small but has a table where Garcia and Eccles have dinner, prior to the events of the case.  The filming location reportedly had 7 bedrooms.  Eccles used one and it seems isolated from the others, as the servants and Garcia himself are able to come and go without waking up Eccles in the process, so we can probably infer that the house is meant to be large.  Later, Eccles visits a house agent and learns Garcia was only renting the house, possibly for a staging location while he waits for an opportunity to murder Henderson.

Exterior shots of “Wisteria Lodge” and High Gable are really of Nether Alderley Church and Rectory.  There is a map shown in the episode which seems to place Wisteria Lodge, High Gable, and the murder location in close proximity.  The railway depot can be seen on the map too and it is later identified as being in Esher.

wisteria7A “wisteria” is a vine-like plant, that can grow upward of 20 feet.  It is fast-growing and can spread above the ground or laterally, like Henderson’s evil.  It is said Henderson was at High Gable after being run out of Latin America, so he’s extending his evil in another direction.  In a more literal sense, we can see some of these vines on Henderson’s house as Watson spies on the location.


  What’s with all the Mirrors?

The director really does an awful job with this episode.  He seems to love mirrors, so he puts a reflection or a mirror or a shadow in at least thirteen different shots, showing the action from a strange angle.  It gets repetitious after a while.  I’m not even counting the huge number of shots of people through a window, so he can again distort the visuals, and there’s at least 5 or 6 of those shots throughout the episode.  Still, it’s interesting how the director brings the whole thing full circle, using the same shot at the end that he used in the introduction.  Maybe that’s lazy.  Is there some metaphor in using distortion so much?  I don’t know.

  1.  Window at the Train Station – The first shot is of Henderson’s henchman Lucas watching Ms. Burnet arrive with Henderson’s family.  We can see her reflection in the window as she’s watched, like she’s suspected of something.  That’s the point, of course.
  2. Mirror at Baker Street – A tiny little mirror is turned just right to reflect Watson’s face as he stands off-camera while Holmes talks about the case.
  3. Eccles – His glasses reflect the room at Baker Street and the camera zooms in really, really close to make sure we catch it.  Kinda annoying.
  4. Side Mirror – Holmes and Watson go with Scott Eccles to Wisteria Lodge.  As Holmes climbs the stairs, the camera pans around to the door and pauses in a mirror, showing him in the background.  Weird angle.
  5.  Baynes Window – After Inspector Baynes arrives at Wisteria Lodge, the camera keeps him slightly off-center so a reflection of Holmes can be seen in the window behind him.  Strange.
  6. Baynes and Holmes – During the same scene, Baynes and Holmes talk about the case.  A mirror in the background reflects both of them from the opposite angle.  Weird.
  7. Mulatto in a Window – The camera follows The Mulatto through a window as he walks in the backyard.  We can see Holmes and Baynes still talking in the reflection.
  8. Mulatto #2 – The camera is now outside and centers on Holmes and Baynes, still taking.  The Mulatto peeks at them from the side.  His reflection can be seen in the window as he spies on them. 
  9. Baynes of the Town – Holmes and Watson return to the village, where Baynes arrests The Mulatto.  His shadow can be seen struggling with the police.  I like this reflection technique, to be honest.  The others not so much
  10. Police Car – The police put The Mulatto in a prison buggy thing and Baynes’ reflection can be seen in a street lamp of all things.
  11. Ending – Holmes, Baynes and Watson discuss the outcome of the case and a mirror can be seen behind Holmes, where we can see Baynes sitting.
  12. Burnet flashback – Ms Burnet tells how she was employed by Henderson and the same shot from the beginning is shown again, with her reflection in the window.
  13. Henderson cracking mirror – The famous shot of Henderson in a distorted mirror cannot be explained.  The mirror must be warped or curved in some way.  I don’t get it.  Judge for yourself by looking at the picture below.  Is it metaphorical?



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 – Aug 1986
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