The Adventure of the Speckled Band
I’ve been a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes ever since I first encountered the character one school holiday when the BBC very kindly stripped the classic series of films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce during the weekday mornings. Since then I’ve sampled just about every incarnation of the character I could get my hands on, from Carleton Hobbs and Clive Merrison on radio to Peter Cushing, John Neville and Christopher Plummer on film and Tom Baker, Ian Richardson, Richard Roxburgh and Rupert Everett on television. These days of course I’m a devout follower of the exploits of Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Lee Miller in the role, regardless of how far these modern versions have strayed from the classic canon.
Up to now, one of the biggest gaps in my Sherlock coverage was Douglas Wilmer’s well-regarded portrayal in the role in a 1965 BBC series. Those episodes had not been released in the UK until now although a Region 1 NTSC DVD has been available for some time in the US. However last month the British Film Institute stepped into the breach and delivered a brand new DVD boxset of Wilmer’s Sherlock Holmes which includes restorations of two partially-lost episodes. I had this on pre-order for some weeks before its planned release date and couldn’t wait to dive in and sample the first story, which is actually a pilot episode that originally aired as part of the BBC’s Detective anthology series the previous year.
As with all Wilmer’s outings the episode is an adaptation of a Conan Doyle original short story, in this case “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” in which Helen Stoner consults Holmes about the strange death of her beloved sister Julia two years ago on the eve of her wedding. Now Helen herself is engaged to be married and the strange signs and portents that preceded her sister’s death are occurring all over again. The main suspect is obvious – Helen’s odious and abusive stepfather Dr Grimesby Roylott, who even attempts to physically intimidate Holmes in his own sitting room – but it seems impossible he could have played any part in Julia’s death which occurred in a locked room with no way for any assailant to get in or out. Can Holmes work out the puzzle in time to save Helen, and determine the meaning of Julia’s dying words: “The speckled band”? Read the rest of this entry »