Douglas Wilmer in Sherlock Holmes – The Bruce-Partington Plans

bruce

Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Derek Francis) is a man of regular habits. Nothing (except the gravest crisis) would make him deviate from his normal schedule.  So when he turns up at Baker Street, with Inspector Lestrade in tow, Holmes knows it’s serious.

But his brother’s arrival is just what Holmes needs, as prior to this he had bitterly complained to Watson about how dull the London criminal had become. Now, Mycroft offers him an intriguing case of the most pressing urgency.

A clerk from the Royal Woolwich Arsenal, Arthur Cadogan West, has been found dead on the Underground tracks near Aldgate tube station. On his body were several documents relating to the top secret Bruce-Partington submarine. Several more vital documents about the submarine are missing and Mycroft urges Holmes to use all of his powers to track them down.  It seems obvious that Cadogan West stole the plans and had intended to sell them to the highest bidder. But as we’ve seen in previous stories, the truth is sometimes not quite so straightforward ….

The Bruce-Partington Plans was originally published in 1908.  It featured the second and final appearance of Mycroft Holmes. He first turned up in The Greek Interpreter, which was adapted for the second series of Sherlock Holmes (starring Peter Cushing).  Sadly, that episode is missing.

We’re slightly more lucky with this one, as the first half of the story exists (and there’s an audio copy of the second half).  For this DVD, the audio for the missing half has been nicely cleaned up and is synchronised to a reproduction of the script (with images of the cast in the background).

This works pretty well, although since the soundtrack is so clear it probably wasn’t necessary to have the script on-screen at the same time as the audio.  Instead, a decent reconstruction could have been made with images taken from the first half, along with on-screen descriptions for any visual sequences.  But while the script is sometimes distracting (mainly because it often varies from the actual dialogue spoken) it still clearly allows the viewer to understand how the story concludes.  It’s also interesting that the soundtrack for the existing half of the story doesn’t seem to be in the greatest shape – at various points the odd word is inaudible.

But although the ravages of time have rather compromised this story, what remains is very decent fare.  Derek Francis is a rather good Mycroft and though this story doesn’t have the same sort of one-upmanship that The Greek Interpreter did, there’s still some nice moments between the brothers (mainly visual ones).  For example, when Holmes offers Mycroft a seat, Mycroft promptly takes Holmes’ own – much to Holmes’ annoyance (and Watson’s amusement!).  Later we see Mycoft very freely use Holmes’ tobacco – and again there’s a slight flicker of annoyance from Sherlock.

An effective piece of model-work (a rather nice train!) and a smoky studio set help to bring the railway section of the story alive in the first half of the story and, as ever, The Bruce-Partington Plans boasts the usual quality cast (even in the smaller roles).

John Woodnutt (a highly familiar face during four decades or more of British film and television) is the station-master, whilst Gordon Gostelow (again, another very well-known actor) plays Sydney Johnson, Cadogan West’s superior.  Allan Cutherbertson, whose lengthy career included a visit to Fawlty Towers as well as a stint acting as Tommy Cooper’s straight-man, was no stranger to dramatic parts – and he’s well-cast as Colonel Valentine Walter.  It’s a pity that his more intense scenes come at the end of the story, when we don’t have the visuals.

As we’ve previously seen, Wilmer’s Holmes can be incredibly rude and off-hand at times.  His dismissal of Lestrade early in the story is a case in point and Stock’s Watson covers well for him – Holmes is clearly a man for whom social niceties count for very little.  But although he can be chilling at times, he’s also able to extend a degree of courtesy – witness his interview with Cadogan West’s fiance Violet Westbury (Sandra Payne).  Violet was convinced that her late fiance was innocent and though Holmes couldn’t hide his irritation when he realised she had little useful to tell him, he was still able to reassure her that he would do everything he could to restore Cadogan West’s honour.

Few actors have ever quite managed to capture all the nuances of Holmes’ character quite as well as Douglas Wilmer did – and he’s a major reason why this series should continue to be enjoyed by anybody who loves the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

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