In addition to numerous one-hour episodes, Granada Television produced five feature-length Sherlock Holmes films starring Jeremy Brett, easily the best of all screen actors to play the sleuth, and Edward Hardwicke, a warm and capable Dr. Watson. The 1987 feature version of The Sign of Four, the second Holmes novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is faithful to the original story except in one important detail: Dr. Watson does not get the girl. Otherwise, the familiar tale of the death of Bartholomew Sholto and the theft of the Agra treasure is all here, as is a snappy performance by Brett as Holmes doing some of the finest investigative work of his career.
A thrilling blend of detective yarn and Gothic horror, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988) concerns the apparent return of an old curse upon the Baskerville family in the terrifying form of a gigantic killer hound. Fans of Hardwicke get an opportunity to see his Watson on a solo mission for part of this story, though Brett is never far from the narrative. The supporting cast is very good, and the beast itself, revealed in a famously terrifying finale, is indeed a spooky revelation.
In The Master Blackmailer (1991), Holmes takes on the reputed king of all blackmailers. Charles Augustus Milverton (Robert Hardy) has made a fortune extorting money from the famous and the blue-blooded, and he routinely ruins others' lives when not pleased. Unable to talk Milverton into turning over letters belonging to Lady Eva Brackenwell, Holmes decides to steal them, going undercover as a plumber and even romancing Milverton's housemaid, Agatha (Sophie Thompson), to gain better access in the house. The story builds to a surprisingly violent finale, but the real hook is Brett's performance as the disguised detective and the startling suggestion that Holmes's close contact with Agatha truly moved the bachelor sleuth.
A little overextended as a two-hour movie, The Eligible Bachelor (1992) was made late in the enterprise. It finds Holmes (the ailing Brett, playing an increasingly darker and more neurotic detective) and Watson called upon to help in a case involving the disappearance of Henrietta Doran (Paris Jefferson). Fiancée of the noble Lord Robert St. Simon (Simon Williams), Doran was last seen with a former lover of St. Simon's, Flora Millar (Joanna McCallum). The unimaginative Scotland Yard instantly arrests Millar on suspicion of foul play, but it is Holmes who has to find the missing woman.
The Last Vampyre (1992) was perhaps the most ill-advised of the series. Entirely contrary to the tone and spirit of Doyle's short story "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"--which finds Holmes victoriously pitting his well-grounded deductive powers against irrational fears of a rise in bloodsucking--it's something of an embarrassment to the largely wonderful legacy of Granada's earlier efforts. (For the record, most of the creative executives who had worked on the beloved series in the 1980s had been replaced by the time this film was made.) In this version, Holmes does battle with a Dracula-like fellow who may or may not be the real McCoy. There is a great deal of padding to fill out the story, and it is mostly silly, but the ailing Brett gives an ever-fascinating performance, which deviates from Doyle's vision of the detective toward something darker and more personal. --Tom Keogh