The Copper Beeches (TV episode 1985)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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The Copper Beeches

The Copper Beeches (episode No. 8) is the 1st episode of season 2 of the Granada series: Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and David Burke as Dr. Watson, aired on ITV on 25 august 1985. 51 min.

The episode is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's short story : The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (1892).

The Copper Beeches is a wonderfully atmospheric and enthralling episode. Joss Ackland, with his imposing figure, his hard features, his cavernous voice and his bear growls is the perfect embodiment of Rucastle the predator, one of the juiciest villains in the original story according to Michael Cox. During the job interview scene, for instance, his unsettling smooth manners and the ambiguous admiration he shows to Violet, cause a feeling of uneasiness increased by Miss Stoper interested leniency towards his questionable attitudes. Faced with these two horrible characters, beautiful Natasha Richardson seems a vulnerable yet perceptive and brave Violet Hunter, fully capable of overcoming her fears. The episode appeal is also due to its intense action moments, like Alice's liberation by Fowler, who terrifies his fiancée by smashing with an axe the shutters which imprison her, and above all, Holmes' and Watson's assault on the villain's den. They climb up the stairs at top speed, force open Alice's door and, locked up by Rucastle, tear down the stairs and catch up with the furious villain just in time to prevent him to be torn to pieces by his long-suffering mastiff. But the two inseparable friend's quarrels and reconciliations, interpreted with insight and humour by Brett and Burke, though less spectacular, contribute as much to the episode success. During the first scene at Baker Street, Holmes, in a bad mood because he has no case, provokes Watson: he accuses his devoted biographer of spoiling his own perfectly rational deductions through his exceedingly romantic accounts. Burke's Watson can stand up to Holmes, but he is kind-hearted enough to forgive him instantly. As for Brett, whose acting is particularly subtle, varied and amusing in this opening scene, his Holmes is alternatively sullen, offended, pompous, exasperated, tragic, distressed and despondent. And to crown it all he succeeds, thanks to his lost child look, in getting fond words of comfort from the friend he has just tormented without reason! Indeed, The Copper Beeches episode holds all the aces.




Plot summary (spoiler)

Violet Hunter comes to seek advice from Holmes on the job as a governess Mr Rucastle has offered her. In return for a generous salary, she should wear the clothes and sit at the places her employer sees fit, and above all, get her magnificent hair cut short. Violet has come to the decision to accept Rucastle's offer, but she is worried by his odd requirements. Eventually settled at The Copper Beeches, Rucastle's creepy manor, Violet founds in a drawer a length of chestnut hair perfectly similar to her own. And soon, she calls Holmes and Watson for help. She tells them that Ruscatle has ordered her to wear an electric blue dress and to sit with her back to the window. But she succeeded in looking outside and caught a glimpse of a young man, Fowler, whom Rucastle ordered her to wave away. Shortly after, Violet managed to sneak into the tower whose shuttered window had roused her suspicion and realized that it was occupied by a mysterious prisoner. Rucastle, furious at Violet's intrusion in his affairs, threatens to throw her to his starved mastiff! So, Holmes and Watson determined to make the most of Rucastle's planned absence, decide to take action at The Copper Beeches. Violet shows them in and, having heard a woman's cry, they rush to the tower. Too late: the nest is empty. In the meantime Rucastle hurries back home, where he finds the two men and the governess, whom at first sight he mistakes with his daughter Alice, for their hair and dresses are similar. Mad with rage, he runs for his mastiff, but instead of attacking the intruders, the ill-treated hound turns against its cruel master. Holmes learns from the housekeeper that Rucastle had imprisoned Alice, born from a first marriage, to force her to give her fortune up to him before she marries her fiancé Fowler. By making out that Violet was his daughter Alice, he expected to convince the unfortunate young man that she was free and did not want him anymore. But Fowler was not fooled and took advantage of Rucastle's absence to set his beloved free. In the end, Alice marries Fowler; Violet Hunter begins a successful career as a headmistress and Rucastle, savaged by his mastiff, remains disabled and dependent for ever.

  • Credits: Monique Claisse (texts), Sarah Fava (photos), Granada.