The Sign of Four (TV episode 1987)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four (episode No. 21) is the first TV movie of the Granada series: Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson, aired on ITV on 29 november 1987. 103 min.

The episode is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel : The Sign of Four (1890).

The adaptation of the Granada does full justice to the original novel The Sign of Four. Thanks to his fidelity, we find all the attractions of Arthur Conan Doyle's masterpiece, enhanced by the excellence of the staging and interpretation.

Faithful above all

That's John Hawkesworth's motto. He deleted Holmes and Watson's initial debate on cocaine use, already used in A Scandal in Bohemia, as well as Watson and Mary Morstan's love story, the series having dedicated the doctor to celibacy for the sake of simplicity and so that nothing distends his ties with Holmes. But these inevitable modifications and some judicious alterations excepted, it remained as close as possible to the original.

An exciting plot

Barely clarified, the mystery of the pearls is relayed by that of Bartholomew's unusual death and the deep roots of the affair, originally explained by Holmes to Watson in Chapter Seven, will only be revealed at the end, crowned by the dramatic coup that is the disappearance of the treasure. The unexpected obstacles that stand before Holmes constantly rekindle the suspense: whereas he thought he was already the winner, for example, the Aurora boat remains untraceable... The action, abundant, culminates in the pursuit on the Thames where Holmes, sometimes lying on the bow as if to better seize his prey, sometimes raised like an allegory of justice, shouts at the mechanic to give all the steam.

A change of scenery guaranteed!

The film takes us from Victorian London, with its miserable neighbourhoods, its construction sites, its matrons and its ragged and resourceful kids, to India devastated by the Great Mutiny, where Small met the worst horrors, but also the fairy tales of the East. But above all, the strange reigns, scary as the monstrous Tonga or entertaining as Thaddeus Sholto, decadent and ridiculous aesthete but very friendly.

Laughs and tears

There is a smile on Thaddeus Sholto's stuttering attire and feverish stammering, as well as Inspector Jones' vain foolishness, who heavily mocks Holmes the theoretician, then becomes his most fervent admirer as soon as, totally overwhelmed by the case, he is offered his help. But we are moved by Small's cruel fate and unshakeable loyalty to her Sikh companions, as well as by the deep compassion shown to her by the sensitive and generous Mary Morstan.

A relationship between the two heroes skillfully transposed

In the original story, the two friends move away from each other. Watson announced bluntly that he would no longer participate in Holmes' investigations, which expressed no explicit regret. Without separating them, the film establishes a distance between them. Holmes, disinterested in Small and Mary's touching farewell dialogue, silently returns to his room. And while Watson, sadly watching Mary leave, murmurs that she was very attractive, Holmes replies, from a distance, that he had not noticed her, then falls asleep, leaving his friend to his melancholy.

Holmes, brilliant and omnipresent

Holmes, incarnated by a Jeremy Brett in full possession of his means, sparks in this episode. He is masterful in his investigation of Bartholomew's murder and fearless when he climbs rooftops in search of Tonga's tracks. But he also knows how to adopt the appearance of an old cacochymous sailor in order to watch the Jacobson shipyard incognito, and has fun fooling Jones and Watson in a delicious comedy. Even when other characters are in the foreground, Peter Hammond's camera rarely loses sight of Holmes and the script never lets him forget it. Thus, the flashback evoking Small's adventures is interspersed with returns to Baker Street where Holmes anticipates and relaunches the prisoner's story through his farsighted questions.

Don't miss this adaptation, one of the most brilliant gems of the series!




Plot summary (spoiler)

Ten years before his daughter consulted Holmes, Morstan, Captain in the Indian army, inexplicably disappeared. For the past six years, Mary Morstan has received a magnificent pearl every year, whose anonymous sender has just written her a letter inviting her to visit him in order to repair the injustice she would have suffered. Holmes and Watson accompany Mary, who shows them a plan inherited from her father: marked with the mysterious Sign of Four, it seems to indicate the location of a treasure. According to the author of the letter, Thaddeus Sholto, his father, before he died, instructed his two sons to repair the damage he had done to Mary by keeping the entire treasure, a part of which went to Morstan. But Bartholomew renounces his father's wishes. Thaddeus and his visitors came to convince him and found only his corpse. Holmes manages to find out who killed Bartholomew: Small, the one-legged man, and his curious accomplice. Captured, Small will tell the extraordinary adventure that, linking his fate to that of three Sikhs, made him successively murderer, co-owner of a treasure and convict, then he will reveal how Major Sholto betrayed Morstan and the Four.

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