Sherlock Holmes fans, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s embrace of spiritualism has
always been an embarrassment. However, in the days following his first wife’s
death, the great mystery writer also distinguished himself by exposing at least
two grave miscarriages of justice, notably including the George Edalji case.
The premise is completely true, but Julian Barnes fictionalized treatment
cranked up the mystery and intrigue, as Doyle had done from time to time in his
own historical fiction. Following in the tradition of two popular incarnations
of Sherlock Holmes and the Murder Rooms series
featuring Doyle and his mentor Dr. Joseph Bell, the television adaptation of
Barnes’ Arthur & George premieres
this coming Sunday as part of the current season of Masterpiece on PBS (promo here).
was always technically faithful to his first wife, even though appearances
often suggested otherwise. He was indeed attracted to a Miss Jean Leckie, but
still scrupulously respected his marriage vows. Nonetheless, when his wife
succumbs to tuberculosis, guilt drags him into a deep funk. Somewhat
ironically, the prospect of championing George Edalji’s cause rouses his
one time Edalji was an aspiring solicitor, but his life was derailed when he
was convicted of a rash of animal mutilations that shocked the provincial
village of Great Wyrley. The crimes seemed to be related to a nasty spate of
poison-pen letters, whose vitriol were primarily directed at the mixed-race
Edalji family. Yet, the constabulary hastily concluded they were all the work
of Edalji’s deranged, attention-seeking mind. Although Edalji has already
served his sentence in full, he still seeks to clear his name, so he can once
again pursue a legal career. Doyle is immediately convinced of the man’s
innocence, but his Watsonish personal secretary Alfred Wood is not so sure.
Unfortunately, Edalji’s squirrely behavior seems to justify his skepticism.
Clunes is absolutely perfect as Doyle. He is blustery and larger than life, but
in a way that suggests confidence and joie de vivre rather than the bumbling
shtick of a Bertie Wooster. We can believe he created Holmes and is capable of
conducting his own investigations. He also shares some rather earnest and
engaging romantically-complicated chemistry with Hattie Morahan’s Leckie. In
fact, their relationship subplot is not the empty dead weight you might expect.
As Edalji, Arsher Ali is all kinds of awkward and standoffish, contrasting with
his sociable benefactor quite effectively.
Veteran television director Stuart Orme realizes
several impressively atmospheric sequences and maintains a healthy energy
level, but it is a little embarrassing how long it takes Doyle to figure out
who really did it, despite said villain’s compulsively suspicious behavior. Nonetheless,
watching him apply his Sherlockian principles in practice is good clean fun. The
three-part series is a reliably classy period piece with enough social
conscience to give it some edge, but not so much that it gets preachy.
Recommended for fans of all things Holmesian and Clunes (from Doc Watson), Masterpiece’s Arthur &
George airs over the next three Sundays (9/6-9/20) on most PBS stations.
Labels: Arthur Conan Doyle, Martin Clunes, Masterpiece Mystery, Sherlock Holmes