Monday, April 20, 2009

BBC Radio Holmes, Bert Coules

This weekend I bought a copy of the Bert Coules adaptation of A Study in Scarlet (STUD), which is listed under audiobooks in iTunes, and I listened to it. In general, I like the BBC Radio adaptations, because Watson is treated fairly and sensitively in them, but I don't particularly like Clive Merrison's Holmes--the voice never sounds right to me, and he's apt to loud fits of manic laughter, which may be scripted by Bert Coules I suppose.

The thing about the BBC Radio dramatizations is that they are halfway between canon and pastiche. That is, Bert Coules will try to render the story faithfully, but he'll use artistic license to add or reorder scenes so that they work as a radio play. His version of STUD, for example, intercuts the beginning Holmes and Watson scenes with scenes of Drebber and Stangerson at the Charpentier lodging house, and Coules also condenses the Mormon section of the novel, making it part of Jefferson's Hope confession at the police station. Those were quite effective changes.

Humorously, Watson's bull-pup is treated as an actual dog, and not as a gun or slang for a fiery temper, as some Sherlockians have theorized. The dog is named Beecher, and Watson gives Beecher to Stamford because the dog has been nipping at Holmes's ankles! We learn this fact in an added scene where Watson discusses Holmes with Stamford. (It was an okay scene, but I would have personally preferred to see more Holmes/Watson scenes instead of a Watson/Stamford scene summarizing their interactions.) There is also a nice scene where Mrs. Hudson notices that Watson is ill, and she firmly mothers him.

Of course, this Beecher dog reminded of me of my own bull-pup scribbles, and I support anyone who goes against the illogical theories of the gun or the temper. (If Watson was referring to his gun, then why does he consider it a vice? Surely an ex-army man would naturally keep a gun? And Holmes does explicitly ask Watson if he has a gun in Chapter 5, just before Mrs. Sawyer arrives. Why didn't Watson reply, "Yes, Holmes. I told you already that I keep a gun!", huh?) The temper thing is more debatable, because it's hard to prove precisely when certain slang comes about, or who would be likely to know such slang. In all, I prefer the simplicity and cuteness of a real dog, even if it seems like too much expense for Watson on his wound pension. Watson after all said that he'd been spending his money too freely.

Also, Coules added a scene at the end where Holmes insists that Jefferson willingly "turned himself in" for the murders because he wanted to tell his story of revenge before he died. This is a brave attempt to make sense of the illogical capture of Jefferson Hope in Baker Street, and Holmes also makes a feeble attempt to explain why Jefferson fought so strongly when he was first handcuffed. Some last minute failing of nerve or change of mind.

But ultimately, this attempted fix doesn't work. Explaining Hope's motives doesn't explain Holmes's motives at all! Why did Holmes plan such a stupid trap to capture Hope in the first place? He had the Irregulars seek out the cabby by name rather than pretending to get a random cabby), and then the boy summoned Hope to 221B Baker Street even though Jefferson's ally "Mrs. Sawyer" had already been to 221B to get Lucy's ring. Before the foolhardy capture, Holmes had no idea that Hope was dying (called him a fit man in the prime of his life), or that he had some important story to tell.

Indeed Holmes stupidly says to Lestrade and Gregson that "As long as this man has no idea that any one can have a clue there is some chance of securing him" and that if Hope had he "slightest suspicion," he would change his name and disappear. Hope had plenty of suspicion already, and Holmes should know that, because he refers to the accomplice as being clever too. Even if Hope didn't have any suspicion yet--if he somehow thought that his ally Mrs. Sawyer was trying to send him a secret message, for example--there is still no explanation for why Holmes thinks his plan is going to work! He's an absolute idiot in this blunder; methinks Holmes remained seriously screwed up ever since being evaded by Mrs. Sawyer. The fault, of course, lies ultimately with Arthur Conan Doyle, not Bert Coules. ACD clearly lost the thread of continuity, soon forgetting about the dead dog in the room and about Jefferson Hope getting all cut and bleeding from crashing through the window. In my slash version of STUD, I tried to fix the stuff about Mrs. Hudson's terrier and about Jefferson Hope's cuts, but ultimately I couldn't fix the problem of Hope's capture either.

Hmm, I wonder if these serious errors are why more filmmakers, etc. don't adapt STUD? I wish they would, though. I know that the Mormon section of the novel is not well liked, and is politically incorrect, but writers could just show the first scenes of Holmes and Watson meeting and getting acquainted, then substitute an entirely different case if they wanted to. That's what the 1950s TV series with Ronald Howard did. I want to see young Holmes and young Watson moving in together.

1 comment:

Hunting Violets (Resa Haile) said...

Cress, an interesting post. I know what you mean about Merrison's laugh. I actually thought they could have done the polygamy/forced marriage backstory in the modern update, considering there is so much in the news from time to time about similar things happening now. It is strange they shied away from that, as they don't seem too worried about being PC ("The Blind Banker," "A Scandal in Belgravia"--but I won't get started on that right now). I like that the radio show starts with Watson in Afghanistan. And Merrison and Williams are the only Holmes and Watson to do all sixty stories (so far), which is an accomplishment.