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A young woman desperate for help enlists the aid of Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson. Drawn in by her intriguing tale the game is afoot and they begin to delve deeper into the case of a missing army captain in India, secret pacts and a king’s ransom in stolen jewels. All the while they must keep Mary Morstan safe as they are all shadowed by a mysterious peg-legged man and his dangerous associate...
The Sign of Four is a 1983 UK TV movie featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective Sherlock Holmes. This was originally destined to be the first of six Holmes movies, but Granada TV's series starring Jeremy Brett put paid to any more than two being made. This is somewhat of a shame, because Ian Richardson turns in one of the best portrayals of Holmes to have been committed to film. And while I do like Brett in the role, his take on the character takes some time to warm to.
While Richardson is this productions one saving grace, there's not a lot else going for it. The plot is stretched to breaking point and a more modern audience may have some trouble staying awake for the duration.
I also had an issue with the way this feature was presented. Back in 1983 TVs had an aspect ration of 4:3, whereas most TVs produced nowadays have an aspect ratio of 16:9. As the picture on this movie fills the entire screen of a standard widescreen TV, with no noticeable stretch to the picture, it appears that the image has been zoomed into fit, with the top and bottom of the screen being cropped. Why on earth would a production studio do this if they've gone to the trouble to release an old film that will only really appeal to fans of the original? This suspicion was pretty much confirmed on several notable scenes where the framing seemed incredible odd, with the tops of heads being chopped off.
As I mentioned previously, it's a pretty ambling affair. The story moves at a snail's pace and just drags on and on. The only high points being Richardson's incredible performance as Holmes. This is probably not surprising, given Richardson's acting background and the fact that he read every story containing Holmes to get a feel for the character.
For extras we get an interesting audio commentary with renowned ‘Holmes’ expert David Stuart Davies. He repeats some of the information on The Hound of the Baskervilles, but it's only information that's important about the background of the series. This is an interesting listen, as Davies tells us many interesting facts about the actors, the deviations from the original book, and general background information.
The fact that half the picture appears to be missing would prompt me to recommend this on DVD only - but to be perfectly honest I wouldn't really recommend it if, like me, you're one of those people who will be annoyed by this rather strange production choice.
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