Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking

Starring: Rupert Everett
BBC Worldwide
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: 15
Available 21 March 2005

The year is 1902, and an ominous fog has descended on the streets of London. When the body of a young girl is dragged from the Thames, it is initially presumed that she is a prostitute. However, the discovery of a silk stocking wedged in her throat suggests otherwise, and Sherlock Holmes quickly realises that she is in fact an aristocratic lady...

Written by Allan Cubitt, who penned the BBC's rather unnecessary 2003 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Case of the Silk Stocking could scarcely be more different. Whereas the Baskervilles novel has already been filmed to death, Silk Stocking occupies the other end of the spectrum, being a completely original story.

Cubitt makes innovative use of the established characters. The depiction of the detective's cocaine use is hardly revelatory, but here the writer and the director (Simon Cellan Jones) suggest that the drug helps Holmes (Rupert Everett) to see into the mind of the killer, who has a very different kind of addiction. Though the tradition of portraying Watson on screen as a bumbling buffoon is happily far behind us, thanks mostly to the Jeremy Brett/David Burke series, Cubitt and actor Ian Hart manage to take the character further, by having him conduct parts of the investigation - very successfully - on his own.

The story takes place during Edwardian times, towards the latter end of the Conan Doyle canon, as opposed to the more usual 19th-century setting. This allows for more modern (but still authentic) elements to come into play. Thus we see Holmes using a telephone and the police analysing fingerprints.

Watson has left 221b by this point, and is shortly to be married to Mrs Vandeleur (Helen McCrory), a liberated American divorcee whose expertise in psychoanalysis proves an inspiration to Holmes. Though the character may seem rather ahead of her time, the fact that she in an American mitigates this to an extent. And, while such unsavoury subjects as foot fetishes and borderline paedophilia never "graced" the works of Conan Doyle, they are covered in Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, a real book that Mrs Vandeleur recommends to Holmes.

The performances are uniformly good, led by a suitably pallid and languid, though slightly too young-looking, Rupert Everett. The music, by Adrian Johnston, is excellent and the production values high. Only a very unconvincing disguise that Holmes dons at one point undermines the story to any serious extent.

The only extra is an audio commentary, but no more than that is to be expected on a DVD at such a bargain price. The commentary is provided by the director and the producer, Elinor Day. They reveal how they achieved the effect of Holmes pulling a long silk stocking from the throat of a murder victim. Day has a rather annoying habit of saying how lucky she thought she was: there are several instances of "We were lucky to get this actor" and "We were fortunate with this location", etc.

Whether by luck or, more likely, judgement, this is a very enjoyable production.

Richard McGinlay

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