Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sherlock Holmes: The Last Vampyre – review (TV Episode)


Directed by: Tim Sullivan

Release date: 1993

Contains spoilers

This Granada TV production is loosely based on “The Case of the Sussex Vampire” and, though the main elements are there, the production team really cause the audience to maintain a guessing game as to whether or not there really is a vampire involved. The long running series starred Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and, to me, Brett was the finest Holmes to grace a screen, but is this particular case any good?

The film starts a century previously and we see a cart being driven along a lane at breakneck speed. A pregnant woman is in the back of the cart. She is carried through a graveyard and left at the doors of the church; she has blood on her neck. We see men gather torches and the villagers march on a local hall and burn it down. Later in the film we hear that it was the residence of the St. Claire family and the villagers believed the Lord to be a vampire, we also discover that the woman’s child was stillborn and she died.

Roy Marsden as John StocktonWe cut forward and see some of our main protagonists. John Stockton (Roy Marsden) is laying a rose on the grave of the woman from the opening. Coming from the church are Rob Ferguson (Keith Barron) and Reverend Merridew (Maurice Denham). Ferguson is arranging the baptism of his baby, though his Peruvian wife, Carlotta (Yolanda Vazquez), is Catholic the baby will be baptised Church of England. He reminds Stockton of dinner that evening, Stockton is a writer who spent time in Peru and Ferguson hopes his knowledge of the country and its language will be pleasant for his wife. Back at the Ferguson house we see that there is tension between Ferguson’s first son Jack (Richard Dempsey) and both Carlotta and her maid, Dolores (Juliet Aubrey). Jack walks with a pronounced limp having fallen from a tree and damaging his spine when a child.

Holmes as a vampireWatson (Edward Hardwicke) enters 22B Baker Street and Holmes has his back to him. Holmes turns and hisses, baring fangs that he then removes. He deems Watson’s reaction instructive, though Watson suggests that there is a difference between belief in vampires and fear as he displayed. It is amusing to think that Holmes had the fangs made for a disguise and one wonders at the case the producers hint at.

Edward Hardwicke as WatsonHolmes has received a letter from some solicitors who have referred Merridew to him after he enquired to them about vampires. The ever logical Holmes refers to the suggestion of the walking dead as a Grimm fairytale and says: “What have we to do with the walking corpses who have to have stakes driven into their hearts to keep them in their graves.”

The Blacksmith diesWhen Merridew arrives he tells Holmes about the St Claires and about the Fergusons. Bob Ferguson is an old rugby associate of Watson. Ferguson’s baby has died and it occurred the night after the diner with Stockton – who touched the baby’s hand. Stockton is also known to have had an argument with a blacksmith (Andrew Abrahams) who died as Stockton cast him an angry glance. The village believes Stockton to be a vampire.

warding a vampireHolmes agrees to look into matters but mainly to stop a man from being killed, in other words Stockton. Yet in a village with an influenza epidemic the question of whether Stockton is a vampire is unclear. The plot thickens through the episode and the filmmakers do all to keep you guessing. Bats at a window might be just that, or perhaps it is something more. Stockton clearly has an influence on those around him and Holmes, at one point, mentions psychic vampirism.

reading VarneyStockton is related to the St Claires, they discover, and is something of a night owl. His neighbour actually puts a cross and garlic on his cottage door and, as the story progresses, we actually get the disinterment of a corpse and a near staking. Other nice little touches come in such scenes as a character reading Varney the Vampire or the pedlar (Freddie Jones) selling holy items to ward off vampires.

Of course, this is a mystery and I do not wish to spoil Carlotta's bloodied mouthtoo much. It does, as I mention, veer from the original, but I enjoyed its movement and the ambiguity the episode produces. Most of all I enjoyed the production. The ambiguity continues all the way to the end and we wonder at Stockton’s influence when we see blood around Carlotta’s mouth – is it innocent or nefarious? This is one of the ambiguities that is answered clearly.

Jeremy Brett as HolmesGranada’s series was beautifully shot and well acted throughout but kudos must be given to Brett and Hardwicke who make a fantastic Holmes and Watson. Brett in particular is superb, at times arrogant, perhaps distracted and yet always keying in to the most pertinent facts he is totally believable as the master detective.

Juliet Aubrey as DoloresPurists may baulk at this episode, though not at the series as a whole I’d imagine, because it isn’t accurate to the original story but to me the changes were welcome and, despite the fact that there were unanswered aspects, the story telling was superb - never becoming boring despite being feature length.

7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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