Perched anxiously on the edge of the sofa in the sitting room of 221B Baker Street, Hilton Cubitt (Tenniel Evans) bristles at a pointed question directed at him by Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett): “You have a way of putting things, Mr. Holmes,” he says. Dr. Watson (David Burke) has already apologized once for his friend’s gruff behavior, and now he can do nothing except shake his head and look back down at his notes, hoping that Holmes will not irreparably offend their client. Brett often commented on the nature of the relationship of his Holmes to his Watsons: “And so I've had wonderful Watsons – I’ve had two who kind of go [groans], ‘Holmes is doing it again.’ And, I mean, I've even had people in the studio, when I had suddenly crawled across the floor, say, ‘Not another of those’ [laughs]. And that's the lighter side.”
|Holmes, will you please stop playing "Keep Away" with the cipher?|
Granada’s 1984 adaptation of “The Dancing Men” was the second episode in their Sherlock Holmes series, airing just after their adaptation of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” It is notable that the studio chose to adapt this story very early in the production, when the original tale was, in fact, the third story in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, and according to William Baring-Gould’s chronology, took place in 1898. Despite this chronological deviation, the episode reaches out to the Canon in interesting ways. For example, there is Holmes’s mention of his monograph on secret ciphers, which Watson uncomfortably confesses he found “rather heavy going.” But the episode is at its most riveting when Brett is at his most dynamic. Audiences remember this episode’s Sherlock Holmes with a telegram between his teeth, leaping about in a vigorous demonstration of the various “Dancing Men” figures, in a desperate bid to convey their meaning to Dr. Watson. Less memorable, but no less powerful, is the scene in which Holmes and Watson receive the final telegram from Hilton Cubitt (unaware of the man’s death), revealing the partially decoded message: “ELSIE - RE – ARE TO MEET THY GO-.” Watson is still in his shirtsleeves and Holmes in his dressing gown, but in a brilliantly acted moment, the pair need only exchange a meaningful glance before rushing off in aid of their client.
|Photo Credit: www.jeremybrett.info|
|Photo Credit: bookishadventures.tumblr.com|
The episode ends with Watson attempting to decode the “Dancing Men” cipher sent by Sherlock Holmes, which had brought Abe Slane to Ridling Thorpe Manor and neatly ensnared him in Holmes’s trap. Watson stumbles for a moment before reading: “COME HERE AT ONCE.” Holmes smiles at the Doctor’s successful attempt at decoding and says, “How absurdly simple.” His words echo back to the episode’s opening scene, but this time there is no bite or petulance in the words. Only the easy understanding of a comfortable companionship, colored by the spent energy of a case concluded – if not in an entirely satisfactory way for all parties. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson ran the gamut of human interaction in Granada’s adaptation of DANC – from magnetism to charm to shear physical undertaking – but every element has a place, every point perfectly plotted.
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