Weekend Film Recommendation: The Blue Carbuncle

A Sherlock Holmes television episode makes ideal Christmas viewing

Christmas time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all,
that children call,
their favorite time of year!

Mine too, not least because there are so many enjoyable Christmas films to recommend, starting with an episode from Granada Television’s justly revered Sherlock Holmes series: The Blue Carbuncle.

Eccentric, unstable, dashing Jeremy Brett, whose acting (as Edward Hardwicke put it) contained “a whiff of the Edwardian” was an inspired choice to play Holmes in this handsomely produced series. David Burke makes a fine, gentle Dr. Watson in the early episodes, succeeded by an equally good Edward Hardwicke as a flintier sort of Watson in the latter part of the series. The Blue Carbuncle features Burke as Watson, and the byplay between the actors is a marvel, bringing out the warmth of their friendship yet also Holmes’ tendency to talk down to Watson, sometimes with marked asperity.

The plot: It’s Christmas time in London, though the scowling Countess of Morcar is unhappy (Rosalind Knight, putting just the right undercurrent of humour into an overtly Scroogish performance). She finds Christmas a chore in any event, but even moreso when her precious gem, the blue carbuncle, is stolen! Meanwhile, Commissionaire Peterson (Frank Mills) brings a goose to Holmes with a strange story of how he has seen a man lose his treasured Christmas dinner. Through an ingenious series of deductions, Holmes sees that the two mysteries may be connected, but he must race against time as an innocent man (Desmond McNamara) has been framed for the crime, leaving his struggling wife and children in agony as the holiday approaches.

As with the series as a whole, the original material is treated reverently, with many lines lifted straight from the text and the climactic scene nicely staged to match Sidney Paget’s drawing from the original Strand magazine publication of Doyle’s story. And the Christmas spirit is everywhere, in the incidental Victorian-style music, set decor and story elements. Not generally thought of as a Christmas movie, The Blue Carbuncle is a fine appetizer for your family by the fire, before you tuck into your own Yuletide bird.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of RBC recommendations.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

7 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: The Blue Carbuncle”

  1. This is my favorite episode of the series.
    I love how Holmes says “the blue carbuncle”.

    And IMO the original watson is the better.

  2. Which recent modern-Holmes (or derivative) portrayer would you most like to see attempt a Brett-like faithful re-creation of the original? My choices: 1. Hugh Laurie; 2. Benedict Cumberbatch. 3. Jonny Lee Miller, although I would be interested to see any of them give it a shot. Robert Downey Jr., please no.

  3. I think Fry and Laurie could do a good Sherlock and Watson. I would love to see Rupert Everett have another go after the case of the silk stocking, the script was imperfect but he was not.

  4. Two rather unserious Holmes: decades ago, I mentioned to a friend that it was beyond belief that Peter Sellers hadn’t yet played in a Holmes parody; in an impromptu parlor game of pairing famous screen buddies as H&W (again, many years ago) my favorite pair was Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.

    Nowadays, doesn’t the limitless shadow of Daniel Day Lewis now lie over any role we think of? (Don’t know if his next one will be Napoleon or Jesus.)

    Saw The Cruel Sea last week, it was better than I could have imagined — thanks for the tip!

  5. Two rather unserious Holmes

    To whom are you referring karl, Everett and Fry? Did you see Silk Stocking?, it wasn’t comic at all, and Everett had real presence. Fry can also do straight drama and like Brett, his mania works for the part.

    Day Lewis can clearly do anything. Funnily enough as a child he was a neighbor of some old friends, so I have heard many a tale from his life.

    Glad you liked Cruel Sea!

    1. Good God man! that was a colon, not a period. The unserious Holmeses were my “fantasy picks” from so, so long ago. I never saw Silk Stocking (never even heard of it) but think Everett is an excellent choice, as is Fry (and with Laurie as Watson — wow!). If Day Lewis doesn’t want it, Ralph Fiennes is waiting in the wings.

      1. karl: My misread, sorry.

        The Case of the Silk Stocking is worth a look. The villain is too modern but everything else is right.

        Ian Richardson was a fantastic Holmes in the film series that was cut off by Granda’s amidst a big lawsuit.

        Michael Caine played a fine comic (and stupid) Holmes in Without a Clue, which wasn’t bad.

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