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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Recently I watched the Jeremy Brett & Edward Hardwicke version of THE
MUSGRAVE RITUAL for the second time. THe first time was when it was
shown in the U.S. originally in the 1980s, but now it was being
repeated on channel 21 in New York on a Tuesday night. It holds up
quite nicely, with a good cast including James Hazeldine as Brunton and
Michael Culver (Roland Culver's son) as Sir Reginald Musgrave. The
period style of clothing and furnishings and transportation help keep
the story's realism alive.
Most people are aware of THE MUSGRAVE RITUAL from the Basil Rathbone - Nigel Bruce Universal film, SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH. Like all of them it has been brought up to the 1940s, and the war is involved in the background, but the basis of the story is the meaning of the ritual and what it entails. In the film it was expanded a bit (in a bit of rewriting) to have more value than what Holmes and Reginald Musgrave discover it means in the story. It also is the reason the villain in that film commits his murders.
SPOILER COMING UP:
The original story is Holmes telling Watson of an adventure of his prior to their meeting in 1881 in A STUDY IN SCARLET. In 1878 Holmes is visiting a friend from his university, Sir Reginald Musgrave. During the visit Holmes notices the extremely able butler in the Musgrave Manor, Brunton. But one day Holmes learns from Musgrave that he was forced to fire Brunton because he caught him going over personal family archive papers late at night in the Master's Study. Brunton manages to coax a week more at the job from Musgrave (so as not to lose face in front of the other servants). However both Musgrave and Holmes discover that the butler has disappeared. Brunton had a reputation of being a Lothario type, and one of the maid servants (Rachel Howells) is acting peculiarly. Soon she too is missing. Holmes asks Musgrave what Brunton was looking at, and the so-called "Ritual", an old family coming into title ceremony is read. Holmes notices that it seems to have meaning regarding movements and measurements around the estate. Using some calculations he and Musgrave follow it until they reach an ancient section of the Musgrave Manor, and find it leads to a cellar with a heavy stone door on top. They lift it, and find Brunton inside, dead from suffocation. They also find a bag of odd looking items that has been tossed in the pond on the estate. Gradually Holmes concludes that Brunton got Rachel to assist him in opening the cellar, and he handed her the bag of items, but she dropped the door on him in revenge for him trifling with her earlier. As for the items in the bag, Holmes in reciting the ritual's lines realizes the ritual refers to Charles I's execution, and that the bag's contents are the original crown of the Stuart monarchs.
Except in two differences the script sticks close to the story. As pointed out in the trivia on this production, Watson is included in the story itself - he is not just listening to Holmes retelling it. In fact, Holmes' use of cocaine is brought in when Watson silently watches Holmes shooting up when the Detective thinks he is alone. The other difference is that the maid (played by Johanna Kirby) is never seen again at the end of the story, but in the episode her body appears in the pond, an apparent suicide.
The actual story ended up in the verse play MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL (about the killing of St. Thomas a'Becket) by T.S.Elliot, where he uses the opening words of the ritual ("Who had it? He who is gone. Who shall have it? He that will come!") in the play. Elliot was a keen fan of Conan Doyle, and would even spoof Professor Moriarty in OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS as "McCavity".
The fate of the regalia of the Stuarts is known, but not quite as simple as the story has it. Charles I lost most of the royal regalia in a ship disaster in Scotland in the Civil Wars in that country, and attempts have been made to try to locate the site of that wreck. Only one other monarch's jewels is the subject of as much keen interest: King John's regalia and property were lost in a sudden flood that drowned many retainers of his in 1216 in a place in England on the channel known as "the Wash" It too has never been located.
A servant at the Musgrave Manor disappears after one them finds out an obscure written document that has been in the family history for generations, whose meaning remains unknown. This episode is stylish and atmospheric. The final minute at the closing credits is especially creepy. Patrick Gowers music in this one is quite unique and helps pack the punch. Jeremy Brett as usual continues prove why he is the definitive Holmes, Edward Hardwicke as expected makes an excellent Watson, and Michael Culver is a standout as Reginald Musgrave. Also, worth noting is that Jeremy Paul (who wrote many of the Granada episodes) won an Edgar Award for his adapted script.
As a big fan of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, I may be biased in saying I love this episode, but I do. For me, the best of the "Return" series is between The Devil's Foot and The Six Napoleons, but The Musgrave Ritual is just as good. It is splendidly made as usual, always feeling as though you are actually in the setting with a typically evocative atmosphere. The music really gives the adaptation its punch by how haunting and beautiful it is, the script is intelligent and sometimes playful in tone and the story is full of mystery and suspense, plus it is very creepy especially in the final couple of minutes. James Hazeldine and Michael Culver are excellent in their supporting turns, but as usual the two leads are the ones who dominate with Edward Hardwicke quietly intelligent and Jeremy Brett as commanding as ever. In conclusion, a very good episode. 9/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Holmes and Watson are invited to stay at the home of an old college
chum, Musgrave. It's one of England's stately old homes and one of the
most picturesque in the series, a moat, and broad lawns with a solitary
The Butler, Brunson, has been having some intrigues with the maid and the stable girl. He's brighter than young Musgrave, and when Musgrave finds him riffling through the papers of the estate he fires him on the spot. Whereupon Brunson disappears, leaving behind all his personal effects, even his hard drive.
It develops that the particular paper Brunson was examining was a copy of the centuries-old Musgrave ritual, which the family had always dismissed as a bit of nonsense. "Where was the sun? Over the oak. Where was the shadow? Under the elm." And so on. "A treasure hunt," cries Watson.
Well, the elm of the ritual was struck by lightning and is long gone but Musgrave recalls it was 64 feet tall. Where did its shadow fall? Holmes solves that problem with a bit of trigonometry that, curiously enough, the Ancient Greeks used to measure the height of one of the pyramids of Egypt. The Greek stood next to the pyramid at sunrise and watched his own shadow, long at first, then shorter as the sun rose. He knew how tall HE was and when his shadow was exactly as long as his height, he made a mark in the sand where the shadow of the top of the pyramid fell. Then he measured the distance from the base of the pyramid to the mark in the sand. Elementary, my dear Thales.
But then the story turns a bit. Brunson, sharp fellow, had figured it out too but when he tried to find the treasure he was killed by the maid he'd betrayed. The treasure turns out to be bits of old metal and a few pebbles. Of course there's more to it than that but let's not spoil it.
Nice mystery, nice performances, beautiful scenery. What's not to like?
A faithful adaptation of one of the best of the Holmes stories. It has to do with a butler who gets wind of a document that is actually a kind of treasure map. Unfortunately for him, he hooks up with an unstable maid who gets in the way of his realizing an end to all this. The butler is caught in Musgrave's study, rifling through important papers, and is summarily fired. Despite pleading for a couple days to prepare (and do whatever it is he is going to do), Musgrave give him till the next day. This sets up a series of events based on a set of statements that have come to be known as "The Musgrave Ritual." They have to do with locations and positions, but are also threatening in their own way. Holmes and Watson begin to sort out the craziness, involving the disappearance of the butler and the crazy chambermaid, and in the process begin to decipher the Ritual. Clothing has been found indicating that people may have drowned, but that makes no sense. It leads to a cellar and a series of discoveries. It is kind of like Poe's "The Gold Bug" in some ways. Holmes always has a great sense of spatial relationships and this is his top asset here. There is atmosphere and suspense and a wonderful conclusion to this. Brett and Hardwicke really do themselves proud here. One might compare this to one of the Basil Rathbone Holmes efforts.
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