Revisionist tinkering with the Sherlock Holmes mythology has provided great sport over the years, from Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” to “The Seven-Percent Solution.” Somewhere in between falls this original story concocted for “Masterpiece Theater” — a second-rate Holmes mystery starring Rupert Everett that’s still good fun, though surely not as much as viewing one of those old Basil Rathbone editions.
This latest case has added a few touches for the “CSI” generation, involving a string of confounding and grisly murders that seem the work of a fetishistic lunatic, not one of the master criminals with which the sleuth matched wits in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
Written by Allan Cubbitt, who adapted Holmes saga “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for this PBS franchise two years ago, the story hinges on a rash of debutante slayings and a killer strangely obsessed with their clothing. Holmes is recruited by an aristocrat whose daughter was the first victim, although her mother (Eleanor David) appears considerably less interested in cracking the case.
All this inspecting proves secondary, in a way, to the more unsavory take on Holmes, whom old pal Dr. Watson (Ian Hart) wants to save from “killing himself with narcotics and boredom.”
Less of a bumbler here, Watson has vacated their Baker Street flat and is due to marry an American psychologist (Helen McCrory), while Holmes numbs himself with opium and remains trapped inside that fertile brain, before this vexing case prods him back into action.
Set to an appropriately lush violin score by Adrian Johnston, “The Case of the Silk Stocking” is more sordid and less clever than most traditional Holmes adventures, with a last-act climactic twist so convenient and trite as to be somewhat deflating.
Moreover, the emphasis on humanizing Holmes invariably dilutes the focus on his unparalleled crime-solving skills, which is surely what most distinguishes the character.
Nevertheless, it’s an extremely good-looking production, with Everett doing a creditable job of portraying Holmes as an indolent, tortured genius, while trading in his famed deerstalker (a contrivance of Rathbone’s, he explained in interviews) for a natty top hat.
More than anything, perhaps, this modest addition to Holmes lore is a tribute to enduring fascination with the master detective, who has been deconstructed, lampooned and even transformed into a teenager, yet somehow keeps rebounding to investigate another day.
From that perspective, “The Case of the Silk Stocking” is a rather wan addition to the Holmes filmography, yet respectable enough in showcasing the character’s cerebral charms. If push comes to shove, though, when all the revisionism’s done, I prefer my Holmes in black-and-white.