Our rating: 4 out of 5
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's magnificent stories surrounding an eccentric sleuth able to solve crimes through deductive reasoning has spun off numerous adaptations, including this one by the BBC only a few years before Stephen Spielberg released his major motion picture version.
After the financial ruin of his parents, Sherlock Holmes (Guy Henry) is forced to leave school in London and return to the family estate in the countryside. Their manor house has been sold, forcing him to take refuge in the home of his Aunt Rachel (Heather Chasen). Thoroughly disapproving of his eccentric nature, his disappearances at all hours of the night, and the disreputable company he keeps, his aunt professes that Sherlock is the bane of her existence. His family have gone to France, promising to send for him before the year is out. Spending most of his time in the home of John (Tim Brierley) and Charlotte (Zuleika Robson) Whitney, Holmes amuses his friends with his powers of deductive reasoning. It is not long before he has a case to throw himself into, when a local storyteller pays a visit to the manor on the hill and shortly dies thereafter.
Local police believe it was of natural causes, but Holmes finds the circumstances surrounding the man's death as suspicious as the new tenants of the family estate. There is the soft-spoken Indian servant Ranjeet (Lewis Fiander), retired Colonel Turnbull (Donald Douglas) and his sickly wife (June Barry), and the ultimately sinister Jasper Moran (Christopher Villiers), the most eligible bachelor in the country, who has unknowingly turned Holmes' contemptible cousin Charity (Eva Griffith) lovesick. There have been a series of mysterious thefts throughout the northern country, more than one murder, and all number of suspicious events, from a missing dog to a poisoned thorn and ultimately a dramatic conspiracy. While it is true that the plot is weakly contrived and the series often borders on the melodramatic and absurd, there is one thing remarkable about The Mystery at the Manor House: its characters.
Sherlock Holmes has rarely been so likable, and the writers have kept him true to form: this is how we could easily imagine the one-day Baker Street detective in his youth. He is impetuous, impatient, cunning, and ultimately lovable. Part of it is the writing, and part of it is the sheer presence of Guy Henry, whose unusual looks and domineering stature make him utterly believable. Whether he is purposefully terrifying his cousin or learning to smoke a pipe, I defy anyone not to like him. What I also appreciated was the consistency with his later opinions -- his fondness for the future Mrs. Hudson (played as his aunt's housekeeper, adorably courted by a London messenger man), and his general distrust of women (one memorable moment has him wondering why John must write a note explaining his sudden disappearance, followed by an irritated, "Women!!" before vanishing out the nearest door). It also takes coy winks at the future through present surroundings: an eccentric doctor who keeps his tobacco in the shoe of a Persian slipper, for one.
There is very little in the way of objectionable content. A half dozen mild profanities and thematic elements, including several murders and various attempts on Holmes' life. The pacing seems at times slow and might have been improved through fewer glimpses into the lives of the Turnbulls, but whenever Holmes is in the room, the film shines. It's corny in many respects, and the whole production has the essence of a cheap play. As a result, the acting is often over the top, but the dialogue is marvelous. If you can stand the cheap production values and are willing to involve yourself in a three-hour series made up of twenty minute installments, Young Sherlock is very worthwhile for true fans.