Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes - Dr. Bell & Mr. Doyle
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Outside of the refined halls of Edinburgh University, a young Arthur Conan Doyle is learning his first lesso... in murder.
In 1878, when Mr. Doyle (Robin Laing) meets the brilliant Dr. Bell (Ian Richardson), he is drawn away from his medical studies into a new world of crime investigation. As the pair assist local police in solving their most gruesome cases, Doyle becomes fascinated with Bell's uncanny talent for outthinking seasoned detectives and outwitting the most clever criminals.
However, one particularly vicious cat-and-mouse game has a different outcome. Doyle finds his life completely changed and even Dr. Bell's agile mind cannot predict how this story will end!
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Young Doyle, played by Robin Laing, initially doubts Dr. Bell's methods. Gradually, observing Bell in action and being challenged by Bell to use his own powers of deduction, Doyle becomes a believer. "You see," Bell says to Doyle one afternoon at the Edinburgh morgue, "I believe that crimes can be diagnosed in the same fashion as disease if we use the same techniques. So...what can you glean from the late Mrs. Canning here?"
While Doyle is learning from Bell, Bell and Doyle are caught up in several crimes which might be related. They involve a nobleman who often visits a house of ill repute and whose wife becomes ill; a mute street beggar who plays the violin for coins, and who dies in convulsions; a room bespattered and filled with blood, and then slaughtered sheep are discovered with their eyes gouged out; a woman who dies in a locked room with a husband who is perhaps too helpful; a pair of severed human ears placed in a box and delivered to one of the few women who are studying, with great opposition from most of the teachers and many of the male students, to be doctors; a woman of the streets who was given herbal pills and now is vomiting her life out. In fact, some of these cases truly are related, and the suspects include a moralistic, furious fellow student and an unknown psychopath who believes in simple, straight-forward evil. Bell, with help from Doyle, eventually pulls the pieces together. The conclusion, however, is not entirely satisfactory. There is loss and the promise of retribution. Even more, there is a sense that a part two was waiting to be filmed and, for whatever reason, wasn't made. Eventually there were four additional mysteries featuring Ian Richardson as Dr. Bell and a different actor as Conan Doyle.
Through it all, Doyle and Elspeth Scott, one of the women students, hesitantly discover a mutual affection that could easily grow into love. Their recognition of a possible romance comes while she dissects a corpse's right knee. One of the attractions of the production is that it doesn't shy away from depicting the reality of autopsies and forensic experiments. We first encounter Dr. Bell while he is whipping the buttocks of a corpse, prior to firing a bullet into the dead man's chest. Throughout we see the reality of how the poor live in Edinburgh, the damp, cobbled streets, the constant chill, the smeared faces of the children and the grubbiness of the prostitutes. Even the medical students don't look too well washed at times. The production values are high and there is a solid depth of acting.
Ian Richardson makes the production work. Laing does a fine job as the sincere and somewhat callow Doyle. Richardson, however, gives us a complex character who can at times be impatient, even irascible, but who has a sense of humor and irony and who has a strong feeling of humanity for those who are unfortunate, sick and poor. We can see how Bell slowly grows to feel affection for Doyle and how, in a moment of tragedy, Bell can provide comfort and strength to his student.
The DVD transfer is first rate. There are one or two inconsequential extras, such as cast lists. One of the pleasures of this production, if you are a reader of the Sacred Texts, is to identify references to some of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. I found two, but I've been told there are several others. The affair of the watch references The Sign of Four. The severed ears are a key element in The Cardboard Box.
exclaim "there goes Dr. Bell". At first I didn't care for the performance of Robin Laing however, I changed my opinion on the second viewing and realized what a great job he did in the movie.
I won't pretend to be an expert on Sherlock Holmes, or any of the history or characters involved over the years. Instead I will say, if you like the theme behind Sherlock Holmes, you will find this story to be good, well produced, and enjoyable all around.