Holmes and Watson are summoned to the Abbey Grange by Inspector Hopkins (John Barcroft) to investigate the murder of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. His wife, Lady Brackenstall (Nyree Dawn Porter), was also attacked, but only received superficial injuries.
Holmes is irritated to have been called out as the solution seems obvious. The district has been plagued by the Randall gang (a father and two sons) who have committed several burglaries in the neighbourhood. After listening to Lady Brackenstall’s story, there seems no doubt that the Randall gang were responsible for this outrage as well.
But on the way back to London, Holmes isn’t happy. It’s only a small point which worries him (concerning three wine glasses) but it’s enough to make him return to the scene of the crime and look again at the evidence.
The Abbey Grange was originally published in 1904 (it was one of the stories published directly after Holmes’ remarkable return from the Reichenbach Falls). Sadly, this is one of two episodes which are incomplete in the archives. Each story was made up of two 25 minute reels – and in the case of The Abbey Grange the first reel is missing (for The Bruce Partington–Plans, the second reel has been lost).
The DVD has filled in the missing section in a novel way – with a reading by Douglas Wilmer. Since the adaptation made a few changes to the original story, the text has also been slightly adjusted – but it’s basically the same as Conan-Doyle’s original. This reading runs for around twenty minutes and works pretty well – although it might have been better to have reduced the text to a summary of around half the time. But kudos to the BFI and Douglas Wilmer for making it happen, it’s certainly a nice bonus feature.
When we get to the existing section, it’s a chance to observe Holmes at his analytical best – puzzling over the three wine glasses and the severed end of the bell-rope. His observations are enough to reveal the identity of the true murderer (which is something the police never discover). As with several stories in the canon, Holmes elects to take the law into his own hands, calling on Watson to act as the jury. Watson finds the man not guilty – so he’s allowed to go free.
The gorgeous Nyree Dawn Porter is effectively winsome as Lady Brackenstall, a woman who now finds herself freed from the clutches of a cruel and abusive husband. Peter Jesson has the small (but important) part of Captain Croker, whilst Peggy Thorpe-Bates (later to be a formidable “She” opposite Leo McKern’s Rumpole) is Lady Brackenstall’s faithful maid.
With a large portion of the story missing, it’s difficult to assess how effective it is overall – but what we do have is impressive, and it works particularly well as a showcase for Wilmer’s Holmes.