Arthur & George Episode 3: Recap and Review

DOYLE 2014 LTD FOR  ITV ARTHUR & GEORGE Pictured: MARTIN CLUNES as Arthur and ARSHER ALI as George. These images are the copyright of ITV/DOYLE 2014 LTD.

The finale episode of Arthur & George brought the series to new heights in almost every area and left me wishing the entire series had been as well-written and tightly-plotted as Episode 3 was.

The story picked up at a perplexing moment, in which Sir Arthur had begun to have serious doubts about Edalji’s innocence and some of the seeming coincidences of the case. By doggedly following the clues, much like Holmes would have done, Doyle and his secretary finally uncovered the truth about a troubled young man and a grudge that had existed since childhood.

The series didn’t follow the narrative to the very end, but text-on-screen assured the viewer that Edalji was fully exonerated and resumed his work as a solicitor. From a character standpoint, Doyle’s forensic victory lightened his emotional load and gave him the impetus to declare his true feelings for Jean Leckie and become engaged to her.

The episode left a few perplexing questions, notably about oddities of Edalji’s life that were never explained. Most of these appear to be casualties of a total series runtime of only a little over two hours, and interested viewers can find answers is Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, on which the show is based.

Overall, Episode 3 dramatically increased my admiration for the series as a whole, and while I still believe the cast deserves the lion’s share of credit for making it all work, the subtlety and coherence of Ed Whitmore’s conclusion deserve a mention as well.

Arthur & George has been an enjoyable, if imperfect, look at a lesser-known event in an author’s life, one that had major historical implications in Britain (the creation of the criminal appeals court). A few more episodes would have fleshed out the details more, but as it stands, a stellar cast put heart and polish into a good script and created a series that will no doubt charm Holmesian audiences for some time to come.

The series is currently available for streaming at PBS.org

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How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

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Arthur & George Episode 2 Recap and Review

Arthur & George

After last week’s origin story, it was refreshing to go deeper into the Edalji case this week in part two of this three-part series. In my opinion, some of the awkwardness of last week’s script was gone, and the story moved through the investigation a bit more seamlessly. At the same time, the greater focus on details of the story highlighted just how disparate the different plotlines are. The Edalji case and Doyle’s conflicted attraction to Jean Leckie just don’t really connect in any meaningful way. They’re both compelling and well enough written to be involving for the viewer, but they feel like separate anecdotes in a life, not intrinsically connected parts of a cohesive narrative, no matter how hard the series tries to make us believe they are.

The bulk of episode 2 is spent on detective work performed by Doyle and his secretary, and Martin Clunes and Charles Edwards continue to be extremely watchable and often amusing. In particular, the script put lines in Doyle’s mouth that were very close to Holmes’s own words, but to his credit, writer Ed Whitmore managed to escape making the references overly heavy handed.

This week also featured more intense scrutiny of George Edalji himself, who proved to be a potentially sketchier character than he originally appeared. Arsher Ali continues to hold his own, never overplaying the character. At this point, however, he’s still such an enigma that it’s difficult to be terribly emotionally invested in his plight.

Additionally, Episode 2 depicted an excellent confrontation between the cornered Doyle and strong-willed Leckie, who declared her unwillingness to accept his advances until he’s ready to make them on his own without coercion. I’ve read different views of Leckie, not all of them sympathetic, but Hattie Morahan certainly paints a picture of an engaging woman who is one of the most appealing parts of this series.

I’ll reserve judgment until everything plays out in episode three, but at the moment, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, Arthur & George is an interesting mystery adaptation of a historical event that is certainly worth 45 minutes a week. On the other hand, its occasional flirtations with brilliance keep making me wish it had reached just a little bit higher.

Episodes 1-2 are currently available to stream on PBS.org

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How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

Arthur & George: Episode 1 Review and Recap

Arthur & George

September 6th marked the US premiere of Arthur & George, the miniseries adaptation of Julian Barnes’s novel that details the real-life story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fight to prove the innocence of George Edalji, a man who maintained his innocence of several gruesome crimes for which he had served prison time.

First off, I’m glad to see this story getting airtime. It’s certainly an interesting period of Doyle’s life, and while I don’t want to spoil details of the case, the outcome ended up changing British law. Considering that Holmes mania is holding strong at the moment, it’s a good time for the spotlight to shine on his creator.

The first episode acts as an origin story, both for Doyle’s world and for the Edalji case itself. Both are presented fairly obscurely, with the viewer thrown into somewhat unconnected events that are later connected and explained. The payoff works well, but this technique does necessitate a certain amount of focus on detail and tolerance for not entirely understanding what is happening at different points.

The case is presented much like a Holmes story (very intentionally, I believe), and more than once, I found myself expecting Holmes or Watson to pop up. Instead, the detecting duo is Doyle himself and his secretary, Alfred Wood, whom Doyle’s son said he thought was the actual model for Watson. Their dynamic is complex. The somewhat arrogant and unpredictable Doyle has Holmes-like moments, but his emotions and inconsistencies are far more prominent than those of his character. In contrast, Wood has the loyalty and steadiness of Watson but also appears to be the more objective of the two at times.

An element that elevates the story further is the focus on Doyle’s personal life, particularly his conflicted feelings about his attraction to Jean Leckie, the woman who had captured his interest toward the end of his wife’s life. Even though everyone in Doyle’s family is aware of and tolerant to the connection, Doyle himself is tormented by what he perceives as possible emotional unfaithfulness (and lack of certainty about his wife’s trust in him, a trust he never physically violated). This emotional touchstone provides a place for the story to go that pushes it beyond deduction and into the realm of a historical biopic.

Evaluating the first episode as a whole, my greatest plaudits go to the cast. Martin Clunes and Charles Edwards form an engaging and amusing duo as Doyle and Wood, and they manage to convey a great deal of history with subtlety. Their wit and conflict give off an amusing buddy cop impression now and then, but it’s never over the top. In contrast, the understated seriousness of Arsher Ali as Edalji introduces an air of mystery but also of pathos. He comes across as a man who has suffered extensively but refuses to be consumed by anger. It’s a somewhat complicated role that doesn’t receive a huge amount of screen time in the first episode, but Ali manages to make Edalji very compelling. No less effective are the other members of the Edalji family, who come across as regular people in an unusual situation. Finally, also of note, is Hattie Morahan as Jean Leckie. Morahan is having quite a  Holmesian year; she also starred alongside Sir Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes. In Arthur & George, she plays a woman who is attracted to the man Arthur Conan Doyle is, rather than the legend of the writer, and her wit and beauty are engaging. I expect to see her story intensify emotionally in the two remaining episodes, and I know that Morahan is more than up to the task.

I highlighted the cast in particular because I think they’re a big part of why the script worked. I enjoyed parts of it very much, but there were lines and transitions in scenes that I found myself thinking would have worked much less well with less capable performers. The series goes back and forth between the extremely sobering realities of the Edalji case, which concerned particularly disturbing crimes, and the often humorous realities of the life of Doyle as an early celebrity, who was already being compared with Holmes and defined by him. Martin Clunes made the these disparate tones work together, for the most part, but I think it was a challenge. With a runtime of only 45 minutes (at least as it was transmitted in the US), the episode sometimes felt to me like it was shifting in tone quite quickly, with the potential of being emotionally jarring.

Overall, I enjoyed the first episode of Arthur & George very much, and I look forward to seeing its continuation. I recommend it to Holmesians, but also to anyone else who enjoys historical or period dramas.

Episode 1 is currently available at PBS.org

Image credit PBS

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How to purchase my Sherlock Holmes novels:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including   Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.