|"Third time is the charm" they say...well, unfortunately that is not quite the truth in this case, although Sherlock Holmes in The Royal Scandal demonstrates a marked improvement over the previous two entries in this Canadian-made series. Whereas the first two, HOUN and SIGN, suffered by direct comparisons to Arthur Conan Doyle's text and previous film/television versions, this third entry in the series doesn't suffer from the same strict criteria as it is an embellished amalgam of two short stories, namely A Scandal in Bohemia and The Bruce-Partington Plans. Many elements of SCAN are quite strictly adhered to, although Holmes previous familiarity with La Adler is certainly a new twist, one that incidentally works surprisingly well within the context of this program. We are given the visit to Baker Street by the disguised Crown Prince, the street ruffian sequence, Holmes in disguise - as both the unkempt groom and simple-minded clergyman, the smoke-bomb ruse, etc...all with reasonable fidelity to the source material. However, throughout all this there is a more sinister tone with the use of Mycroft (characterized very much along the same lines as in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) and elements of the spy plot derived from BRUC. While not as faithful to the story of BRUC, key elements such as the death of Cadogan West and the train bit are utilized, and fairly effectively too. In the end though, the whole thing felt more like a Maltese Falcon/Hammett - type story than a version of Conan Doyle, with the chase for the McGuffin (the photo) taking up the bulk of the story, plus the sort of Detective/Gangster-moll relationship element, and the muddled espionage plot (that you care less and less about as the story progresses). Yet somehow, it all seemed to come together better than in either of the previous two entries in the series.
So what about the actors? Well, Liliana Komoroswka presents a perfectly acceptable Irene Adler...beautiful, tenacious and clever. Although Adler is distinctly Polish in this version, the Polish-American accents fits nicely. R. H. Thomson had me almost wishing that he had been playing Sherlock Holmes rather than Mycroft! Fine accent and calm delivery with a hawk-like nose that gave him a distinctly sherlockian profile. Strangely, he had me thinking of William Gillette - in appearance. Too slender and devious for a canonical Mycroft, but certainly an acceptable foil to Frewer's Sherlock. Which brings me back to the Frewer and Welsh. Welsh had a few good minor scenes and seems to be carrying on as he intended...to deliver a solid and not in the least bit dim Watson. His deductive sequence in the morgue is exceptionally good. Finally, Matt Frewer...what can I say? He is still mugging shamelessly and exuding an annoyingly smug air, but in the flashback sequences to Holmes first encounter with Adler and in the quieter moments with Mycroft, he comes off much better than in any of the previous films. Sure the accent is still out to lunch, and he looks decidedly odd most of the time, but in spite of myself, I found that I could enjoy elements of his performance within the framework of this story.
So in the end I'd say it's worth watcing and you just might be surprised by Sherlock Holmes in The Royal Scandal, and if not, well...you've probably seen worse!