A Very Dramatic and Suspenseful Film
Andre LeBlanc | North Dakota | 09/08/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For years this was the only Sherlock Holmes mystery in the Jeremy Brett collection that I had never seen. I put off buying it because of the many mediocre reviews I had read. This month I decided to purchase it and finish off my collection. In brief, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it to be a very suspenseful and interesting film. Holmes must bring down a "professional" blackmailer (Charles Milverton), who has destroyed many lives through his tactics. There is much debate over whether Holmes falls in love in the episode. I don't think so. In order to infiltrate the Milverton household, he disguises himself as a plumber and, in the process, draws the romantic attraction of the house maid. They have a couple of "romantic moments" together, and even kiss at one point. However, although the maid is attracted to him, I don't think Holmes was truly attracted to her. It was merely an act as part of his undercover operation. Needless to say, he breaks the girl's heart. At the end, he even says there are aspects of the case that he was not proud of. This was no doubt one of them.
But I would definitely recommend this film. It is more dramatic and suspenseful than other Sherlock Holmes episodes, and the acting is fantastic. And even though it is close to 2 hours in length, it will keep your attention throughout."
Holmes the human -- almost.
M. G Watson | Los Angeles | 03/09/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE MASTER BLACKMAILER is arguably the best of the five feature-length Sherlock Holmes films made by Grenada TV. It lacks the convolutions of THE LAST VAMPYRE, the occasional sluggishness of the THE SIGN OF FOUR, the weird mystical elements of the THE ELIGIBLE BACHELOR, and the overly experimental cinemetography that undermined the otherwise excellent HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. The story shoves Holmes out of his comfort zone of cold deductive reasoning and poses with brutal frankness the old Nietzscheian question: 'How many lines can the hero cross before he becomes a villain himself?'
BLACKMAILER pits Jeremy Brett's Holmes Edward Hardwicke's Watson against
Charles Augustus Milverton, their most formiddable opponent since Professor Moriarity. As the name suggests, Milverton, played with sniggering, loathsome villainy by Robert Hardy, makes his living obtaining compromising information about London's elite and threatening to ruin them unless paid fortunes in hush money. His long history of blackmail has left a wreckage-trail of scandal and suicide all over Victorian England, but his precautions are so thorough, and his intelligence so keen, that his victims have no choiue but to pay up or endure the consequences.
When Lady Eva Brackenwell becomes Milverton's next target, however, she employs Holmes to recover old love letters which, if made public, will foil her upcoming marriage to a young lord. And herein lies the story's main departure from formula: instead of a conventional mystery for the consulting detective, we have a problem better suited to a noirish private investigator. How can Holmes prevent a master blackmailer from spilling his illicit goods with the wedding only a few days away?
The late and extremely great Jeremy Brett always played Holmes as being either a bit less or a bit more than human depending on his mood and the case at hand -- he was often ill-tempered, arrogant, bad-mannered, and insensitive to the point of cruelty, and even in his best moments he seemed to be approximating human feelings rather than actually experiencing them; yet he was also courageous, brilliant, dogged, loyal, and imbued with a fierce sense of justice and a terrifying resolve to see the mystery solved and the evildoer punished. It is this last category that the writers chose to explore in BLACKMAILER, in which an increasingly desperate and frustrated Holmes finds himself posing as a plumber and seducing (in chaste Victorian fashion) Milverton's naive housekeeper, Agatha, so as to gain access to Milverton's home. To what extent Holmes feels anything for Agatha, if at all, is unclear, but Brett's subtle acting shows that while Holmes may not be capable of experiencing affection, he is certainly capable of feeling shame -- shame encouraged by a disgusted Watson, whose gentlemanly sense of honor is revolted at this ultraMachiavellian move.
Hardy's Milverton, far from being a foil for Holmes' genius, proves to be a full match for our hero, who grows to hate his antagonist and finally throws aside the subtleties of espionage for brute force and thievery. The story's resolution, one of the most violent in the history of the series, is simultaneously satisfying and humbling -- in the end, Holmes and Watson serve as little more than accessories after the fact to the world's most unlikely vigilante. The only real down note in the whole production was the decision by the director to edit Inspector Lestrade's role in the story to a glorified cameo -- a potentially classic scene where he is talking to Holmes and Watson about a crime without realizing he is talking to its perpetrators unfortunately did not make the final cut.
THE MASTER BLACKMAILER stands as one of the more disturbing and poignent of all the Grenada TV Holmes outings. Normally it is Holmes who gives the lecture and those around him who are the pupils. Here, it is the detective who learns one of the hardest of life's lessons -- that the means used to defeat evil are often as bad as the evil itself.
The Sherlock Holmes Masterpiece Film
Ian Low Boon Tian | Singapore | 06/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the Granada episodes and even including all other Holmes film canon, The Master Blackmailer is without doubt, the finest Holmes film to have been made. Deft performances, superb adaption and writing, and a very cinematic and moody approach by director Peter Hammond makes this atmospheric Holmes tale gripping and tense throughout the 100 minutes of film.
Jeremy Brett was visibly ill, but yet for TMB, he managed to exude his confidence and his quirky mannerisms without going the slightest overboard. Even more difficult, he had to portray a disguise of a plumber whilst romancing a maid within the villian's household. It slightly recalls his My Fair Lady role of a dashing and debonaire suitor to Audrey Hepburn. Although in his 60s by then, his portrayal of a naive plumber is both convincing and even subtlely moving at times.
Edward Hardwicke is his usual loyal and trustworthy sidekick, at once intelligent and at times, even exhibiting some wittiness in his exchanges with Holmes. Yes, there are some light moments, but not many, as Hammond and Jeremy Paul, the writer, was more focused on the darker aspects of this story. And there is none darker than the villian himself, Charles Augustus Milverton, deliciously played by Robert Hardy. Both Hardy and Eric Porter, who played Moriarty in the 1st series, remains the best Holmes villians ever shown on screen. Hardy is at once ruthless, and cunning, whilst displaying a taste for opulence.
The whole movie moves at a brisk pace, with wonderful locations and superb lighting throughout, the best in fact, of all the Granada series. It clearly shows that the best Holmes stories remains the classic Doyle ones. No other pastiche on screen can capture the essence of Holmes and Watson and their surrounding cast of characters and environments. Even Lestrade makes a brief appearance here and is true to the Doyle writing.
Over the years, there has been numerous new TV movies of Sherlock Holmes, but this remains the supreme filmic Holmes that there is. It is not the best place to start with the Brett series, but it is certainly the high point of a series that has since been the epitome of classic television, and clearly puts to shame 90 percent of all theatrical films out there.
The Master Blackmailer - Best in its class."