BFI exploring the mystery of the missing Sherlock

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The BFI is calling on ‘detectives’ around the world to see if they can help discover a copy of the world’s first feature film starring Sherlock Holmes. High on the list of the BFI’s Most Wanted films is A Study in Scarlet, that was released 100 years ago this autumn and hasn’t been seen in generations.

 

The silent film was directed by George Pearson, whose 1923 film Love, Life and Laughter was discovered by EYE, the Dutch film archive, earlier this year. It is an adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story A Study in Scarlet which concerns a fictional murder which takes place on Brigham Young’s trek across American with his Mormon followers. Sherlock solves a series of murders through masterly deduction.

Can you help solve the mystery of the missing film?

 

This call-out coincides with a landmark exhibition on the consulting detective, and the city that inspired the stories, at the Museum of London, opening 17 October.

Alex Werner, curator of the Museum of London’s Sherlock Holmes exhibition, said: ‘The long filmic history of Sherlock Holmes is unique – dominating popular culture in a manner only to be rivalled perhaps by Dracula or Frankenstein. As we prepare for the museum;s major exploration of the most famous fictional Londoner of all time, it would be a remarkable achievement to discover this missing film in its centenary year, and at the very least, remind the public of Sherlock’s endurance on-screen, interpreted literally hundreds of times for over a century.’

Bryony Dixon, curator, Silent Film, BFI National Archive said: ‘Every archivist dreams of finding lost films. But this is a film of great importance. Sherlock Holmes is internationally renowned as a great detective. It would be wonderfully appropriate if a super-sleuth could help us celebrate the centenary ofthis film with a chance to see it.’

Nathalie Morris, Senior Curator – Special Collections, BFI National Archive gives a few extra clues:

Who made it? – A Study in Scarlet was the first film director George Pearson made for the Samuelson Manufacturing Company.

Who played Sherlock Holmes? – The casting of Sherlock Holmes was a challenge, asit was for filmmakers before and since,. As Pearson recalled in his autobiography,”much depended upon his physical appearance, build, height, and mannerisms,” andit was important to find an actor who could live up to the general public’s idea of thegreat detective. By luck, one of Samuelson’s employees fitted the bill. James Bragington was not an actor, but Pearson was confident that he would be able tocontrol his performance sufficiently. He was pleased with the results and felt that Bragington had played the part ‘excellently’ (all the same, A Study in Scarlet is Bragington’s only known film credit). When the Samuelson Company made a second Holmes adaptation, The Valley of Fear, two years later, the stage actor H.A. Saintsbury was cast in the role of Holmes.

Where and when was it made? –  A Study in Scarlet was shot at Worton Hall studios and on location in the summer of 1914. Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and Southport Sands in Merseyside stood in for the Rocky Mountains and the Utah plains. Reviewers praised Pearson’s clever handling of the film’s settings, finding theopening scenes of the Mormons crossing the desert ‘very beautiful’.

Near simultaneously and entirely separately, Francis Ford made an American version with the same title. This version was released in December 1914 but is also missing. And it is not alone, Pearson’s second Holmes film, The Valley of Fear (1916), starring H.A. Saintsbury, is also missing.

 

If you find it contact: sherlockholmes@bfi.org.uk or via social media using#findSherlock

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