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UK and World Television Premiere - July 27, 2005- 9:00 PM - BBC TWO
Canadian Television Premiere - ?
US Television Premiere - ?

Arthur Conan Doyle:
Douglas Henshall

Tim McInnerny
Saskia Reeves
Jean Leckie:
Emily Blunt
Mary Doyle:
Sinead Cusack
Joseph Bell:
Brian Cox


David Pirie
Cilla Ware

BBC Scotland Production for
Douglas Henshall plays Arthur Conan Doyle

Handsome blue eyes, capable of twinkling with laughter, flashing with anger or betraying deep vulnerability… It isn't what would be expected in a portrayal of the author Arthur Conan Doyle. Most people – if they do have a picture of the world famous writer in their minds – think of the creator of Sherlock Holmes as a straitlaced older gentleman, albeit one who was fascinated by spiritualism and fairies.

However in the new feature length drama
The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle, Douglas Henshall’s Doyle is 33 years old, energetic and vital, but troubled by dark memories and passionate undercurrents. Largely based on fact, the drama explores an incredibly turbulent period in Doyle's life when, seemingly at war with his creation, he decided to 'kill off' Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, prompting public outrage, scandalised headlines in the press, and even hate mail. It was during this period that the author also learnt of the tragic death of his father in an asylum and had to care for his wife Louise (Saskia Reeves) who was diagnosed with consumption (TB) - a condition Doyle, a qualified doctor, had failed to spot. And as if that wasn’t enough, Doyle then met and fell in love with the young, beautiful and spirited Jean Leckie (Emily Blunt) and struggled to stay faithful to his dying wife.

Into this emotional maelstrom in the drama steps a biographer Selden (Tim McInnerny) who starts to probe into Doyle's past and reveals the truth behind the origins of Sherlock Holmes: a deeply personal, dark truth concealed in Arthur Conan Doyle's childhood and early family life.

Directed by the Emmy and Bafta-award winning Cilla Ware (
The Illustrated Mum), The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle has real emotional impact.

That was part of the attraction for actor Douglas Henshall (39): "
I really liked the fact that we play everyone as real human beings, who very much had feelings and emotions rather than just the buttoned-up archetype of Victorian times. Obviously people in that period didn't and couldn't just blurt out anything or do anything they wanted to do, but that adds to the emotional currency. People couldn't go for counselling or whatever, they had to deal with problems by themselves."

Douglas had read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories when he was younger, but he got into them in earnest for his research for the role: "
And found I enjoyed them so much that I read them all – the novels though possibly not all the short stories – just for pleasure. They are a great read. And obviously I love all the films, Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett were great Holmes."

Arthur Conan Doyle is his first major screen role playing a real person, though he did once play T.E. Lawrence - "
a cartoon part where I more or less said 'Hello, I'm T.E. Lawrence'" - in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Though he read up on Arthur Conan Doyle, he stopped short of listening to tapes of a rare interview with the famous author. He says: "Few people would know what Doyle sounded like but the point is that the performance isn't about giving an impersonation, as an actor you've just got to go with your feeling for the character."

Douglas had a lot of empathy with fellow Scot Doyle, wrestling with being famous as well as the fame of his creation while coping with an incredibly stressful personal situation. Douglas says: "
Arthur Conan Doyle had a lot to deal with – the childhood problems with his father who then died alone in an asylum, his wife's tuberculosis and his love for another woman. It was a lot to deal with and he was in turmoil. Nowadays he could get help, but he had to cope alone with the guilt and the grief and it is very sensitively handled in the drama."

Although the time period featured is when the Doyle family were living near London, this cinematic drama was shot entirely on location in Scotland utilising real country homes - including Ardgowan House in Inverclyde and Hunterston House in Ayrshire - Glasgow University and Park Circus area as suitably period backdrops. For Douglas, it was his first major role filming in Scotland since his movie debut in
Orphans in 1997, which was followed by his major television breakthrough Psychos on Channel 4. "It was nice to work on home territory and to be part of the whole thing, in working every day with the crew rather than just the new guy who comes in for a brief day or two here and there. That was good," he says. What wasn't so good was the moustache - a requirement for the character and indeed the period generally. "I don't like glue on my face and I didn't want to be in make-up for hours, so I grew my own moustache, but as soon as it was feasible, it came off."

David Pirie, the writer

A slightly battered early edition of Sherlock Holmes stories was the inspiration for a life-long fascination with the detective, and the whole story behind him, for writer David Pirie. He first came across the stories as an eight-year-old in St Andrews and went onto devour the novels under the bed sheets. A decade or so later, when studying under renowned university lecturer Leavis, Pirie heard these novels decried as "
not serious works". He determined to prove otherwise. Since then he has kept returning to them, trying to find the real essential story behind the detective yarns. He enjoyed acclaim and success five years ago with the BBC television series The Murder Rooms featuring Ian Richardson playing Dr Joseph Bell, author Arthur Conan Doyle's acknowledged mentor. However his quest, to find out what led Conan Doyle to create such a character as Sherlock Holmes, intricately complicated but also very believably human, wasn't sated.

Now with the new feature length drama
The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle, David at least feels he has got to grips with the inner dimension of the author and his creation. Says David: "I've just always wanted to know what led him to create Holmes, a character of great depth and complexity. People say he is calculating but he is also very emotional. He seems real and many people across the world have thought he was real and existed. But he was a character, the author Arthur Conan Doyle is the real person at the heart of it all. Biographers have charted his life, but somehow that essential something – the story behind the story – didn't quite seem to emerge. On the face of it, Arthur Conan Doyle – author and adventurer – is known but it his public face that people see and yet he too was a very emotional man, driven in ways that have never been clearly explored before.

As Dr Thomas Walmsley, a psychiatrist with a particular interest in the psychology of public people, observed: 'For reasons that have yet to be fully explored, there seems to have been a greater tension between the public and the private in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than in any other public figure I have ever studied with one possible exception, the former US President Richard Nixon'."

Set between 1892 – when Doyle was 33 - and the earliest days of the new century,
The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle is a fictional exploration of the dark family secrets which drove the author to create the world famous detective. Although fictional, it is largely rooted in fact focussing on a time in his life when Doyle – played by Douglas Henshall - should have had the world at his feet, feted as the most famous author on earth, but was wrestling with various different personal demons. At the core of it all is the tragic death of his father in an asylum, in the wake of which Doyle's life entered turbulent and emotional waters as he mysteriously and controversially killed off Sherlock Holmes, provoking widespread condemnation, banner headlines and hatemail. He was also tending to his wife Louise (Saskia Reeves), seriously ill with tuberculosis, while at the same time falling in love with another woman Jean Leckie (Emily Blunt). These are the undisputed facts but the drama features a biographer Selden (played by Tim McInnerny), who begins to work on an account of the author's life - a painstaking probe into Doyle's past which slowly turns into a psychological battle about the truth behind the author’s struggle with his creation.

Says David: "
I didn't just want to do a drama documentary. I wanted to really get under the skin of Arthur Conan Doyle. The facts exist and virtually every conversation in the piece is based on correspondence and records which exist, but I wanted to get beyond the facts, beyond what was said, beyond what can be documented. Arthur Conan Doyle was a very passionate man and I wanted to get to the heart of that passion, to understand the artist in him."

Copyright BBC Press Office July 7, 2005
BBC Press Release - July 7, 2005

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Everybody knows the name. Everybody knows Sherlock Holmes - or thinks they do. But few know the true story of Conan Doyle's remarkable life and fewer still the extent to which Doyle suppressed and sanitised the pain of Holmes' birth. 

Set between 1892 and the early 1900s, a new feature length drama for
BBC TWO, The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes & Arthur Conan Doyle, written by David Pirie (Murder Rooms, The Woman in White), is an exploration of the dark family past which drove Arthur Conan Doyle to create the world-famous detective… and then to murder him.

Contrary to general perceptions of Doyle as a strait-laced Victorian elder citizen, this Arthur (played by
Douglas Henshall) is 33 years old. He is a vital but darkly troubled man, at war with his creation.  After his father tragically dies in an asylum, Doyle's life enters turbulent and emotional waters as he mysteriously and controversially kills off Sherlock Holmes, tries to tend to his dying wife Louise (Saskia Reeves), and is tortured by his unconsummated passion for his new love Jean Leckie (Emily Blunt).

It is during this electrifying and disturbed period in the drama that Doyle agrees to work with a biographer called Selden (
Tim McInnerny) to work on an account of the author's life. But Selden slowly turns the tables on Doyle in a psychological battle which reveals the truth behind Doyle's struggle with Sherlock Holmes. Other major talents featured in the drama include Brian Cox as Doyle's mentor, Joseph Bell, and Sinead Cusack as Doyle's mother, Mary.
Press Photo Copyright BBC 2005
Press Photo Copyright BBC 2005
Press Photo Copyright BBC 2005
Press Photo Copyright BBC 2005
Press Photo Copyright BBC 2005
The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle
airs on BBC TWO July 27, 2005 at 9 PM