CIPC #224: The adventures of Sherlock Holmes S1 E6, The speckled band

If ever some dimwit decides to feed my blog posts into a machine learning engine and make it produce one of its own, it will probably write about a murder mystery. Sometimes I feel that’s all I ever write about. Today’s post is not going to change that feeling, because we’re talking about Sherlock Holmes again. This time, he is being played by Jeremy Brett. The episode under investigation, The speckled band, is a pretty close adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story of the same name. But there is one very significant alteration: doctor Grimesby Roylott is shown at a chessboard.

Roylott is supposed to be at odds with pretty much everyone in town, so he is probably playing correspondence chess or perhaps going over some games. As there is no chess book in view, the former seems more likely. The doctor has spent a lot of time in Australia, so perhaps he is playing correspondence with someone from there.

But why? In Conan Doyle’s original story, there is no mention of Roylott playing chess. If anything, it goes against his character. Well, there is a good reason this board is in the movie: Roylott is not playing with black pieces, but with poison green ones.1 I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his daughter is dressed in white in that picture above. The position on the board is this one:2

Roylott plays Rd1 here, thereby checkmating white. Rb8 would have been a slightly cuter alternative. If I had to direct this scene, I would make sure that black checkmated white by capturing the queen, in order to maximise symbolism.

But all of this is anyway just in Roylott’s analysis, not in real life. In real life, white’s forces are not just two pawns but two pieces of formidable power: Sherlock Holmes and dr. John Watson. In those, circumstances, black is obviously lost.

Realism: 3/5 The position is quite plausible. White should have resigned eons ago, of course, and black could probably have mated long before, but these things happen. The one strange thing is the doubled a-pawn.

Probable winner: Black Green. It’s mate.

1. [It should be venomous instead of poisonous, I know, but writing it wrongly gives me the possibility to be pedantic by correcting myself. A master stroke that opens up a world of possibilities for pedants all over the world.]
2. [There’s a decent case to be made that a diagram is just a special kind of speckled band.]