Monday, 30 November -0001

How I became SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Martin Clunes plays the creator of Sherlock Holmes in a new TV drama. Here, he tells Melonie Clarke how the author cracked his toughest case

Written by Melonie Clarke
He is famous for playing immature lunk Gary in Men Behaving Badly and an uptight GP in Doc Martin, but Martin Clunes may soon be equally well known for a very different role. In a new ITV drama, Arthur & George, Clunes stars as the ‘Arthur’ of the title – the celebrated writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Julian Barnes, the three-part drama tells the story of some real-life sleuthing by the creator of the fictional master detective. In 1906, Conan Doyle personally investigated the case of George Edalji, an Anglo-Indian imprisoned for allegedly mutilating animals in the village of Great Wyrley, Staffordshire. Even though the mutilations continued after his imprisonment, the police were set on the idea that he was guilty – perhaps because of his race. Thanks to Conan Doyle’s efforts, however, Edalji was exonerated in 1907 – one of the key events leading to the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal that same year.

MartinClunes-Feb27-02-590Conan Doyle meets his future wife Jean

Arthur & George was produced by Clunes’s wife, Philippa Braithwaite, so did she have her husband in mind for the part from the off? ‘I knew she had been speaking to an agent about optioning it, but I didn’t know she had me in mind for it and I thought it was nosy to ask,’ says Clunes. ‘I just left her to it, because she is a producer and that’s what she does. It wasn’t until quite late on that I twigged. I knew it [being married to a producer] was going to pay off one day,’ he laughs.

‘I thanked Philippa for making me do it, because it reminded me how much I like doing my job and how it’s good to be scared and challenged. I got quite fired up by it, because it was something new and exciting.’

Not that he wasn’t anxious about taking on the role. ‘I am sure that if somebody else had said “Why don’t you do this?”, I would have said “I’m a bit scared”. It was different from what I normally do, and everything gets harder when you get older. It is quite outside my comfort zone in a way. My comfort zone has been Doc Martin or documentaries about animals. That has been my life for so long.

‘I bail out of things quite frequently for one reason or another.’

MartinClunes-Feb27-03-590-quote

Does he have many regrets, then?

‘Never. I’ve only ever punched the air with joy when I’ve got myself out of something – and I told Daniel Craig that at the time,’ he jokes, referring to James Bond. ‘He has my blessing.’

So did he feel added pressure portraying someone so well known? ‘You can be accused of getting it wrong,’ he says. ‘If you’re playing someone you’ve just made up, then you sort of become an expert on that character. If you’re playing Mr Shepherd in Nativity 3, for example, then you’re the only person who knows about Mr Shepherd.
MartinClunes-Feb27-04-176Former Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett‘I don’t really look like him [Conan Doyle]; I have associations to help me look a bit like him, but I still look like me. You can get hamstrung by doing elaborate make-up, whereas it’s actually about the story.

‘I had to speak with an authentic Scottish accent, though. I have Scottish horses, but sadly they were no help,’ he chuckles. ‘It’s just pinning it down, because he was east-coast Scottish and I think we’re mainly exposed to west-coast accents down here. It’s too nice on the east coast, so they all stay up there.’

Coincidentally, Clunes’s mother was the cousin of celebrated Sherlock Holmes actor Jeremy Brett. ‘I think I saw all of the episodes because Jeremy was in them,’ he says.

So was Brett an inspiration while he was training to be an actor? ‘Just as I was leaving drama school he came back from LA to start doing Sherlock Holmes, and he was like that older relative in the business. He was all encouragement. He was fantastic, great, amazing company. He used to whizz through our lives in a glamorous bubble. He was really theatrical. There are none left like Jeremy. I miss them. The Peter O’Tooles, all those big people.’

What did he think of Conan Doyle after playing him? ‘I never think to judge characters. If you look at film clips of him, he’s got a lot of lines here [pointing to his eyes], so I think he must have spent a lot of time smiling. I think he was a good-hearted, kindly man. Slightly arrogant maybe, but that possibly comes with being one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. I think he took it on the chin when he got his knocks in life. I liked him. I’m impressed by him.’

So could we see Clunes reprise the role? ‘Well, that hadn’t crossed our minds before,’ he jokes. ‘Let me just jot that down…

‘It’s good for television to have returning dramas, and there are other cases he did look into, which Julian Barnes needs to quickly jot down. I think it would be fun to revisit. But who knows – we’ll have to see.’ 

Arthur & George starts on ITV, Monday at 9pm.

ALSO ON THE CASE…

MartinClunes-Feb27-05-590

George Edalji (Arsher Ali)
Ali plays wrongly accused George Edalji. He says, ‘Most people, when you mention the Great Wyrley Outrages [as the case was known], know what that entailed. The case, and the pardon, was quite a historic event. A lot of laws and regulations were changed. So it is a landmark case in terms of law now.

‘I have never played a real person, so that was good. You don’t have to use your imagination to fill in all those gaps.’

Alfred ‘Woodie’ WOOD (Charles Edwards)
Edwards plays Conan Doyle’s trusted secretary. He says, ‘I loved the book, and I liked the fact that Alfred Wood was a real person. He existed but nothing is known about him, and that is potentially very interesting. It makes the process really satisfying to go forward with that character.

‘Sir Arthur’s son suggested Woodie was the model for Dr Watson. We hint at it in the drama, but it is not overdone.’

Reverend Shapurji Edalji (Art Malik)
Malik, who starred in The Jewel In The Crown, plays the father of the wrongly accused George. He says, ‘The minute I put on the dog collar I thought, “OK, now I know who he is.” I have never played a vicar. I think this is the first time I have played anybody with priest-like qualities.

‘Reverend Edalji is an honourable man. He cares about the truth and justice, and I think his passion was that George be allowed to go back to his work as a solicitor.’

MartinClunes-Feb27-06-590

Jean Leckie (Hattie Morahan)
Morahan plays Jean Leckie, who married Conan Doyle following his first wife’s death. She says, ‘Jean first met him when she was quite a young woman and he was married and had children. There are immediate strong feelings, but they are both determined not to do anything untoward, and not to betray his wife, who is unwell. I do admire Jean. I think it must have been very difficult at the time to contend with other people’s gossip and sense of scandal. They had to endure that quite a lot.’

Charlotte Edalji (Emma Fielding)
Fielding plays the wife of Reverend Edalji and the mother of George. She says, ‘At the time, it was unusual to have what would then be called a “mixed marriage”. It was quite a bold step for her. She had the full backing of her family. They thought he was a good man and they completely backed her marriage, which says a lot about them.

‘The Edaljis live in a small community and are quite poor. I think because they stand out they might be a target.’



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