WS Barring-Gould created a third brother to explain why Mycroft was working in London and not home minding the country estate. Barring-Gould assumes two positions regarding this mysterious third brother:
1) The Holmes family are upperclass
2) there is a country estate
Sherlock refers to his ancestors as being country squires who lived much as country squires did. It’s entirely possible this is suggesting like a lot of the upperclass landowners there were mis-investments, money being squandered and a family line being beset with all sorts of financial and interpersonal issues. Anyone who watches Downton Abbey will be familiar with the story of a family where there were no immediate male heirs. There could have once been a country estate, but not one Mycroft inherited.
Additionally, Barring-Gould is keen on the idea of the Holmes brothers being upperclass. It’s possible they were not. Mycroft would have joined the civil service following the results of the 1854 Northcote-Trevelyan report. This report criticised the civil service for being a dumping ground of the sons of the upperclass who did not demonstrate the kind of pioneering attitude Britian needed to oversee its colonial interests, the report recommended an end to nepotism and suggested the Chinese method of recruitment where potential candidates took an exam to secure their appointment. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the recommendations of the report were being put into place, by this time Mycroft would have been done with university and very likely would have found himself taking further exams to secure his employment as Ronald Knox* suggests as clerk in an unmentioned branched of government, before rising to his position as the British Government by the time Holmes and Watson meet. Oxbridge would not have been a barrier to the middle class Holmes brothers who could have benefited from patronage, something the Anglican church often did. Sherlock is quite enthusiastic about the board schools, “Beacons of the future! Capsules with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.” As he’s a man who sees education for all as the future perhaps because this suggests own education was paid for by charitable or philanthropic means. Fittingly, this quote comes from ‘The Naval Treaty‘ which could be read as Conan Doyle’s commentary on the civil service – Percy Phelps, through his uncle Lord Holdhurst secured a position in the foreign office, looses an important document and has an epic breakdown as a result.
Of course, there’s also nothing to say Mycroft was managing the country estate and spent his weekends there checking up on things.
(*’The Mystery of Mycroft’ by Ronald A Knox, possibly published in 1934 – not sure but it’s definitely in HW Bell’s 1934 collection of essays ‘Baker Street Studies‘)
Warning: Contains Spoilers
Warning this contains spoilers
I’ve been procrastinating a bit lately and re-watching ‘Sherlock’ during breaks in rehearsal at work. I’ve haven’t really been keeping up to date with the ‘Sherlock’ community so not really sure what the current popular theories about the IOUs in ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, so here is my theory…
They aren’t aimed at Sherlock, they’re aimed at Mycroft.
Fandom has pretty much decided Mycroft is watching Sherlock constantly through the CCTV network but I think he’s got better things to do with his time than follow his little brother around London. I would put money on Moriarty being under maximum surveillance following his acquittal, and all that ‘GET SHERLOCK’ graffiti in his cell would have unnerved Mycroft.
If you think about it, he is one person that Moriarty really owes.
The graffiti is to antagonise Mycroft and taunt Sherlock. Sherlock notices it properly in the office building opposite Scotland Yard and I think this is when he starts to piece together what’s happened.
However you look at Mycroft, one thing seems pretty clear – he’s isolated but still part of Sherlock’s circle (however separate) and I would bet that pre-Reich if Mycroft needed help, Sherlock, John and Lestrade would be there (willingly or not). Post-Reich, I doubt they’d be as interested in helping him as he’s (inadvertently) cost Sherlock his ‘life’, risks John’s mental health and Lestrade’s job is probably at risk.
Perfect time for Moriarty’s gang to attempt to bring down the British Government. However, I doubt they’ll get far…
Whenever you put Sherlock Holmes on screen it will always, inevitably, be wrong (too many changes, not enough changes, wears a deerstalker, is too gay, not gay enough… etc) but on the whole, people are quite forgiving of Sherlock. We’ll accept a short, blond Holmes as long as you get Watson right. People are less forgiving of a bad-Watson.
But what about Mycroft?
I did a quick search for Mycroft on the IMDb character search and you’d be surprised looking at the list of some of the actors who have portrayed him:
Only Fry & Gray (with apologies, neither can be described as ‘corpulent’) come even close to the description of our first encounter with the elder Holmes: “Heavily built and massive, there was a suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure.” (GREE). Holmesians get upset when writers ‘mess around’ with Sherlock and Watson but Mycroft is fair game.
In the truly awful ‘Case of Evil’, Richard E Grant plays a crippled former drug-addicted version of Mycroft. It’s one of those reveals that makes a terrible film just that little bit worse. Christopher Lee plays closer to canon, you can believe “he is, on occasion, the British government.” even if he physically doesn’t resemble the character. Stephen Fry is a buffoonishly bizarre Mycroft but it’s a clever piece of casting and Boris Klyvuev’s Mycroft has perhaps the greatest developed home life of any (so far) – he’s very fond of his dog (a red setter), has a son and works for the Foreign Office. There’s no reason why Mycroft can’t have a son, unless you take Sherlock’s comments about “no ambition and no energy” very literally.
Out of all the Mycroft’s, I would argue that Mark Gatiss is the truest version will ever seen on screen. A dangerously clever man who runs the British government and has an ongoing weight problem.