The sad thing watching this beautifully restored version of The Hound of the Baskervilles from 1983 is the regret it causes. The regret is that Ian Richardson only got such a limited opportunity to commit his interpretation of the famous sleuth to screen. He is fantastic as Holmes. Serious and funny, charming and cold, clever and genial, complicated and manipulative. He is an affable pleasure to watch. Possibly too cheerful for some Holmes purists, but all the more watchable for it.
Richardson starred in two films as Holmes in 1983, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. They were made originally as television films by the American producer Sy Weintraub and English producer Otto Plaschkes as part of an intended series of six – before the Granada Television commitment to film every single Sherlock Holmes story with star Jeremy Brett became clear and led to some legal wrangling which resulted in the abandonment of the project.
These HD and widescreen restored editions of both films are now available for the first time.
The Hound of the Baskervilles looks stunning – despite being filmed for the most part in a studio set, with limited location footage, the staging of the world of Holmes is wonderfully done. The set built as the exterior of Baker Street is a huge and intricately detailed piece of old fashioned film-making.
This is one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories and one of the most often filmed. This production doesn’t do anything particularly new with the story, but does its thing very well. The tale of the Baskerville family being tormented by a giant glowing monster dog on the foggy Devonshire moors is a famous one, even if you don’t know who/ what is responsible for all the deaths. For the most part the film follows the story of the book, with Donald Churchill’s particularly befuddled Watson being sent ahead to the big house while Holmes does his own reconnaissance and investigations alone.
Churchill is a properly old school Watson, charmingly huffing and puffing with exasperated confusion at his best friend’s cleverness. Ronald Lacey as a slightly creepy Inspector Lestrade gives good value and Denholm Elliot, Connie Booth, Eleanor Brown and Glynis Barber are particularly worthy of note. Brian Blessed is also wonderful as a jealous local artist – a brilliantly judged performance of disappointment and anger which seems both subtly restrained and over the top in a single moment. A neat trick.
One of the best physical performances in the film though is from Martin Shaw as Sir Henry Baskerville. I say physical performance because in a very curious move, especially for an actor as well known as Shaw was at this point, his entire vocal performance has been overdubbed by another actor (reportedly an un-credited Kerry Shale). Was Shaw’s American accent not that great? Presumably not. However it’s incredibly disconcerting watching someone performing with physical skill when you know that what you’re hearing is patently not them.
The climax on the foggy moor is done with a lot of dry-ice, which clings to the ground like a music video and gives robs proceedings of much of a sense of reality. In fact it makes everything seem like a science fiction swamp planet. But it works; the stylistic flourishes in the movie adds drama.
The film is a great entry to the album of Sherlock Holmes films, and the playful glint in Ian Richardson’s eyes as the genius sleuth makes it very watchable indeed. If you like a bit of late Victorian and early Edwardian detective fiction, it’s very much worth a watch.
Both The Hound of The Baskervilles and The Sign of Four are released on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand/ Download on the 25th April.