26 December 2002 | se7en45
A Television Masterpiece
The BBC, here in England, have just broadcast the latest version of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Sherlock Holmes story "The Hound of the Baskervilles". I had my reservations about this latest stab at the old chestnut, I mean there's so MANY versions out there (including the legendary Hammer version with Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett in his definitive series for television and who can forget Basil Rathbone's rendition?). However, despite my misgivings, I sat down to watch this new addition and I after watching it I am still reeling from the excitement it generated.
The opening image of a dead body on a post-mortem table was spine chilling and shocking. It immediately set a dark and unsettling tone for the rest of this bleak adaptation. The cold colour scheme was absolutely amazing in creating fear and suspense. Mystery lapped at the corners and the fog whispered unseen danger. The cinematography was very stylish and very much in keeping with Doyle's original novel. There's constant rain, mud, mist, strange sounds, almost all colour is drained from the harsh landscape of the forbidding moor. The mood of hopelessness begins to seep into the mind which leaves behind a dour and disturbing emotion.
The performance by Richard Roxburgh (from "Moulin Rouge" and soon to be seen as Dracula in the forthcoming "Van Helsing") has grit and edge which I found refreshing. Gone are the melodramatic cliches of the deerstalker and a pipe (props craftily employed by Rathbone to enhance his character) and in comes the reality of Holmes sitting on a toilet as he injects cocaine into his pock-marked forearm. Later we see him flicking the ash from his cigar into a champagne glass, these and many other habits are shown which indicate how untidy Holmes is in his private life but when it comes to solving crimes he is like a committed bloodhound.
Dr Watson, played by Ian Hart, is another fabulous performer. Gone is the bumbling idiot of old and in comes a tough ex-soldier who has a sharp mind and a very focussed attitude. He even displays genuine anger towards Holmes when he learns that he has been used to engineer a plan devised by Holmes. Although he respects Holmes, Dr Watson also feels mistrust when he finds Holmes abusing their friendship. This again is very much in keeping with the spirit of the books. It is a myth to think of Dr Watson as a simple buffoon who just writes down the exploits of his superior friend, Sherlock Holmes.
All the other actors were superb in their roles. There was a perfect harmony in the acting and their readings of the roles were spot on in every department.
The music, cinematography, locations, production, direction, special effects, etc were wonderful and masterly. This gothic film could easily have been screened in cinemas, it has enough excitement and terror for any multiplex. Once again, Television leads the way forward in great quality drama.
I sincerely hope that the sparkling chemistry displayed between Roxburgh and Hart will bring future installments in the adventures of Holmes and Watson on TV. There is huge potential and I think it would be a real shame if the BBC stopped making further adaptations with this fantastic team.
I am now eagerly awaiting the DVD release so that I can enjoy this lovely gem once more. Go on, curl up in front of the fire, dim the lights, turn up the volume, sip your hot chocolate and be stunned by an evening in front of the TV. Let your imagination be transported into the wild and misty moor. Up ahead, beware the hound that prowls in the shadows of the dripping moon...