Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hound of the Baskervilles (BBC-TV, 1982)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I picked out a film Charles had recently downloaded: a 1982 version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles shot in four half-hour episodes for a BBC-TV series. It was a quite good and workmanlike Holmes adaptation, remarkably faithful to the letter and the spirit of the book — though the exteriors of Dartmoor looked like one of those ancient rock quarries the BBC’s location scouts were always turning up when they needed places that looked like alien planets for Doctor Who — and the actor playing Holmes, Tom Baker, had just come off a long stint as the Doctor in the final incarnation of the original series (so Peter Cushing was not the only actor to play both Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who!).

There were a few omissions in Alexander Baron’s workmanlike script — Holmes organizing his “Baker Street Irregulars” to search through the trash of London’s hotels for the cut-up copy of The Times of London from which Beryl Stapleton clipped words to form her warning note to Sir Henry Baskerville is eliminated (so when the action moves from London to Dartmoor only two threads snap, not three; and in the book Stapleton is revealed as the villain about a chapter before the revelation that he is in fact a long-lost heir to the Baskerville fortune and is attempting to seize it by murdering everyone in line ahead of him. Director Peter Duguid offers an exciting, well-staged “take” on the story and the cast is certainly solidly professional without being great: Tom Baker is a bit old for Holmes (and his Watson, Terence Rigby, also looks a bit long in the tooth for his part) but he gets the air of imperturbable authority right.

Will Knightley seems oddly chosen as Dr. Mortimer — wasn’t the character described as bearded in the novel? Maybe he’s younger than Watson initially guesses but I don’t think Conan Doyle meant him to be this much of a twink — and I found myself chuckling at the line in which Holmes criticizes him for being a trained man of science embracing a belief in the supernatural, if only because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a trained man of science who ended up embracing all sorts of pretty silly beliefs in the supernatural. Christopher Ravenscroft is a good Stapleton, though he doesn’t get to express any bravura villainy; Kay Ashead had a proper air of mystery about her as Beryl Stapleton (too bad the story allowed her so few scenes); and the only misfire in the casting was Nicholas Woodeson as Sir Henry Baskerville. He’s too short, too brusque — one certainly can’t imagine Beryl Stapleton risking the wrath of her husband (who’s passing her off as his sister) by falling in love with this Sir Henry, and Woodeson, understanding that the character is supposed to be from Canada, attempts a Western Hemisphere accent that is as stilted and uncomfortable to American ears as U.S. or Canadian actors’ attempts at a British accent probably are to U.K. audiences.

Still, it’s a nice, thrilling adaptation, satisfying to long-time Holmes buffs and not a bad introduction to the story for newbies (though the Sherlock Holmes stories really should be read before you see the films based on them), and the only false point were the weird attempts to find suspense points so what would otherwise have been a quite decent two-hour TV-movie could be broken up serial-style into four half-hour episodes!