sun 29/03/2020

DVD: Sherlock Holmes - The Hound of the Baskervilles | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Sherlock Holmes - The Hound of the Baskervilles

DVD: Sherlock Holmes - The Hound of the Baskervilles

Who's the hound, and who's the ham in this Soviet film version?

The Soviet thinking person's detective? Vasily Livanov as Holmes from the 1981 The Hound of the Baskervilles

We in the UK have much enjoyed our contemporary Sherlock Holmes recently, courtesy of Cumberbatch et al. It’s amazing to think that, at the height of the Cold War, Soviet television was bashing out TV versions of the Holmes stories. And they were water-cooler discussion productions (despite obvious absence in those days of water-coolers). Director Igor Maslennikov made no fewer than nine Conan Doyle-themed works in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

We in the UK have much enjoyed our contemporary Sherlock Holmes recently, courtesy of Cumberbatch et al. It’s amazing to think that, at the height of the Cold War, Soviet television was bashing out TV versions of the Holmes stories. And they were water-cooler discussion productions (despite obvious absence in those days of water-coolers). Director Igor Maslennikov made no fewer than nine Conan Doyle-themed works in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The first of these to reach further shores in DVD format is this 1981 account of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

It has production values to rival anything of its time –- Lenfilm studio was at its peak, and the Siberian tundra was more than match Dartmoor. Casting is as top as it gets – imagine the best of the RSC and National Theatre combined. There is absolutely classic thesping from Vasily Livanov as the elusive Holmes, and Vitaly Solomin as the reticent Watson, with a show-stopping performance from Nikita Milkhalov as the returning Sir Henry Baskerville. Nominally Sir Henry is returning from Canada, but in spirit he’s arriving from Siberia, in full fur-coat and accompanying range of gestures and mannersims. Overacting doesn't come much better.

Essentially, it’s a theatre piece in glorious screen performance – Livanov and Solomin are playing around the edges of the detective genre story as well as Chekhov, while Mikhalkov is in full Shakespearean swing. Mikhalkov – a 1995 Oscar-winner for his performance in and direction of Burnt by the Sun - has gone on to become Russia’s chief cinema honcho. You can understand why.

The result is more than entertaining – everyone camps it up, and you wonder if anyone told them they weren’t in The Three Musketeers. It's a rather wonderful Soviet vision of that Soviet horse-chesnut, Britain as "foggy Albion" straight out of Dickens. As for the hound, you have to see it for yourself. The musical score from Vladimir Dashkevich ranges from the sub-minstrel British to contemporary Eighties. No extras on this disc, and the subtitles could be better. Livanov received an honorary OBE for his Holmes work. Richly deserved.

Overacting doesn't come much better

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters