The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson: The Hound of the Baskervilles DVD Review

Vasili Livanov as Sherlock HolmesIgor Maslennikov’s Soviet-era adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s books for television are among Russian TV’s most successful productions of all time. Fans of the show are positively hardcore (the IMDb rating stands at 8.9/10), and it is certainly one of the most unusual renderings of the great Baker Street detective.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson: The Hound of the Baskervilles, or Priklyucheniya Sherloka Kholmsa i doktora Vatsona: Sobaka Baskerviley, features Conan Doyle’s most famous story: that of young Sir Henry Baskerville (Nikita Mikhalkov), recently come from Canada to take possession of Baskerville Hall in Devonshire following the untimely death of his uncle, Sir Charles. Sir Charles’s superstitious fear of a demonic Hound that is supposed to have dogged his family for centuries seems justified when the footprints of a massive canine are spotted near his lifeless body.

Sir Charles’s friend, young Dr Mortimer (Evgeniy Steblov), fears that the heir will meet the same fate and so calls on Sherlock Holmes (Vasili Livanov) and Dr Watson (Vitali Solomin) in the hope that they can solve the mystery and put an end to the Baskerville curse.

Livanov as Holmes and Solomin as WatsonThe only problem with The Hound of the Baskervilles, in any medium, is how little it features Sherlock Holmes. It is a ripping yarn, but any newcomer to the plot hoping for a large helping of deerstalker and pipe is likely to be deeply disappointed. The tale’s central figure is Watson, a character who can so easily be somewhat drab and colourless, and so television and film adaptations generally require an actor with a strong presence in that role which, sadly, Vitali Solomin is not. Compare Edward Hardwicke in the BBC version (or Martin Freeman in the more recent update), whose plucky portrayal of the erstwhile medic makes that production a hugely enjoyable experience. Solomin, unfortunately, is positively grim.

Maslennikov’s version is, of all versions, the most faithful to the material, following the plot of the novel like, well, like the Hound on the heels of Clan Baskerville. While this might please the more dedicated purists, it means that the film drags terribly. One wants so badly for it to just pick up the pace a bit (this is a thriller, after all), but this hopelessly devoted fidelity to the source and the monotony of watching Solomin dry for the better part of two hours becomes as bleak as a Russian winter – ultimately, it just gets on one’s nerves.

It is a pity, because Livanov’s Sherlock Holmes is delightful. Every bit as quixotic as Jeremy Brett or Benedict Cumberbatch, when he is on screen the pace skips along and the whole drama once more becomes lively. If this were the case for more than 30-odd minutes of the film, it would be a treasure indeed.

What is fascinating, though, is discovering how a Soviet director presents such a quintessentially English story. For a country that relishes adapting the literary works of others, it’s a genuinely queer experience having the tables turned. One gets to wondering how a French audience would view a BBC version of Madame Bovary, for example, or a Russian one a Channel 4 drama of The Brothers Karamazov.

The austere Russian countryside that stands in for Devon could not be less English, and the bright red postboxes in the village – the only splash of colour for miles – signifying (nay, screaming) “Englishness” are positively comical. Similarly, Sir Henry Baskerville’s (Nikita Mikhalkov’s) North American roots are signposted by an almost over-the-top cowboy motif and a bonhomie verging on psychosis. In fairness, though, Rina Zelyonaya’s Mrs Hudson is every bit as adorable as Rosalie Williams’s, and Svetlana Krychkova as the babbling housekeeper Mrs Barrymore is very well cast.

In all, as a novelty for die-hard Holmes fans and film buffs this is a curio that must be viewed, even if only once. At 145 minutes, though, the production is much too long and dull to ever become a treasured classic.

About The Author

Katherine hails from South Africa, where she subsidised her uncompleted Masters in Film Studies by trying to persuade students there was more to film than the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg. Her portfolio of film criticism includes film column “The Maguffin” for (where the controversial “What Could a Nice Girl Like Me Have Against Forrest Gump?” caused quite a stir), a year as DVD Review editor for FHM and a lifetime of utter, unrelenting geekdom. Passionate about film in its many forms, she has a particular fondness for the Marx Brothers and David Cronenberg, and a DVD collection that takes up half her lounge.

6 Responses

  1. Sergey

    This is simply another culture, more classical theater-centered that musical-centered. The comparison is wrong in the core – this Holms is for people who prefer 3 hours in theater to 1 hour of some God forbid Eurovision song contest. And the most interesting feature is not mentioned at all – the hound itself. The most of the movie is absolutely houndless, you just hear rumors, talks and, the best of all – growling of the hound. So, please, take Men in Black III, enjoy and don’t see movies which were not meant for you – no disrespect, just a good advise to keep you happy.

  2. Ioulia Morozova

    Is Mrs Naylor an American by chance? So the adaptation with Robert Downey will more suitable to her “culture”. That is a pity, that sir Henry has not invited Holmes and Watson for the breakfast in Mac Donalds. Maslennikov woud win the Oscar!!!

  3. Zuffles

    As always I find Katherine’s crits to be both well balanced and informative. The typical xenophobic, knee-jerk reponses are laughable in their naive lack of pragmatism in favour of perceived moral idealism. I mean… I like Yankee bashing as much as the rest of us, but to erroneously accuse Katherine of being an American based merely on the fact that she has given a less than grovelling critique is seriously misguided. Sadly the reactions show the usual Russian mistake of confusing length with quality. Films are made on the set…but they are made great in the cutting room. And finally, Maslennikov woud win the Oscar!!! … perhaps not in our lifetimes.

  4. Ioulia Morozova

    Dear Zuffles,
    I agree, that I am rather though, but that is the game for Russian not to like Amerrican. Actuelly I dont know if Cathrine an Amercan, but it does’nt matter. this film is a national icone, and it is belong the critic. That is like our Russian souna, European neither American dont like it because they can not enjoie it.
    I am living in Western Europa, so I know the both sides.

    And about the Oscar. Oscar rewords only the films undestandable to American. The last french Price for “The Artist” is the perfect sample.
    The whole film is made to flatter USA, I most appeciate the scene in the beginning with the insignia “Long life to Georgia”, The film was made in the moment of the war between Russia and Georgia.
    I am sorry to say but Oscar price is important only in Los Angeles. That is not the sighn of quality.

  5. Ginger

    I thoroughly understand that this film is a Russian icon and that Russian’s will vehemently defend it. I’m British and Sherlock Holmes is a British icon. As a Holmes aficionado I would have to sadly say, despite it’s popularity in being overly remade in endless TV and film adaptations, that The Hound of the Baskervilles is not Conan Doyle’s finest work. I would also agree with Ms Naylor that despite it’s obvious charm and much agreeable devotion to the original text that this version of the story is not the best out there either.
    If one were to take two seconds to read Ms Naylor’s excellent recent reviews of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, Cassavettes’ Shadows, Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful, Russell’s The Devils and Herzog’s Into the Abyss one would clearly get the impression she neither American nor the sort of lady who would slaver over the recent Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes. Maybe she’ll be good enough to review it for us when it is released on DVD.

  6. Farer

    Ooh-la-la… What battle then!
    Tastes differ. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion and the critics are free to write what they please. That’s their job. “La critique est aisée, mais l’art est difficile” … If you google a bit, you are going to find different opinions on the subject in question.
    Here are some ones:
    And a little joke to relax the atmosphere:
    Happy surfing!


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