The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983 Britain)

Ian Richardson is a fine Holmes, even if he seems a bit too good-natured. Perhaps this was a throwback to the old Basil Rathbone Holmes persona–and it works in this context. Mr Richardson is hardly the moody Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle…but he is definitely fun to watch. Unfortunately, Donald Churchill is not one of the great screen Watsons. He is a definite step down from his immediate predecessor, David Healy, who portrayed the good Doctor opposite Richardson in The Sign of Four. As the films were produced in the same year, by the same producer, one must wonder why Healy did not reprise the role for Hound. Instead, we are presented with a rather too blustery Watson, almost reminiscent of Nigel Bruce, though not nearly as appealing. Churchill looks the part, but not much else.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most well-known Sherlock Holmes tale. There have been so many adaptations, with some very good (1988 Brett and 1959 Cushing) and some a little dull (2002 Roxburgh), but the story is a very gripping one so its always enjoyable to see. Yet the 1983 version is easily one of the better efforts. The premise is pretty much the same as the novel. Sir Henry Baskerville arrives in England to inherit the estate of his uncle Sir Charles, who died mysteriously. Dr. Mortimer comes to Holmes with the legend of a demonic hound that has plagued the Baskervilles for many generations, with Holmes deciding to join the case in belief that someone or something is threatening Sir Henry’s life. There are some liberties taken and little changes (the addition of drunken wife-beater ‘Geoffrey Lyons’, more of Inspector Lestrade and a little more action in the climax). None of these things distract from the story and are actually welcomed in certain places.

Ian Richardson makes Holmes more upbeat and humorous than usual, but he does a fantastic job. He looks the part and handles the dialogue perfectly, whilst nicely balancing wit and seriousness. It is a shame he only got to play Holmes twice. The support is very solid. Denholm Elliot is very good as a more soft spoken and on edge Mortimer, seeming intelligent and forgetful. Martin Shaw is a little bland as Sir Henry, his phony American accent is also a little faulty, but he does a decent enough job. Nicholas Clay is brilliant as Stapleton, playing up his eccentric side to good effect and keeping the character mysterious. Glynis Barber is fine as Beryl. Brian Blessed, and the amusingly eccentric Ronald Lacey, are excellent too, with Eleanor Bron and Edward Judd perfect at playing servant couple, the lonely Barrymore’s.

The production values are truly excellent. The picture looks great considering its made for TV. The locations used are perfect, the moors look beautiful during day light hours and haunting at night. Even the sets look very authentic and don’t take anything away from the film. The soundtrack is also superb, balancing sweeping tones with quiet creepy moments. The atmosphere is another strong point, this being probably the creepiest version of the Hound. The origins of the legend, the chilling light upon the moor and parts of the climax are perfect in crafting the scary tone. The hound itself is one of the best, it looks downright terrifying, adding to the spectral horror. The more action added to the climax in the swamp is actually quite welcomed and adds more excitement to the ending.

The famous pooch of the title looks better here than in any previous version. They stick with the novel and make it a spectral dog that glows wildly with fire in the night, and they make it look good. This particular production was shot on location in Devon at Knightshayes Court, and a splendid location it is too. The interior of the manor as well as the exterior shots on the moor give the film a colourful feel. Some of the night time fog enshrouded marsh shots obviously take place in a studio but this gives these scenes another different type of atmosphere as things can be controlled more easily. Director Douglas Hickox films these scenes with a blue hue throughout. It might not be a perfect adaption, but this version of the Hound profits from some great actors and a wonderfully strong atmosphere. Good stuff.

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Comments

  1. I have not seen this version of Hound of the Baskervilles, but after your review I’ll definitely be checking it out. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pleasure! Obrigado!! 🙂

    Like

  3. Fernan G Rei says:

    Indeed, one of the best. Your review accurately highligts all the excellent points of this version, particularly the great performances by Richardson, Elliot and of the, very appropriately described by you, brilliant Stapleton by the sorely missed and never adequately recognized, Nicholas Clay. Thank you for reminding us of this great ”Hound” and for moving us to watch it one more time.

    Liked by 1 person

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