When we think of Soviet Era Russia, we don’t normally considering people under Communist rule settling down to watch a home-grown adaptation of Sherlock Holmes on television. However in the late 70s and early 80s director Igor Maslennikov made a series of TV versions of Conan Doyle’s tales about his famed consulting detective, which are surprisingly faithful. They also thankfully lack the feel of some Cold War era Russian entertainment (particularly if it’s set in the West), that the State is forcing it to push an anti-capitalist agenda.
After the death of Sir Henry Baskerville, his nephew Charles seeks the help of famed consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Vasili Livanov), hoping he can use the man’s deductive reasoning skills to pull apart the suspicious circumstances surrounding Henry’s death. However it isn’t only Charles who knows that Sherlock rarely meets a mystery he can’t solve, and threatening letters arrive extolling Holmes to stay away. While Sherlock remains in London following leads, Dr. Watson (Vitali Solomin) head down to Devon to investigate, getting caught up in a local legend of a hound that is heard howling at night and whose massive footprints have been seen close to suspicious deaths.
It’s slightly odd seeing something so quintessentially British where everyone speaks in Russian. Indeed they do such a good job of making things seem like Victorian Britain, that it becomes jarring when something unmistakable Russian shows up, such as a man dressed head to toe in fur (that said, that’s actually fairly historically accurate for Britain in the 19th Century, but rarely seen in our period dramas). It’s all very well done, so that this two-part take on the tale has a truly cinematic quality, with top notch acting and directing, and lavish sets.
It’s also very faithful to the original novella. While it’s probably the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound Of The Baskervilles is slightly awkward to adapt on screen as Holmes himself isn’t around for much of the story, leaving the majority of the action to Watson. That means that when it is brought to the screen, people usually feel the need to get Sherlock down to Dartmoor early on, which is usually to the detriment of the story. It rarely works, largely because one of the stories’ great strengths is that it’s about Watson putting what he’s learned from the detective into action.
Here Holmes stays in London most of the time, leaving much of the running time to Vitali Solomin, who makes a superb Watson. Unlike many adaptations he gets to show that he’s more than just someone who bumbles around behind Holmes, and is actually a very smart, resourceful man in his own right.
It’s great fun, with plenty of intrigue and some rather creepy moments, as well as a surprising amount of humour. Although we don’t get see him a huge amount in this 2 ½ hour adaptation, Vasili Livanov is one of the best Sherlock’s there’s ever been (he was even given an honorary MBE in 2006, largely for his work as Holmes). His detective has great verve and wit, and you can almost see the cogs of his mind whirring as he works out everything he can, seemingly at a glance. With great production values and one of the most faithful Baskervilles scripts ever, it’s surprisingly fun to watch.
Overall Verdict: A Russian Sherlock Holmes may seem like just a curiosity, but it’s actually one of the best Hound Of The Baskervilles there is.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac