Ian Richardson as Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four.

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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With the huge success of the BBC’s Holmes starring Benedict Cumberbatch the world's most famous detective Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as his loyal sidekick Dr Watson,
different generations from all walks of life, from all corners of the earth, have become fascinated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. Amazing actors have given their own take to the complex man who famously donned the deer stalker hat and smoked the briar pipe, such as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, who have gained a whole new fan base. Up until Cumberbatch, many have debated who was the best Holmes; Rathbone or Brett. That is subjective, and I will politely reserve my opinion on Cumberbatch, as debating who is numero uno is a never ending discussion.

Yet beyond the above three actors fans are now discovering other actors such as Tom Baker and Peter Cushing , and the odd coincidence that both actors have played Holmes and Dr Who respectively, Baker on the small screen , Cushing on the silver. Christopher Lee, Christopher Plummer and many more have played Holmes. All wonderful as Sherlock and one actor certainly not to be forgotten is Ian Richardson.

Ian Richardson, (7th April 1934 – 9th February 2007) an actor classically trained, who became a household name in the UK playing the cunning and sinister MP Francis Urquhart in the BBC’s House of Cards trilogy (1990 – 1995) which spurred the classic line “You could say that but I couldn't possibly comment”, mirroring the reluctant MP’s in the UK avoiding a commitment. Richardson’s portrayal of Urquhart allowed the viewer to enter into a dark and complex mind, which is a strong trait of Holmes. Yes, Holmes is fighting the good fight yet he is far from the whiter than white hero, which adds to his appeal, coupled with great story lines, that is why Holmes has continued to entertain since his creation (birth) in 1891.

Richardson starred in two adaptations of original Holmes’ novels The Hound of the Baskervilles 3rd November 1983, directed by Douglas Hickox (Entertaining Mr. Sloane 1970, Theatre of Blood 1973) and The Sign of Four 7th December, 1983, directed by Desmond Davis (Girl with Green Eyes 1964, Clash of the Titans, 1981). As with many interpretations of the original novels, the screen writer and director changed the content, otherwise it would be just straight out of print onto the screen, with no artistic licence

Made for television by American producer Sy Weintraub (28th May 1923 -4th April 2000, best for his work with Tarzan films and TV series) and English producer Otto Plaschkes (13th September 1929 – 14th February 2005, Georgy Girl 1966, The Homecoming 1973), both felt there was a demand for Holmes. Moreover, not since Peter Cushing for the BBC from 1965 to 1968 had there been a Holmes series for British Television, yes there had been Holmes on TV and the silver screen, but not in a recurring role. After much negotiation the Conan Doyle estate granted them permission to film the above stories. Weintraub and Plaschkes were exultant, now all they needed was a Holmes, enter Richardson. Yet little did they know that the Conan Doyle estate had agreed a deal with Granada Television to film the entire collection of Holmes stories staring Jeremy Brett, an ambitious project that would have been completed had it not been for the untimely death of Brett on 12th September 1995 due to heart disease.

This led to a legal battle between Weintraub and the Conan Doyle estate, which resulted in an out of court settlement. Therefore, there are only two appearances of Richardson to ever grace the screen, which is a shame, yet Brett as Holmes was breathtaking and, to me, he was the best Holmes ever. Again this is subject to debate. In addition Richardson’s career afterwards, as an actor, did flourish.

Richardson in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four is a treat for any Holmes’ fans, similar in the role as Urquhart, Richardson creates an intense and shrewd Holmes who seems to lack empathy with human interaction, yet relishes solving a case. Prior to Brett, the dark side of Holmes was seldom seen, he was mainly portrayed as a matinee hero. Here Richardson takes Holmes with his drug addiction to a new level, he is aggressive, brash, and forthright and at times you question his sanity and integrity. Richardson is doing much more than enjoying the role, he is living it. The character of Dr Watson was played by Donald Churchill (Victim 1961, Zeppelin 1971) in The Hound of the Baskervilles and David Healy (Patton 1970, Supergirl 1984) in The Sign of Four. Both actors are great as support, yet seem to be carrying a torch for Nigel Bruce’s Watson to Rathbone’s Holmes, fumbling and dim-witted. It wasn’t until the Granada take on Holmes with David Burke (1984-1985) and Edward Hardwicke (1986 – 1994) playing Watson, that the true character of Watson is seen, the narrator to the readers, and his only friend who keeps Holmes grounded and at times off the drugs. Holmes needed Watson not only as a comrade but to keep him on terra firma.

Keeping to the tradition of a dark and fog swept London and old mansions in stormy settings, the film makers certainly wanted to create an ambience and, along with a stern performance from Richardson, you could easily be fooled into thinking these films have been made by Hammer Horror Films as they seem to be an influence. The moody settings of Holmes was dropped by Granada and in favour of interaction between Holmes and Watson , which has been the norm ever since. In addition, perhaps it would be fair to look at Richardson in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four as the bridge between the old and new adaptations of Holmes are worthy and enjoyable viewing.

Now Available on DVD , Blue , Downloads and Streaming via Second Sight – links below

The Hound of The Baskervilles

The Sign of Four

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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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