Not an Ideal Holmes

By Hoggart, Simon | The Spectator, December 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Not an Ideal Holmes


Hoggart, Simon, The Spectator


Television

Heavens, Hound of the Baskervilles (BBC 1) made for a gory Boxing Day. We watched the prison warders being sucked slowly and lethally into the mire, and saw Sir Charles's face, with great chunks eaten out of it, as if someone had tried carving a turkey without a knife. Just as Andrew Davies famously puts in the sex that authors of the past might have included if the conventions of the time had permitted, so Allan Cubitt, who adapted this, inserted the violence that old milksop Conan Doyle had squeamishly left out. Doyle even had a happy ending, with Sir Henry Baskerville about to marry the villain's beautiful wife, played here by Neve McIntosh. In the novel she is found trussed up and muffled. In the film, she was distinctly and gruesomely dead. Next, Cubitt's Just William, in which the Outlaws wipe out the Hubert Lanites with drive-by shootings.

My other carp concerned Holmes, played by Richard Roxburgh. In any Holmes dramatisation, he has to dominate every scene in which he appears. This can be done by brilliant acting, or else by mannerisms. Jeremy Brett, in the first-rate Granada series, was one great heaving mass of mannerisms. He could arch his eyebrows, purse his lips, and flare his nostrils as wide as the Channel tunnel. But you never took your eyes off him. This Holmes was a presence, but even when shooting up - as graphically as the yobs in Trainspotting he was only one of the characters on screen, and it didn't quite work.

Of course, few detective adventures ever come to court. I watched the latest Poirot, Evil Under the Sun (ITV), while in the middle of jury service. I doubt that any of these cases would end in convictions. `Are you seriously telling the jury, M. Poirot, that my client's wife just happened, while on a small and isolated island, to possess clothing of the exact type worn by the murdered women, that she ran to the cove while dressed as her victim, put on a wig and pretended to be the body of that victim, who was in fact, as she well knew, hiding no more than a few feet away, and that my client pretended to recognise the victim, even though he was accompanied by a companion who, if she had troubled to look at the alleged corpse, would have immediately discovered this ludicrous plan. Meanwhile my client's wife had raced up a 100-foot cliff and run back to the hotel leaving the guests under the impression that she had not even left the tennis court The juries I've sat on would have taken five minutes to reach a `not guilty' verdict, and wiped that smug smile right off Poirot's silly face. …

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