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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 07:55 GMT
Holmes drama explodes myths
Ian Hart and Richard Roxburgh
Hart and Roxburgh: Back to Conan Doyle's Holmes

A BBC One adaptation of Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles is being broadcast on Boxing Day.

The BBC is hoping to explode a few myths about Sherlock Holmes with a feature-length version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles.

One of the most common myths, that Sherlock Holmes wore a deerstalker hat and enjoyed a pipe, is a film addition.

The story-telling is so extraordinary and the detail so brilliant

Richard Roxburgh
Actor Basil Rathbone adopted these props for his legendary 1939 portrayal of the Baker Street detective, but they were not based on the facts as presented by the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Australian actor Richard Roxburgh, who starred as the evil duke in Moulin Rouge, plays the fictional sleuth as viewers have never seen him.

He smokes cigarettes, wears a square bowler hat and - as depicted by Conan Doyle - has a drug addiction.


Holmes is shown injecting drugs into his arm in scenes bound to upset the squeamish.

"I guess my perspective is that Conan Doyle talks about it," says Roxburgh.

Watson and Holmes
Watson was not the bumbling fool so often depicted
"Holmes was addicted to cocaine and took a 7% solution twice a day, then he had to take morphine to relax."

"The fact that it is graphic may be an issue for some people, but to my mind it's being truthful to the character, because then you have to ask why he does that."

Initially, Roxburgh says he had reservations about playing the quintessential Englishman: "I can't do that - I'm from Albury Wodonga in Australia. But, when you get on top of that, you think he's just another character."

He says he found a wealth of inspiration in Conan Doyle's stories.

"I love the little details - like the place in Baker Street being a pigsty and how they used to find cigarette butts in tea cups. We tried to get a sense of that."

Ian Hart, who appeared as Quirrell in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, co-stars as a Dr Watson considerably removed from the slow-witted character of other adaptations.

'Lovely relationship'

"In Conan Doyle, he's a doctor of medicine. He's a very intelligent man. He's hanging off Holmes' coat-tails sometimes, but he's not a fool," says Roxburgh.

"It was a lovely relationship to explore and try to bring to life."

It was the only Sherlock Holmes story I had read

Richard Roxburgh
In one of the film's enduring images, Watson battles to save Holmes from being drowned in a bog.

The scene involved Roxburgh spending three-quarters of a day up to his ears in muck.

"As far as I could establish, it was a bog," he jokes.

"It smelt like bog, it acted like bog and it had the suction capacity of bog. I don't know where they got it from, but it was pretty genuine."

The Hound of the Baskervilles, centring on an aristocratic family tormented by the legend of a moor-dwelling beast which is baying for their blood, is one of Conan Doyle's most famous stories.

"It was the only Sherlock Holmes story I had read before I was asked to do it," says Roxburgh.

"Then I read the whole canon, which was a great revelation. I thought it was going to be quaint, but the story-telling is so extraordinary and the detail so brilliant. I loved it."

Tennis ball

The supporting cast boasts John Nettles, Richard E Grant and Liza Tarbuck.

Basil Rathbone
Basil Rathbone introduced the famous hat and pipe
The hound itself, a mix of Doberman, Rhodesian Ridgeback and hyena, was created with computer-generated animation.

"We had to look at a tennis ball on a stick," said Roxburgh of filming the scenes where the hound would eventually feature.

"People make a lot of the bizarre-ness of CGI (computer-generated imagery) but it's no more bizarre than a lot of things you have to do on film."

It seems Roxburgh has developed a taste for playing legendary fictional characters.

In the New Year, he will play Dracula in gothic action film Van Helsing, also starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale.

"It's a great challenge to take a role that people believe they know or have an understanding of," he said.

"It's going back to the writings about the character. It's a great psychology."

The Hound of the Baskervilles is shown on BBC One on Boxing Day at 2100 GMT.

Looking ahead

Looking back



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