Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Casting Calls, or The Fantasy Fiction League

Today’s blog was inspired by two separate trains of thought, that converged like iron behemoths becoming derailed in the dark tunnels of the mind. An analogy too far, perhaps.

Firstly, I was writing my latest book, and I started to imagine each of my characters as an actor – asking myself the question ‘Who would play this character in the TV drama version, or the Hollywood blockbuster version’? I can dream, right? But it helped me a surprising amount with the characterisation. Suddenly I could picture them in my head – their expressions, their accents, the timbre of their voices. Like a virtual director, I was imagining them saying the key parts of the dialogue, and bouncing of each other’s performances, to the point where I could visualise their bits of ad-lib so clearly that the dialogue and interactions almost wrote themselves. A cool trick, I thought, and one that I’ll definitely use again. I can almost see the ITV drama adaptation of my latest in my mind's eye...

The second element of this blog came about recently as I was watching the movie version of one of my favourite books: The Hound of the Baskervilles. There are lots of film and TV versions, and as this particular version unfolded before my eyes (it was the old Peter Cushing one – great stuff!), I started to think about the cast of the movie, and how they differed from my reading of the characters in the book, or even exceeded my expectations. This got me thinking so much that, over the next few days, I actually re-watched all of the film versions of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Yes, I know… a bit obsessive! This in turn made me compare and contrast the various character portrayals, weigh up their pros and cons, and consider my favourites. Of course, in some versions the characters are completely different from the book, or even made up (the alteration of Beryl Stapleton to the very different Cecille in the 1959 version, for example), but they usually have a comparator somewhere in the other versions regardless.

So all of this set me up to think about my ultimate Baskervilles cast. If I had to choose my favourite member of the cast for each role, who would I pick? Well, that wasn’t an easy process, because so many of the actors are really good, and you kind of wonder if their performance was in part due to the chemistry they shared with their co-stars… but then you’re just over-thinking it. So here’s my list – my favourite actors for each key role in the Hound of the Baskervilles. Think of it as kind of a Fantasy Football League, but for literature-to-film adaptations. Do you agree with my picks?

Sherlock: Basil Rathbone
Watson: Edward Hardwicke
Sir Henry Baskerville: Martin Shaw
Stapleton: Richard E Grant
Beryl Stapleton: Marla Landi (as ‘Cecille Stapleton’)
Dr Mortimer: John Nettles
Barrymore: John Le Mesurier
Mrs Barrymore: Eily Malyon (as Mrs. Barryman)
Selden (Convict): William Ilkley
Honourable Mentions: Spike Milligan and Roy Kinnear (as the policeman and Selden respectively, from the 1978 spoof), and the hideously miscast William Shatner from the 1972 TV movie. Brilliant!

A quick point to explain – it’s no great secret that my favourite Sherlock Holmes (in any guise or setting) is the wonderful, late, Jeremy Brett. However, in the Hound of the Baskervilles, Rathbone puts in a particularly stellar performance, and he has the ‘look’ down exactly right. In this one movie adaptation of any Holmes story, Rathbone is my favourite, and Brett a close second.

One final note: this exercise benefits from the fact that there are at least a dozen versions to draw from. It’s a very different poser from ‘If you could cast ANYONE in the roles from your favourite book, who would it be?’ That’s a question I may return to in a future blog – the ultimate fantasy character list!