howard ostrom

221b Con Panel Recap: Russian Holmes

homelessnetwork-221bcon (If you don’t need these, feel free to disregard them-I’m just tagging you in case)

I (Amy Thomas) had the pleasure this year of sitting on the first-ever panel for the new Russian Sherlock Holmes series starring Igor Petrenko and Andrey Panin. I was joined by famous Holmesian scholar and enthusiast Howard Ostrom, who co-runs No Place Like Holmes and has a vast collection of Holmes publications and memorabilia.

–I led off with a comparative explanation of the differences between high and low context cultures and how to approach the show.

England and the US are low context cultures; Russia is very high context. This means that certain aspects of the Holmes story look different in a Russian version. Notably, high context cultures have less speaking and more physical markers of closeness (such as Holmes and Watson boxing together right after they meet). High context cultures are also more precise in their communication and value specific word usage, while low context cultures have more “verbal vomit.” The bottom line is that if you don’t look for it, you can miss the growth in Holmes’s and Watson’s friendship because it looks very different in a Russian context than in an English or American one.

–Howard led off with an explanation of how pleasing the series is if viewed as a miniseries, not just a collection of unconnected episodes, because things like the revelation of Moriarty are very subtle at first and weave through all the episodes before they build to a strong climax.

–Both Howard and I expressed particular admiration for the show’s portrayal of Lestrade and Watson. 

Some questions addressed:

–How canonical is the show?

Most episodes use a canon story as a jumping-off point, but tend to change its details and add more to it (since episodes are an hour and a half long).

–How can English-speakers watch it?

The whole thing is subtitled on the werfkj Youtube channel.

–Why wasn’t the show renewed?

Howard, who has Russian friends, laid out several reasons:

1) Tragically, Andrey Panin, who played Watson, passed away under mysterious circumstances just after production.

2) They might have cast a new actor, but certain scenes in the show were viewed as critical to Putin’s government, notably a military-focused one that the director refused to cut and left in as a tribute to Panin. In Russia, political control is strong enough that this kind of defiance can kill a show. Howard himself has had political pressure to remove a documentary from Youtube with a tiny clip of a Russian film from the 60s that has a character who defects.

3) Russian audiences largely identify with the Soviet Holmes series, which starred Livanov and Solomin. Livanov is the only non-British actor to receive an OBE from the Queen. He got it as thanks for his portrayal of Holmes. Because that series is so iconic, Russians had a trouble accepting a new Russian series that was also set in the Victorian period.