Mr. Holmes (Cert PG)
1 Disc (Distributor: Entertainment One) Running Time: 104 minutes approx.
Sir Ian McKellen is one of our greatest theatre actors yet he rarely gets that elusive lead role on the big screen, providing often scene-stealing support to the overrated Hollywood star instead. So, it is perhaps with some irony that Sir Ian finally gets that top billing in a film about a great hero in the twilight of his life.
It’s 1947, and the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) is now a crotchety 93-year old trying to enjoy his retirement which his fame and failing memory prevents him from doing so. Now living in a country residence with housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker), Holmes occupies his time as a beekeeper, something he is sharing with Roger who is a big fan of the famed sleuth.
Holmes’s other focus is writing the story of his final case from thirty years earlier, which is proving a struggle due to the onset of dementia but an eager Roger, who sneaked a read of the manuscript while Holmes was away in Japan, encourages his mentor to continue, partly out of his own interest to learn the outcome. However the case in hand was one that Holmes was unable to solve, something which continues to bother him.
Forget whatever iterations and depictions you have seen of Sherlock Holmes in the past, this is one that literally re-writes everything we know about Conan-Doyle’s most famous creation. Indeed this is one of the central points of the story, based on the novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin, the audacity of which will assuredly cause ardent fans of Holmes to recoil in horror – deconstructing the publicly accepted legend of the great detective.
While in Japan, elderly Holmes explains to his host Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) that it was his estranged and now late Dr. John Watson who wrote all of the famed stories and as such, the recognisable attributes of the Holmes persona, the deerstalker, the pipe, the address of 221B Baker Street, etc, were purely fictional creations of Watson. The Adventure Of The Dove Grey Glove is one novel in particular Holmes takes exception to, especially the ending, which just happens to be the case he failed to solve.
Told via flashbacks, it concerns a request from a Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) who wants Holmes to follow his wife Anna (Hattie Morahan) whose behaviour following two miscarriages has bothered him greatly. The fact that Kelmot has done everything to alienate and drive his wife away from him doesn’t seem to have registered as the cause but Holmes takes the case anyway.
Much like the ties Holmes has with Umezaki in Japan, the relevance of this case reveals itself in the later in the film and is just one of the many clever twists the script delights us with, perhaps a deliberate ploy to put us in the detective role to give the old man a break? Just like one of the celebrated cases it is the small things or those details we overlooked that make all the difference.
Presented as a faux-biopic the script offer some prime opportunities director Bill Condon to indulge the long time fans with some cute Holmes related Easter eggs. A great example is our subject watching himself in the cinema in a Basil Rathbone film, in which Rathbone/Holmes is played by Nicholas Rowe, star of 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes!
With Holmes now a great age, death is very much a prevalent theme suffused into many scenes no matter how incongruous – the bees in the apiary keep dying, Umezaki’s mother is dying, Anna Kelmot lost two babies, Holmes’s memories are fading away… The overall mood of the film is elegiac, as if this is the last will and testament of the great sleuth, the personal re-writing of the Kelmot case being the closing statement on his great career.
The man’s health is failing him and only the precocious Roger seems to be the soothing tonic to help eke out his days, the young boy’s interest in beekeeping and similarly astute powers of deduction offering Holmes a glimpse of what his own offspring might have been like, had he ever married. This regret is the albatross around Holmes’s neck, something he has chosen to ignore over the years, claiming his intellect was a sufficient substitute.
Ian McKellen plays two different Holmes here – the “younger” one (at a sprightly 63) still charming, witty, uncannily observant, and game for a challenge, the older one, forgetful, borderline cantankerous, occasionally regretful and perhaps ready to call it a day. He is quietly sublime as both, foregoing the melodramatic theatrics often associated with this renowned stage “luvvie”, engaging the chance to show his softer side. There is touch of Wilfred Hyde-White in the older abrupt Holmes, while the younger is pure McKellen with his trademark honey dripped mellifluous tones bringing much warmth and charm to such an intellectually superior character.
American Laura Linney is surprisingly convincing as the simple housemaid Mrs. Munro, but it is Milo Parker who impresses the most as Roger, a mini-Sherlock in the making, perhaps a little too clever for his age but a superb and endearing performance from the youngster who should go far.
For an American, Condon has made a very British film in terms of pacing, mood and aesthetic, the authentic period setting recalling the bucolic charm of the Ivory Merchant films of the 80’s. Aside from a brief dream sequence the presentation is straightforward, relying on the deft performances, gorgeous cinematography and intelligent script to enchant and engage the audience.
Obviously this won’t be the last we’ll ever see of Conan Doyle’s pension plan, but if this was to be the valedictorian outing for the great detective then Mr. Holmes is a suitably beguiling and dignified way for him to bow out. It’s a brave treatment to afford such a beloved literary character but that is also part of the film’s charm.
English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
English SDH Subtitles
Cast & Crew Interviews
Rating – ****
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