Sherlock Holmes is likely the most-filmed character of all time, with movie adaptations of the detective stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appearing in the earliest days of narrative filmmaking. It’s hard, therefore, to present the famous detective in a way that hasn’t wholly been done before. But director Bill Condon’s “Mr. Holmes”, an adaptation of the book A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, does just that, and is a real treat for fans of Sherlock, and film fans in general.
In “Mr. Holmes”, Ian McKellen steps into the shoes of the great detective, but this Sherlock isn’t how most people envision him. At the time of this story, he is ninety-three years old, retired and living in a quiet cottage in the country with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker), who, much to her chagrin, takes an intense liking to Holmes and the bees he keeps in his yard.
Holmes, as it turns out, is losing his memory. He has taken to scribbling people’s names on his shirtsleeves just so he can remember them, and recently took a trip to Japan to search for an exotic jelly that supposedly will help. But what bothers him the most is the fact that he can’t remember how his last case—that of a woman acting mysteriously after losing two unborn children—ended, a case he knows must have ended terribly because it was the reason he retired from the profession. As the film progresses, he recovers snatches of it, intertwined with his present day troubles and flashbacks of his trip to Japan.
Holmes has been portrayed by many outstanding actors over the decades, but McKellen brings a new emotional depth to the character that has rarely been seen before. Usually rather cold and analytical, McKellen’s Holmes still has a scathing wit, but he also appears distressed at his inability to recall even just miniscule things. It is a rich and heart-wrenching performance that is not only one of the best of the year, but could—of course, only time will tell—go down as one of the most memorable portrayals of Holmes in history.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Linney makes every scene she’s in memorable as the mother who’s just trying to do what is best for her family, despite her son’s scorn for her in favor of Holmes. Parker is equally delightful as young Roger. Together, they and McKellen all have wonderful chemistry. There are some scenes between them where there isn’t much dialogue, and dialogue isn’t needed. They convey all they need to without saying a word. Other appearances include that of Hiroyuki Sanada as Tamiki Umezaki, the man who helps Holmes find his Japanese jelly while also harboring a deeper connection to the detective. Hattie Morahan plays Ann Kelmont, the mysterious woman plaguing Holmes in his flashbacks to his final case, while Roger Allam has a brief but fun appearance as Holmes’ frustrated doctor. Sherlock fans will also be sure to notice Nicolas Rowe, who plays a movie version of Holmes within the movie. Rowe played Sherlock as a teenager in 1985’s “Young Sherlock Holmes”.
The cinematography is gorgeous, from the lush English countryside to the barren landscape of Hiroshima. The film also deserves much applause for its editing. Quick cuts between images put the viewer into the mind of Holmes, whether he is remembering something about the case or making a deduction. It’s beautifully done, presenting just enough information at a time to keep the audience intrigued until more is revealed later on.
“Mr. Holmes” succeeds on many different levels. It lovingly mocks the image the detective eventually took on with the public—how, for instance, his trademark hat and pipe were not thanks to author Conan Doyle, but to illustrator Sidney Paget and early filmmakers’ vision of him. It’s an intriguing mystery that keeps the audience guessing until its tragic conclusion. But first and foremost, it’s a character drama, one that finds Holmes regretting his constantly putting logic first, and realizing that often people don’t need the facts, don’t want the facts, and are in fact much happier going through life believing something that isn’t entirely true. It’s quiet but engrossing, sentimental but not too sweet. “Mr. Holmes” is one of the best movies of the year so far, a fine drama with fantastic performances that will likely land a prime spot among the great Holmes adaptations over the years.
Runtime: 104 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre