MR. HOLMES (UK|USA/PG/104mins)
Directed by Bill Condron. Starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam.
THE PLOT: It’s 1947, and we join the 93-year-old tired and retired Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) in his Sussex home, living the Beatrix Potter life deep in the country, with a scowling housekeeper (Linney) and her wide-eyed young son (Parker) keeping him company. And from dying alone at the end of the stairs.
Happiest when he’s attending to his beehives, Holmes is troubled by his recent visit to Japan, where his host, Umezaki Tamiki (Sanada), sprung the surprise claim that the great Baker Street detective was somehow responsible for his estranged father abandoning his young family to stay in England. Holmes cannot remember the details though, of this, or the failed case that sparked his retirement. Both cases begin to haunt him. Add to that the crushing weight of having to live up to the hero portrayed by his assistant Dr. Watson, and Holmes is a very troubled old man indeed…
THE VERDICT: With two Holmes currently on screen duties – Benedict Cumberbatch’s TV portrayal edging it over Robert Downey Jr.’s sardonic big-screen cartoon – it’s somewhat surprising and a little daring to see a much-loved English old dear taking on one of England’s most dearest literary loves.
Pretty much from the start though, the elderly Holmes feels like a good fit for McKellen, Conan Doyle’s grand old English detective being one third Gandalf, one third Ghandi and one third Gittes. Based on Mitch Cullin’s novel ‘A Slight Trick Of The Mind’, director Bill Condron (who enjoyed some major awards heat with McKellen with the 1988 biopic GODS AND MONSTERS) once again plays with the notion and nature of faded genius, fame and the need for solutions, true or otherwise. It makes for a beguiling, slow afternoon of a movie, free from exclamation marks and car chases. Which is a recommendation, by the way.
Review by Paul Byrne

Mr Holmes
Review by Paul Byrne
4.0McKellen shines
  • filmbuff2011

    What more can be said about the most-filmed character in cinema history? A little bit more, it seems. Sherlock Holmes in his twilight years is a tantalising prospect, made even more appealing by the reunion of Ian McKellen and his Gods And Monsters director Bill Condon. Holmes (McKellen) is now 93, having retired over 30 years ago and separated from his great friend Dr John Watson. Holmes now tends to bees and doesn’t want any excitement. He lives with housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). His mind is still sharp, though not as sharp as it used to be. Watson has embellished the image of Holmes somewhat in his tales, so before he departs this Earth, Holmes sets out to write down his last case – that of a troubled woman – and correct the misconceptions about the great detective. Along the way, he will find out just how alone he really is… If you’re expecting anything like the recent Guy Ritchie films about Sherlock Holmes, then you’ve come to the wrong film. This is a slow, sedate Sunday afternoon-type affair that concentrates more on character revelations than flashy cinematography and stuntwork (as entertaining as Ritchie’s movies were though). There are no car chases or explosions. Even the biggest crime in the film is actually committed by insects. That might give you an idea as to what to expect. Playing older than he actually is (like in The Keep), McKellen is the film’s heart and soul. Incapable of giving a bad performance, he imbues his Holmes with a sense of longing and regret about his turn away from the detective profession. It’s a lovely, delicate performance that in Awards Season would normally see him nominated. Let’s hope that the voting bodies remember him come early next year. Condon’s direction is steady and consistent, but he never really gets to what is eating away at Holmes’ soul. He hints at it, but then doesn’t have the nerve to follow through with confronting it. Still, there’s a lot to admire here. It’s unlikely to be box office hit, but Mr Holmes is still enjoyable. And if you’re a fan of 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes like this reviewer, then you’re in for an extra treat. ***

  • emerb

    “Mr Holmes” gives us a different look at Sherlock, the much-loved fictional sleuth of 221B Baker Street, as he ponders over the fragments of his final case which caused him to withdraw from the profession and which still haunts him. Adapted from a 2005 novel, “A Slight Trick Of The Mind”, by the American writer Mitch
    Cullin, director Bill Condon’s latest feature sees him reunited with the always reliable Ian McKellan, who plays Sherlock both at his enfeebled age and 35 years earlier. In this movie, he’s introduced as a solitary 93 year old man living in cantankerous retirement on the Dover coast in Sussex, 1947. He is also suffering the fears and anxieties that come with Alzheimers disease and is exasperated at the way he has been misrepresented in his partner Watson’s bestselling accounts of his famous cases. In essence, “Mr. Holmes” sets out to contrast the real Holmes with the one of Watson’s fabrication.

    The plot is centred on 3 main strands. In 1947 England, we are introduced to Sherlock, living in relative anonymity in a stone farmhouse in Dover with his dutiful maid Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her inquisitive, bright son Roger (Milo Parker). Bee-keeping has become the ex-sleuth’s all-consuming hobby. Anxious to recover his failing memory, Homes is particularly interested in the bees’ secretion, Royal Jelly, as it helps with arthritis and senility. The canny sleuth recalls in flashback how he travelled to Hiroshima in search of a Japanese equivalent called prickly ash which is also mean t to have restorative properties and to meet his Japanese admirer, the cheerful Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada).

    Roger begins to read an unfinished manuscript by Homes which relates to his final investigation. It was a case where Holmes got something wrong but if only he could remember what that was. He needs to set the record straight and give himself peace of mind. However, as he writes away busily in his attic study, he struggles with each successive sentence to recall what happened next. In extended flashbacks, we see a couple, touchingly played by Patrick Kennedy as an aggrieved husband, Thomas Kelmot, and his estranged and depressive wife Ann (Hattie Morahan), who spends her days wandering alone mourning their stillborn children. To distract from her sorrows, she has begun taking lessons on the glass harmonica (with possible occult powers as it is thought to be used to contact the dead) but Thomas believes she has come under harmful influences from her music teacher, the eccentric Madame Schirmer (Frances de la Tour).

    Without a doubt, the film belongs to the predictably excellent Ian McKellan. He must here show a feeble, elderly but yet still retaining a canny shrewdness and wisdom and he carries it off with great conviction. He shifts easily between playing a distinguished man many years younger and that same elderly man, now feeble and losing control of his mental faculties. It is an impeccable and wily
    performance of a man gazing ahead towards the inevitable end of his life with acceptance and dignity. I particularly liked the lively exchanges between him and the fatherless Roger (Milo Parker), who was at all times alert and appealing in an unaffected performance. Laura Linney adds an element of depth to the housekeeper – a simple but proud woman trying to make sure both her and her son have a future together. Roger Allam (underused I thought) brings warmth to his scenes as the concerned medic.

    There’s nothing about “Mr.Holmes” that Sherlock fans, McKellan fans or even Linney fans won’t relish. However, it’s quite different to the more modernized tv reinventions and much slowed down in speed and ingenuity. There is no humour, gadgetry, gimmicks or action-comedy on display here but personally I found it had a refreshingly old-fashioned appeal. I liked the angle it took – a solid (perhaps some may consider old-fashioned) story where Sherlock is in reflective,
    pensive mood as he agonizingly attempts to retrieve the fragments of his memory which are becoming lost in a creeping cloud of Alzheimers. The film making is superb and at all times elegant to look at. The handsomely shot scenes aptly capture the picturesque Sussex countryside. The fine period
    detailing and costume designs perfectly evoke the era and make it a constant
    pleasure to look at. Overall, I think “Mr.Holmes” is interesting, touching and intriguing. It should have a wide-reaching appeal but perhaps especially for older audiences and long standing Sherlock fans.