Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada
Long retired and now in his nineties, Sherlock Holmes (McKellen), very much is the clever detective of the famous novels, but the stories and his characteristics have most certainly been very much exaggerated. Now with his memories fading, he struggles to recollect the true details of his very last case and remember why it became his last.
Baker Street’s legendary and mythical sleuth has of course had countless depictions on both the big and small screen, certainly with a plethora very recently. While it would almost be inconceivable that yet another version could bring anything new to the table, Bill Condon’s adaptation of the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind is a handsomely made, wonderfully told and superbly acted drama that manages to achieve that with great success.
Mr Holmes is not only a film that has a bit of fun with the immortal status of its protagonist, but is also a poignant and moving character study examining the human condition and the unavoidable process of aging and what comes with that. Sherlock Holmes may be the world’s most famous and brilliant sleuth, but even aging catches up with him and his brilliant mind. It is such an interesting concept and one that the film most certainly utilises. Holmes often refers to the differences between his real self and the character in the books (claimed to be in this case written by Doctor Watson – who we never see the face of in this film) and even at one point goes to see a film incarnation of himself. The film plays with this idea to great effect, but shows great discipline to not ever overdo it or be self-indulgent.
Mr Holmes features a dual narrative with two stories in parallel; one of Holmes thirty years ago during what ended up being his last case and the other of him now in his nineties fighting frailty and memory loss to recollect what actually happened with the help of the young son of his house keeper. The former features enough twists and turns of any Holmes story, but is also very emotionally involving and allows the film to explore the character on a more intimate and personal level, making for emotionally involving viewing as it actually scrutinises his solitary existence as the Holmes in the latter tries (and sometimes really struggles) to recollect the details.
It of course goes without saying that the casting of the always charismatic Ian McKellen as the elderly Holmes is perfect casting, and he delivers the stunning performance that surpasses the high expectations that would be attributed to such a perfect casting choice. McKellen and Condon also worked together on another excellent biopic Gods and Monsters and seem to have a great understanding, with McKellen delivering a superbly understated, but also a quite physical performance, especially as the older, very frail Holmes. Simple grunts or facial expressions are delivered with such aplomb by McKellen that they are extremely effective at depicting the physical and mental state of the elderly Holmes.
The supporting cast are also excellent; with Laura Linney putting in a great performance as Holme’s housekeeper and Milo Parker as her narratively crucial young son also being excellent and capturing perfectly the natural awe he has to be in the company of the great Sherlock Holmes and his youthful curiosity, enthusiasm and naivety. Though the subplot involving their characters at times feels like a distraction, the relationship between Holmes and Milo provides one of the narrative’s key emotional backbones and the film’s conclusion fully justifies the fully developed inclusion of their characters. Meanwhile another subplot involving Holme’s trip to Japan and his relationship with a character called Tamiki does at times feel surplus to requirements and an unwelcome distraction from the narrative’s two main stories.
With a film like Mr Holmes there is always the risk that it would feel out of place on the big screen and should belong on the television; well Condon’s film is a handsomely made drama and is beautifully shot, and though it is of course an intimate story, it does feel genuinely cinematic and does look wonderful on the big screen. Likewise the prosthetics on the aging Holmes are exceptional and only add to the effectiveness of McKellen’s understated and physical performance.
In an era of countless Sherlock Holmes adaptations, Mr Holmes is a most welcomed addition to that list, as it is a far more intimate and personal examination of such a famous character and mind.
Yet another Sherlock Holmes incarnation, but most certainly one worth seeing; Mr Holmes is emotionally involving storytelling of the highest order and is a wonderfully made and superbly acted drama.