Review: Mr. Holmes Reminds Us That Even Legends Die
Title: Mr. Holmes
Director: Bill Condon
Screenwriter: Mitch Cullin (based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind), Arthur Conan Doyle (character), and Jeffrey Hatcher (writer)
Principal Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiroyuki Sananda, Hattie Morahan, and Patrick Kennedy
Summary: An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back at his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.
As someone who began life as an English major I have a lot of love for Sherlock Holmes adaptations. While I think the BBC show is good I believe Elementary on CBS is one of the best Holmes adaptations of the modern age. I liked House and the Robert Downey Jr. movies but I’m always looking for new angles for the Holmes model. When I saw a trailer for Mr. Holmes I was extremely intrigued. This was a new angle that I hadn’t seen before and the great Ian McKellen playing Sherlock Holmes? I had great expectations going in.
Mr. Holmes is a beautiful reminder of how even legends begin to die whether they are those of fiction or mind slowly fading away.
If there is one thing Holmes adaptations are known for its Holmes showing off to everyone else about how smart he is. Depending on the adaptation will depend how much of a jerk he is about it. In this adaptation Holmes is a much older man who has lost most of the people he cares about. He’s mostly stubborn in the sense that he doesn’t think he needs any help. He does though as Holmes appears to be suffering from either Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s very heartbreaking and it’s in no way helped by McKellen’s performance. The only thing I could think throughout the entire movie was just how frail he looked and it was a near two hour reminder that someday Ian McKellen is going to die. That is not something I liked to be reminded of which just made it hit home even harder. It was amazing just the difference between McKellen in the present time and McKellen during his flashbacks as if he had somehow managed to age himself simply by the way he moved.
There are some that say there cannot be Sherlock Holmes without a Watson and in this case it rings very true because Watson is no longer part of Holmes’ life in the past and the present. The only people Holmes has left are Mrs. Munroe (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker) to stay with as he slowly forgets more and more. Holmes is trying to remember an unsolved case from his past but his age and deteriorating mind have made him forget what exactly happened during this case that he wants to document. He is also trying to solve the present day mystery with Roger about why his apiary is dying. It’s quite obvious that Holmes is passing things along to Roger as if he was a son and they have some very sweet moments.
The mystery that forced Holmes into retirement isn’t exactly a globetrotting adventure that one might expect but it is well paced and interesting as you try to figure out what was so bad that Holmes felt the need to retire. All the while we watch him struggle to do even simple tasks and remember little things such as Roger’s name. It’s not exactly exciting or thrilling like the adventures that are normally presented of a younger Holmes but that is sort of the point. Holmes even tells Roger that Watson took a lot of liberties when documenting their mysteries and, now that he is at the end of his life and doesn’t have Watson anymore, he wants to tell the story from his own point of view despite having so much trouble remembering what had happened.
Mr. Holmes might not have the adventure or thrills of other Holmes adaptations but its tone resembles that of the old television show and McKellen is truly a joy in the role. While it might be a reminder that someday Sir Ian McKellen is going to die and that is painful the fact that we got to see this beautiful movie is wonderful.