Last week, I finally got around to watching the film Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen as an aged, retired Holmes. The film is based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, entitled A Slight Trick of the Mind, which I hope to read in the near future. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, which I believe were well deserved. Among the "steampunk" portrayals (Guy Ritchie's films) and the modernized Sherlocks (e.g. Sherlock and Elementary), it was refreshing to see film that gave us a much slower paced and reflective Holmes, a Holmes whose mind is no longer quite as sharp as it once was.
The film is beautifully shot, and the acting is top-notch. McKellen does not disappoint, as usual, but the other actors do an excellent job as well: Laura Linney as Mrs. Munro, and Milo Parker as her son, Roger. The film focuses on the relationships among the three characters, and the actors playing them bring those relationships to life in a wonderfully understated and lifelike way. There are no explosions in this film, no dramatic chases. Rather, the retired Holmes struggles to remember his final case, the one that finally convinced him to leave his chosen profession. As he cares for his bees in Sussex, he forms a new friendship with young Roger Munro, who is familiar with the detective's reputation. Holmes's old friend John Watson is only referred to briefly, and shown only partially in one of the flashbacks that happen throughout the film.
Speaking of Watson, one thing I particularly enjoyed about this film was the manner in which it occasionally poked gentle fun at the good doctor's embellishments of Holmes's talents. There is even a scene wherein Holmes attends a film version of his final case that clearly bears little or no resemblance to the way things actually happened. The film-within-a-film is a fun little takeoff of the classic Rathbone/Bruce adaptations of the '30s and '40s. The contrast between reality and fiction, between what really happened and Holmes' s memories of what happened, is a major theme throughout the movie. What was written, for the Strand Magazine or for a film screenplay, often has little to do with the way Holmes works...or used to work.
If you've become overwhelmed with some of the louder, more bombastic adaptations of Sherlock Holmes that have become the rule over the past several years, Mr. Holmes may serve to "cleanse your palate," as it were. I quite enjoyed the change of pace.
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.