Just how would the great Sherlock Holmes spend his golden years? Writer Mitch Cullin in his novel A Slight Trick of the Mind imagines Holmes living in virtual seclusion, struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s and tracking his forgetfulness with marks in a diary to show his physician—rendering the infallible crime fighter a mere mortal confronted with his own frailty.
His book is the basis for Mr. Holmes, a new film from Miramax directed by Bill Condon, and memory is the complicating factor for our hero as he strains to recall details of the case that still haunts him as as he takes stock of his life and begins to write his own account of it—a chance for Holmes to tell his side and where it departs from Watson’s. We also learn that the case in question is responsible for his decision to retire from his storied career to a remote English country house situated on the shore within view of the chalk cliffs where he lives with a housekeeper and her curious son who he befriends. This is a fitting setting, as he succumbs to old age in his garden tending bees, and consistent with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s His Last Bow.
Ian McKellen is at his finest playing the distinguished Holmes who is transformed by this friendship with the 14 year old Roger (an exceptional performance by Milo Parker). McKellen’s virtuosity is apparent as he embodies a younger Holmes through flashbacks portraying his devotion to reason, and as we see later, a more compassionate and humane elder–the more humble man, not the myth.
Unlike the more recent attempts to update Holmes for modern-day audiences with younger, more attractive versions (Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch come to mind), the plot in Mr. Holmes is driven neither by typical action-drama nor cynical repartee, but rather the fierce deductive reasoning Holmes fans love and movie-goers will appreciate.
Laura Linney as Mrs. Munro does Mr. Holmes the service of balancing the loftier pursuits of the detective with her more grounded concerns about earning a living and raising a child, allowing her character to shine as she adds pointed tension to the plot.
Mr. Holmes will delight true fans and intrigue casual viewers with an intensity and depth revealed in a character we thought we knew. A fitting end to a monumental franchise—at least for now.
About this Blog
Written by Hannah Onstad, unless specified otherwise. Occasionally, posts here have been previously published elsewhere, and if so, that is noted at the top.