When one thinks of the gentleman, Sherlock Holmes, one is inclined to think of reams of fiction written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Whilst others may be inclined to think of Robert Downey, Jr’s comedic turn as the character. Those who are steeped in other theatrical or television work featuring the character may be familiar with Nicholas Meyer’s THE SEVEN PER-CENT SOLUTION (soon to be reviewed) or even Mr. Data’s virtual adventures as the character in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
And yet,happily, the memory of Sherlock Holmes will be that of an aged gentlemen, retired and facing senility, embodied by the great actor, Ian McKellen in MR. HOLMES.
Set in 1947, just after World War II, Holmes has returned from a journey to Japan hoping to have found a cure for his failing memory, while dispelling some of the mythos of the Holmes character, the subject of which is met with sardonic wit and charm. His home is tended to by his housekeeper, the widowed Mrs. Munro played by Laura Linney (MYSTIC RIVER) along with her eager and inquisitive son, Roger played by Milo Parker. As the clues to an unsolved case reveal themselves, Holmes is at a crossroads, where Mrs. Munro and Roger are drawn into his life in a tender and touching way.
Ian McKellan has a charm and grace about him, filling the screen from the beginning of the movie until the very last frame. His eyes just twinkle with a calculating intensity, well suited for the onerous restraint in the character of Mrs. Munro. The key to the film is in a 10 year old boy, that of Roger, who builds his rapport with Holmes to help him in his journey.
Bill Condon’s direction (THE FIFTH ESTATE, DREAMGIRLS) is effective, but is not this movie’s strong point. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay (THE DUCHESS) adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind is well conceived. The flashbacks mire the emotional build up and while the pacing and editing are strong, Condon’s direction misses opportunities to make the emotional bonds stronger. Fortunately, the story is supported by the superb Tobias Schliessler’s cinematography and a rich, lush score written by Carter Burwell, a highlight of 2015.
Although one might expect the story to be about another Holmesian mystery, it truly is about the man himself, handsomely portrayed by McKellan who reminds us that it is never too late to learn the humility of wisdom. And to accept others into our lives.