IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 104 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
It is 1947 and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes is now 93 years old. He’s been living in a remote farmhouse in Sussex with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro and her young son Roger and spends most of his time keeping bees. Holmes is desperately trying to stave off the deteriotation of his memory, and even goes to Japan for ‘pricky ash’ to help improve it. He notices that his ex-partner Dr. Watson’s published version of his last case ends in a happy fashion, but this can’t have been the case since Holmes had been forced to retire after it, so he sets out to write his own account, though remembering the events is a struggle….
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote that the World’s Greatest Detective ended up: “living the life of a hermit among his bees and his books in a small farm upon the South Downs”, and Bill Condon’s melancholy, in fact often downright depressing, film, based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind, picks up where Doyle left off. Condon just about makes amends for directing two Twilight pictures with Mr. Holmes, which reunites him with his Gods And Monsters star Ian McKellen. If McKellen, who often achieves more here with just a glance than with whole lines of dialogue, doesn’t win lots of awards for his performance in this movie then there really is no justice in the movie world. Clearly relishing the chance to play such a great part, and aided by superb makeup, he’s quite simply magnificent whether as the doddery 93 year old Holmes or as the rather more sprightly 60 year old version, and is given more to play with then Christopher Lee was when he played a long-in-the-tooth Holmes in two early ‘90’s TV movies, but otherwise the film was a bit disappointing to this critic. Despite moving smoothly between its two different time zones, it’s all disappointingly slight and this Holmes fan kept thinking that, despite the film daring to take a more realistic look at the aging process than seems to be the trend in movies at the moment, the character deserves better. One even forgets you’re watching Homes at times.
The 1947 scenes between Holmes and young Roger are touching but too much of this section feels miserable rather than being genuinely moving, and rather misjudges the movie’s final scene which tries to put a partially happy spin on things [if you’re going to down the ‘depressing’ route, than its best to finish in that manner] which ends up seeming flippant and dishonest. Sections set in Japan add nothing while Laura Linney’s accent moves all over the English counties. The 1914 scenes detailing Holmes’s last case work much better, and climax in a beautifully poignant scene between Holmes and his quarry where Holmes’ misanthropic nature causes him to make a terrible mistake. The film could have done with more revealing scenes like this which delve into the psyche of the character, and sometimes feels like a missed opportunity, though it’s full of great little touches for the Holmes fan, from Young Sherlock Holmes’ Nicholas Rowe playing Holmes in a film which the real Holmes watches with bafflement, to Holmes actually living across the street from 221B Baker Street to detach himself from fans. Mr. Holmes sometimes manages to balance the difficult tasks of achieving a hazy summer warmth while at the same time detailing how even the most intelligent person can’t hold back the ravages of time forever, but it’s too dreary in sections and is overall slightly wasted potential, feeling more like a TV drama than a cinema piece, and has to my mind been a bit overrated by the majority of critics. It still has its merits though of course, and McKellen is incredible.