What it's about:
The story is actually set in 1947, following a long-retired Holmes living in a Sussex village with his housekeeper and rising detective son. But then he finds himself haunted by an unsolved 50-year old case. Holmes memory isn't what it used to be, so he only remembers fragments of the case: a confrontation with an angry husband, a secret bond with his beautiful but unstable wife.
What we thought:
Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most popular characters depicted on the big screen, rebooted and reinvented countless times in movies and television, as well as his famous sidekick Dr Watson. Whether he’s been modernised or turned into an action hero, the world’s most famous detective has a strong fanbase, and the actors who play him will have that identity linked to them for the rest of their careers.
Mr Holmes takes it a few notches down, and many steps into the future to a time after all the cases have been solved and ageing catches up to even those as great as the powerful Sherlock Holmes, and I can’t think of anyone better than another great man to put on the iconic Deerstalker – Sir Ian McKellan. Honestly, I can’t believe it took this long.
Following a retired Holmes through the early processes of dementia, the old detective tries desperately to remember his last case, not as Dr Watson had written it but as it really happened, the case that forced him into retirement. Meanwhile he bonds with his housekeeper’s son, a curious and intelligent boy that grows fascinated by Holmes’ bees, and the life of the reclusive detective.
As much as the film warms your heart with scenes of tenderness and empathy, it is also punctuated with sorrow and frustration as Holmes loses his mind and memory. Old age wouldn’t be nearly as terrifying if your mind remained intact in your twilight years, and even the young ones in the audience would get a pang of impending terror at the prospect of reaching such an old age. However, although this movie could’ve been a depressing and disheartening tragedy of lost minds, it lifts itself up with a cheerfulness and Holmes-esque wit that in the end leaves the audience content and positive about the world. This was mostly part to the perfect unity between the old and the young.
Nobody expects anything but excellence from McKellan, a man that is beloved by pretty much everyone through his iconic roles Gandalf and Magneto. It’s amazing how he can gain and lose 10, even 20 years of his age, not only in makeup but in his performance and demeanour. What made this film even greater was the synergy between the 76 year old veteran and 12 year old newcomer Milo Parker, who plays the boy that develops a grandfatherly relationship with Holmes. The kid has acting talent running out of his ears, and to be able to match scene for scene with McKellan at such a young is remarkable.
It also helped that director Bill Condon helmed Mr Holmes, an Oscar winner (Gods and Monsters) and celebrated screenwriter (Kinsey, Dreamgirls, Chicago). Although the script was adapted from the book A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, he brought to life a side of Holmes that has never truly been explored before.
An emotional rollercoaster but well worth the ride, this is a film for the heartstrings, for the Sir McKellan fans and the Sherlock Holmes fans. Refreshingly not depressing, Mr Holmes is one of my best ones of the year, charming and insightful in its presentation of a character so overdone. Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller should take some notes.
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