Based on the book A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND by Mitch Cullin, set in 1947, and according to IMDB.com, it is about, “an aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.”
Though retired, Holmes returns from a trip to Japan to the care of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (played by Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (played by Milo Parker) and his bees. However, something is killing the bees and it is up to Holmes and Roger to solve the mystery.
As he goes about this task, in a series of flashbacks, Holmes tries to set the record straight about his last case, while recalling his recent trip to Japan. As this happens, Mrs. Munro is coming to terms with working with such an elderly man and is expecting the worst.
Does Holmes have the same mental faculties to accomplish these final tasks, before the sun finally sets on his life?
“Mr. Holmes” is a beautiful film.
The direction by Bill Condon, along with the cinematography, the story, the editing and the acting all blend into what can be called a masterpiece. This is Sherlock Holmes stripped of everything – deerstalker hat, the pipe, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Scotland Yard and the “Game’s afoot!” excitement Holmes fans have gotten with the Benedict Cumberbatch series, Robert Downey Jr. movies and the Johnny Lee Miller television show. (NOTE: That is not a criticism of any of those movies or television shows).
“Mr. Holmes” seems to pull Sherlock from this Hipster/Action Gen-X movies into something deep and introspective. With Sherlock stripped of everything, it asks the question, “What would Sherlock do if he lost his mind?”
Contrast that with this famous quote from THE SIGN OF THE FOUR:
“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession,—or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”
What happens when it stops working properly? What happens when Holmes has to write down the names of his friends on his sleeve so he appears as if he is still control of his faculties?
After having seen my grandfather-in-law in the final years of his life and making it to the ripe old age of 96, McKellen’s performance echoed how my grandfather-in-law lived his final days. McKellen brought such passion and honesty and gone was the Magneto of recent years.
Instead we get the quiet, pensive and still witty voice of Gandalf from the first 30 minutes of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.
Linney wonderfully played the foil to Holmes and almost echoed the maternal Mrs. Hudson of recent years. Parker, of course, echoed Watson and his performance reminded me of Freddie Highmore in the 2005 version of CHARLIE IN THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.
Neither Linney, nor Parker, overplayed or underplayed. They kept it at the perfect balance.
Much the same way Sherlockians look back and think of Gilette, Rathbone, Cushing and Brett, while today seeing Cumberbatch, Downey and Miller, McKellen has carved his niche into the world of Sherlock Holmes.
Also, it has to be mentioned, it was so much fun to see Nicholas Rowe (Sherlock in YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES – 1985) as a matinee version of Sherlock Holmes. We get a taste of what could’ve gotten if Rowe had been able to continue the role. There was an element of “stunt casting” in this, but it was a great deal of fun.
If I had one issue with this movie it was this, I find there is a level of chutzpah, in saying “Let me tell you the real story of Sherlock Holmes. Everything you read in the John Watson books was embellishment.”
For example, he claims to “prefer cigars” over smoking a pipe. He further states the deer stalker hat was a liberty and artist took. Also, 221B Baker Street is not the real address on Baker Street. Watson fabricated it to confound American tourists.
However, if these tropes were not dealt with correctly, this can be considered quite arrogant saying “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got it wrong.”
Yet, McKellen pulled it off here.
Go see it. Really go see it! I was excited to see it and enjoyed it. Again, this is not the action-packed thriller of Sherlock movies and television shows of the last decade, but a thoughtful and deep story about losing what is valuable – especially one’s mind.