Review: “Mr. Holmes”

Post by Ryan Pumroy

Mr. Holmes
Directed by Bill Condon
Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Roger Allam
104 minutes
Rated PG
Distributed by Miramax and Roadside Attractions
United Kingdom and United States

Remarkably similar to his previous work Gods and Monsters (1998), Bill Condon gives us another look at an old man recounting his past and trying to reconcile with his regrets. What we find in Mr. Holmes is an engrossing, warm, and oftentimes funny film about atonement and memory.

We open on a train rolling through the picturesque English countryside in 1947. Inside, we see a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen). In old age, Holmes has started to lose his faculties. He returns home after a long journey to Japan in search of a special plant said to have restorative health properties.

Once the world’s greatest detective, he now forgets names, often resorting to writing them on his shirt cuff.

It is clear from the beginning that something is haunting him: his last case.

Something terrible must have happened, says Holmes; something that lead to his retirement, or “exile” as he calls it, to the south of England, where his main hobby is beekeeping. However, Holmes cannot remember what it was.

Assisted by the housekeeper’s young son (Milo Parker), Holmes tries to piece together his last case before poor health or death stop him.

McKellen is outstanding in this role. He brings more of a classical Sherlock quality to the film. He’s more gentlemanly than the Sherlocks of Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. It all smacks of Oscar nomination.

McKellen plays two versions of Holmes: one at about 60 years of age, and, of course, the other at 93. His younger Sherlock is so suave, imbued with McKellen’s commanding presence. I’d love to see another movie with him as this younger Holmes.

The older Sherlock is more feeble. He’s experienced loss and is trying to deal with the regrets and unfinished business of a long life. His family and friends are dead, his last case ruined him, and he himself is near the end.

As in Gods and Monsters, Condon uses dreams as flashbacks to help progress the story. We learn a little more each time Holmes returns to his past. So much of this movie is based on memory.

Holmes’ incomplete recollection of the past drives the movie. His memories seem to haunt him.

He’s often put in the position of distancing himself from Dr. John Watson’s tales of Sherlock Holmes, thus distancing himself from the legend he’s become. Several ask him about his hat and pipe. Holmes says he prefers a cigar.

It’s interesting seeing the more human version of such an iconic character (especially a wholly British character) debate his own origins.

At one point, Holmes is seen watching and scoffing at Sherlock Holmes and the Lady in Grey, a fictional Sherlock Holmes movie within Mr. Holmes that parallels part of the story. We watch Holmes watch “Holmes,” yet we too are watching a “Holmes” watching another “Holmes.”

Since 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, the character of Holmes has never been forgotten from popular culture. Throughout the last 128 years, he has appeared in films (from 1900 to the present), television shows, radio plays, stage plays, print, games, and animation.

Does anyone remember the Fox Kids show Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999)?

What is it about this character that we like so much? I imagine it is his wit, intelligence, cunning, and sense of justice. We probably just like a good whodunnit every now and again. We like to see the good guys beat the bad guys, too.

But, with that said, life isn’t all about beating the bad guys.

Much of life is about how we treat people, finding love, experiencing joy and happiness, and everything in between. That’s the true beauty of Mr. Holmes.

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