Review by Peter Gray
Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr, Jonny Lee Miller and now, Ian McKellen. The character of Sherlock Holmes has certainly maintained longevity amongst popular culture over the last few years despite the last “official” story involving the character being published around eighty-years ago, but in the case of McKellen’s incarnation, it’s more a personal tale than an exaggerated one.
Based on the novel ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind’, which detailed Holmes towards the end of his life as he clung to the last remnants of his brilliant mind, ‘Mr Holmes’ isn’t your average sleuth film, which plays in the film’s favour as it allows McKellen’s brilliant performance to shine through. Here Sherlock is ninety-three years old and long retired, he’s outlived his partner-in-crime-solving Watson, and has lived to see his famous cases both adapted into novels (written by Watson himself) and motion pictures. As the film teases us with a rather intriguing mystery that was to be Sherlock’s last case, a case he sadly can no longer entirely remember, ‘Mr Holmes’ is essentially a character study, and a rather entertaining one at that, as we view his retired lifestyle of penning the story of his final investigation amongst his hobby of bee-keeping.
Though that doesn’t sound entirely enticing, director Bill Condon (‘Kinsey’, ‘Dreamgirls’) manages to reel his audience in with his back-and-forth storytelling device between Sherlock’s current existence and the case that he was so eager to solve. Keeping Sherlock in check is young Roger (Milo Parker), the son of the housekeeper (Laura Linney) tending to Holmes’ country cottage, and it’s through their relationship that a real sense of humanity is brought out in the ageing, slightly cantankerous inspector. Parker occasionally borders on precocious irritability but thankfully he has McKellen and Linney to keep him in-check, and Condon wisely avoids veering into family-friendly territory with a third-act moment involving the young Roger likely to shock a few audience members.
It’s a simple movie, one that provides a rich alternative to the bigger titles of the current film season, as well as reminding us of what a tremendous performer Ian McKellen is.