WHEN you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Sherlock Holmes taught us that. To the great detective’s fans, Mr Holmes is not impossible, however improbable it may be. What does that make it?
An affected piece of work where the detective is in his 90s, retired, and focused mostly on his prized bees, Mr Holmes involves three very uneasily meshed storylines raised only by the quality of McKellen’s striking performance. The premise is that the man with the sharpest brain of them all is losing his memory, and he conveys the shock of what it is doing to him in one scene alone where he looks straight into the camera with startled eyes, and you are taken aback.
Holmes is also terribly, terribly old, where he slurps his food, needs help when he collapses, and seeks out the company of a little boy, trying desperately not to show it. The abuse he has put his body through all these years is finally showing.
But what are the chances Holmes of old would be Holmes thus old? Based on a book by Mitch Cullin (A Slight Trick Of The Mind), McKellen’s Holmes is still dismissive of John Watson’s fanciful writing, calls the deerstalker and pipe image an embellishment, and as undaunted about consuming things that could be harmful (in this case, a “prickly ash” tree from Hiroshima, two years after the bombing). However, what made Holmes so unique was how unapologetic he was about himself — haughty, cruel, clinical and cold. All of it went towards making him brilliant.
All of it also made him lonely, which is the point of Mr Holmes ultimately. However, Condon, now more known for Twilight Saga films but who made Gods and Monsters with McKellen earlier, unfortunately doesn’t prevail longer in the most moving part of this film, which tells this effortlessly. It involves Holmes from 35 years ago, still at Baker Street, but without a now married Watson, who is called upon to solve a case about a woman who may or may not be in the control of evil spirits.
The mystery has melancholy, a delightful Frances de la Tour, the otherwordly instrument armonica, and a showstopper in the form of Hattie Morahan. McKellen and Morahan light up their few scenes together.
However, as the 93-year-old Holmes tries to recall what would prove to be his last case — to “put it right”, from how Watson described it — the film digresses much too often to Japan (in what proves a largely pointless exercise) and lingers too long over his relationship now with his housekeeper in the English countryside and her son. Linney is completely wasted as the former, and Milo does the best with what he has as the latter.
Sherlock Holmes is seeing a revival of sorts, even if he never did go away, and this Mr Holmes could have been a welcome addition. In fact, in one inspired scene, Holmes even strays into a cinema hall to watch a film about him, and cringes seeing himself on screen.
That’s the Holmes we know, who knows what from what. This Holmes is much too muddled.
If you want to know, Watson makes one appearance, as just a hand.
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker