The Short-Less about the mysteries he solved and more about the man himself, Mr. Holmes is a fascinating and beautifully acted drama about the detective as he wrestles with old age. Sir Ian McKellen gives an inspired performance that will force you to wonder why no one casted the acting legend in this role before.
How it took this long to put Sir Ian McKellen in the role of Sherlock Holmes I will never know but now that he is there you are utterly drawn to the actor’s abilities. In Mr. Holmes, Sir Ian plays an aged Holmes who is now retired to the country to live a life of solitude amongst his bees and his house lady Mrs. Monroe (Laura Linney) and her bright son Roger (Milo Parker). From the beginning of the film we see a Holmes that is struggling with his memory as he tries to recall the case that forced him into retirement nearly 30 years earlier. In flashbacks we see a younger Holmes still played by McKellen who is hired to investigate the odd behavior of a woman still grieving after the deaths of two unborn children. The story is told in flashback as Holmes is recalling it and writing it down in order to correct some of the common misconceptions about his life as he grapples with his own mortality.
If you are looking for the theatrics you can see in the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr Holmes movies or on TV in the acclaimed Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock” series you are looking in the wrong place. Mr. Holmes is more a study of the man then his methods. There are no action sequences or stylized shows of deductive reasoning. It’s just Bill Condon and screen writer Jeffrey Hatcher showing us a man closing in on the end of his road and trying to come to terms with his biggest mistake. Condon who also collaborated with McKellen on the Oscar winning biopic Gods and Monsters is in excellent form at the helm of Mr. Holmes. Condon brings Holmes to life on screen and using the script from Jeffrey Hatcher (The Duchess) the film is well paced clocking in at a slimming hour and forty five minutes. Hatcher’s script based on the novel “A Slight Trick of The Mind” by Mitch Cullin helps bring new life to a character that can be seen on two separate Television programs (The critically acclaimed Sherlock and the CBS procedural Elementary). How do you reinvent a character? You put the character on screen in a way we have rarely/never seen them before. In this case as an aging retiree attempting to regain his memory in order to move on from the events that forced him into retirement.
Mr. Holmes makes plenty of winks and nods to previous adaptations and works by having Holmes admit that most of the stories written by John Watson were embellished to make the character more interesting and the events more action packed. Holmes spends time referencing how Watson gave the wrong address in his stories with the real office being across the street for 221B Baker Street. Holmes also admits that he never wore his famous hat and preferred cigars to his classic pipe. McKellen performs with an ageless wonder, in one scene he can bar
ely get out of bed and in flashback he is scouring the streets of London looking into his final case. McKellen has the distinct ability to also flash the pain that is going through the once quick witted detective. The hurt from loss and age that he struggles with throughout the film is prevalent in every scene. McKellen gives a fantastic performance that is doomed to be overshadowed by the later films set to release in the fall but it is one of the most realized performances of Sherlock Holmes put to screen it’s also the most humanizing ones. Alongside McKellen is the fantastic Laura Linney who can arguably play any character. In Mr. Holmes Linney is Mrs. Monroe, a widower who lives with Holmes as his housekeeper along with her bright son Roger who is played by the young Milo Parker. It marks the first major role for Parker and it’s definetly an eye opener. As the film progresses the relationship between Holmes and Roger grows, as Roger learns to tend to Holmes’ apiary. As they bond over the bees, Roger also drives Holmes to continue writing his story. The relationship between Roger and Holmes is fantastic and Parker is up to the task acting alongside McKellen.
Mr. Holmes is a smart, at times funny, at times heartbreaking vision of a very different Sherlock Holmes then the one we normally see on screen. It is a beautifully acted drama with a fascinating script and great direction. One of the best acting performances of 2015 so far in a memorable film, a welcome change of pace during the time most occupied by action movies.