UK Release Date: 19th June 2015
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Ian McKellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy
Synopsis: The ageing detective attempts to piece together the circumstances around his final case in order to correct the misconceptions about his life.
The character of Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most-portrayed one in the history of cinema. From Basil Rathbone’s 1940s take on the detective to Benedict Cumberbatch’s fast-talking, modern version of Conan Doyle’s most iconic creation, just about everyone has had a go at being Holmes. The latest star to step up to the character is Ian McKellen, with an interesting, older slant on the character in Mr Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes (McKellen) keeps bees in a quiet home within the Sussex countryside, aided by his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her intelligent son Roger (Milo Parker). Struggling with his fading powers of recall and ailing health, Holmes attempts to write an account of his final case, setting straight the sensationalism of Watson’s stories.
At the heart of Mr Holmes is a genuinely charming mentor-student dynamic between Ian McKellen and Milo Parker. As you would expect if you know anything about Holmes, it isn’t a particularly warm relationship, at least initially, but one built on the intellectual parallels between Holmes and Roger, which are mined in an interesting and affectionate way.
| "I’ve decided to write the story down; as it was, not as John made it."
It helps that Ian McKellen makes for an excellent Holmes. He excels as both the late-50s incarnation of the character and the decrepit 93-year-old we meet Holmes as at the beginning of the film. McKellen is a terrifically subtle performer, who delivers a portrayal of the character based on physicality rather than the whip-smart dialogue of the current BBC series. In many ways, the role is similar to Timothy Spall’s in Mr Turner, where grunts and lumbering physicality take the place of pages of dialogue. He is helped by some excellent make-up work, turning him into a much older man.
McKellen brings a heart-breaking sense of crumbling mind to Mr Holmes. His character is one who uses writing to hold onto his memories, desperate not to lose the great mind that has been his weapon and indeed his living for his entire life. The fact that we see the film through this prism gives it a disjointed quality that occasionally helps it to show depth, but often leaves director Bill Condon to struggle with pacing and obscures plot revelations.
Newcomer Parker is more than good enough to work alongside McKellen in Mr Holmes and Laura Linney excels too, despite having some issues with a wandering accent. Roger Allam, too, appears occasionally as Holmes’ doctor in another of his recent roles as a slightly smarmy Englishman.
| "When you’re a detective and a man visits you, it’s usually about his wife."
The strength of Mr Holmes is in the way it shows us a completely different side to a character we feel we know. McKellen’s central performance lends weight to the story, but it’s one that has major narrative shortcomings and often feels a little too disposable to become a truly essential addition to the Holmes canon.
Pop or Poop?
Aided by a heavyweight central performance, Mr Holmes is an interesting examination of the ageing process and what happens to a brilliant mind as it reaches the end of its existence.
The plot is a little throwaway and the pacing struggles to find a groove, but this is a film about performance and it definitely succeeds in that respect.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.