Mr. Holmes

Retired and fending off dementia, an elderly Sherlock Holmes must rely on his fragmented memory to recall the details of his final, unsolved case.

Year: 2015
Certificate: 12
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Laura LinneyBill CondonIan McKellenHiroyuki SanadaHattie MorahanMilo ParkerFrances BarberNicholas RoweJohn SessionsRoger AllamFrances de la TourEileen DaviesSarah CrowdenPatrick KennedyMichael CulkinDavid FoxxePhil DaviesKit Connor

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A curmudgeonly old superhero dealing with the degradation of their most valuable faculties, hoping for some kind of cure for that very ailment; a hero who’s had previous adventures in Japan and now acts as a father figure to a young child; set in world in which the protagonist exists fictionally; a hero finally telling their story as they lived it. Why, it’s “Logan”, of course! Nope: “Mr. Holmes”… seriously. Before Old Man Wolverine was given the raw, emotional, end-of-days treatment, “Mr. Holmes” took an iconic hero and told their twilight tale.

In 1947, a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) lives out his retirement in a farmhouse on the south coast of England, with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her son, Roger (Milo Parker). Inspired by the boy’s marvelled reading of the stories a long-gone Dr. John Watson wrote of their adventures together, Holmes looks to recall the details of his final case.

Said mysterious assignment somehow caused him to retire 35 years prior; however, his failing memory offers him no closure and the unexplained pain and guilt he feels further obscure the events. And so he must fight against his fading recollections to put the truth down on paper, in the form of a final, conclusive Sherlock Holmes novel: in his own words, at last.

In a long line of fine actors to play Holmes, McKellen has to go down as one of the very best. His Holmes is withered, but sparky, and, after a lifetime reliant on logic, must finally confront the emotional demons of his past. Out of his depth for one of the first times in his life, McKellen captures the emotional coming-of-age stunted by Holmes’ brilliance.

McKellen develops a lovely rapport with Parker, whose performance is confident and integral to this adult-centric tale. Linney, however, wrestles with her American twang without ever shaping it into any kind of convincing English country accent. When all her energy is directed into a battle with her voice box, her performance suffers and comes across as unfortunately muted.

The film is reliant on flashbacks, both to the central case and Holmes’ adventures in Japan. It’s an effective form and Bill Condon (director of this year’s “Beauty and the Beast”) gives them a fluid sense of truthfulness, as Holmes remembers (and misremembers) those fateful scenes, moment by moment. Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, also touches upon the very nature and purpose of storytelling, in particular the temptation to write happiness and levity where there is none.

As I’m sure you can tell, this Holmes doesn’t have the intricate mysteries of the Benedict Cumberbatch TV series, or the swagger of the Robert Downey Jr. films; instead, this is an intimate and rather heart-breaking character study. While the case in question is unexceptional and lacking any real intrigue, it’s Holmes emotional reckoning that provides the core to this, his moving, melancholy final tale.

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About Benedict

Freelance culture journalist and Film Studies graduate. Netflix is his happy place.

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