One of the true cinematic gems (albeit a lesser known gem) currently in US theaters is Mr. Holmes – the highly artistic period drama/mystery from director Bill Condon and starring Sir Ian McKellen. How did the film stack up? Read on to see for yourself!
Set in 1947, Mr. Holmes tells the story of a 93-year old Sherlock Holmes (played by Ian McKellen) now spends his days at a remote farmhouse in the Sussex, England countryside, tending to his bees. Holmes’ memory has started to fade, though he attempts to counter-act his deteriorating mind by consuming royal jelly, as well as a unique substance (known as prickly ash) that he gathered from a recent trip to Japan.
Holmes is trying to recall the details of his final case, which involved a troubled married woman named Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan). Holmes, with some assistance from his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and especially her young son Roger (Milo Parker), sets out to recover the missing pieces of the true story behind his retirement, as opposed to the ‘official’ (and presumed fictional) version written by the late Dr. John Watson. What Holmes discovers in the process changes his own perspective on his fame, his time as a detective, and the long life that he’s led.
Mr. Holmes is based on Mitch Cullin’s novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind”, which was adapted for the big screen by Jeffrey Hatcher. The film successfully juggles multiple story threads set in the past with the main narrative in the present, by way of flashbacks that generally arise organically from Holmes’ efforts to piece together a life that he can no longer easily remember. The ‘mystery’ elements and dramatic reveals of Mr. Holmes are on the predictable side, but still prove effective thanks to the film’s clean and streamlined narrative. Ultimately, Mr. Holmes is more about the thematic substance (serving as a reflection on the value of truth and fiction in a person’s life) and not focused on providing clever plot twists or unexpected turns.
Director Bill Condon and Ian McKellen explore similar ideas and themes here as they did in their previous collaboration, Gods and Monsters, but the Sherlock Holmes character allows the pair to avoid merely rehashing their past work together. Condon and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Lone Survivor) stage the proceedings in Mr. Holmes in a visually handsome manner that avoids ever being over-showy; combined with the carefully detailed production design by Martin Childs (Shakespeare in Love, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), Mr. Holmes ends up having a very lovely historical setting, if not per se one that’s all that expressive or memorable. Condon’s movie nevertheless has a polished look, and is carefully edited to avoid having any narrative flab.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Mr. Holmes is a solid period drama that is anchored by an incredible performance by Ian McKellen as an old Sherlock Holmes. It features absolutely beautiful cinematography, an outstanding cast, and wonderful period accuracy. The film unfolds as an intelligent character study set against a historic backdrop, but even with Sherlock Holmes as its protagonist, this film will likely not connect with typical American moviegoers, or really anyone besides those that typically enjoy period genre fare. That said, if you do enjoy period pieces – and/or are interested in seeing a big screen take on the Holmes character that is genuinely unlike any other that’s been released in recent years – then Mr. Holmes is certainly worthy of a recommendation. – 8.0/10
Editor: Nerd Nation Magazine