An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman.
It feels like we’re reaching saturation point with the oft-adapted Sherlock Holmes, with two TV series currently running in the UK and the US, and a big budget film series helmed by Guy Ritchie. ‘Mr. Holmes’ on the face of it, is a more interesting adaptation choice that casts Ian McKellan as an elderly version of the famous sleuth, reuniting him with ‘Gods and Monsters’ director Bill Condon. The film begins with the 93 year old Holmes, who now lives in a remote farmhouse with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker), struggling with his memories and consistently being drawn back to his final case, the details of which he can’t entirely remember. From this point onwards, the film drifts between the present and the past, as Holmes tries to re-investigate a crime he’s not sure he ever managed to solve.
Ian McKellan is excellently cast as an elderly Holmes, inhibiting the famous detective superbly in both periods depicted and forming a charming relationship with his housekeeper’s son. He’s supported by some strongly cast cameos from the likes of Roger Allam, Hiroyuki Sanada and the always welcome Frances de la Tour, and the script plays around with some nice meta moments, particularly playing well with the ‘biopic’ premise of a fictional character (albeit one as well known as Sherlock Holmes). As previously mentioned, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ appears to be everywhere at the moment, but there will be pleasures for fans both new and odd with the subtle nods to previous cases and characters in the canon.
Where Condon’s film starts to fall down is with its central case, which isn’t particularly interesting and fails to provide McKellan with the opportunity to truly shine in the role. The film fails to derive interest in either the time spent exploring the case or the time spent in the present timeline and as a result, the film often drags and I found myself constantly drawn to checking my watch throughout the runtime (and this is a relatively short film). We also spend a short period of time covering Holmes recent trip to Japan, where he meets a man (Hiroyuki Sanada) loosely tied to events in London in the past, but this doesn’t really tie into the central narrative in a satisfying way either.
‘Mr. Holmes’ provides the opportunity to see an elderly version of the famous detective, with a strong central performance in the role from Ian McKellan, but beyond that, ‘Mr. Holmes’ fails to deliver a strong enough narrative to make this endeavour particularly worthwhile viewing.
Directed By: Bill Condon
Starring: Ian McKellan, Laura Linney, Hattie Morahan, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Patrick Kennedy, Milo Parker and Frances de la Tour