It would be fair to ask the question, “Is there a version of Sherlock Holmes that we haven’t seen on the screen?”
Incarnations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character date as far back as the 1920s and more recently we’ve seen Robert Downey Jr don the deerstalker in Guy Ritchie’s punchy reboots and Benedict Cumberbatch deliver a thoroughly modern Sherlock in the critically acclaimed BBC series of the same name.
Now comes Director Bill Condon’s elegant and melancholy “Mr Holmes” which sees Ian McKellen portray Sherlock as a lonely and troubled recluse slowly succumbing to senility.
To answer the question that I posed at the beginning of the review, this version delivers a Sherlock that you’ve never seen before, it’s a wholly original and witty codicil that owes as much to Condon’s last collaboration with McKellen (1998’s Gods and Monsters) as it does to Arthur Conan Doyle.
The film is loosely adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, featuring Holmes at 93, living in cantankerous retirement in England in 1947 and exasperated at the way he has been misrepresented in his friend Watson’s bestselling accounts of their famous cases (“Penny dreadfuls with an elevated prose style,” he sniffs dismissively).
Condon’s film is cleverly structured in three parts – Holmes’ reasonably content retirement which sees him keeping bees and antagonising his long-suffering housekeeper (played by Laura Linney), while agonising over suspicions that he is succumbing to dementia. But as he struggles to remember the details of his life, so we spiral back to the past – three decades earlier – to the case that proved his undoing, involving a mysterious missing woman (Hattie Morahan), and to his recent trip to Japan which saw him bringing back more than just medication.
Jeffery Hatcher’s elegant script neatly ties these strands together and each section offer parallel discoveries that help Holmes piece together events that unfold in all three.
It’s a scintillating, touching and intriguing piece of cinema. A humane character study, rather than whodunit, that’s structured cleverly using the tropes of the traditional Holmes story. McKellen plays his role so gracefully that he barely looks like he’s trying. This tender tale is one that I couldn’t recommend more highly – a must watch.
- An Acting Masterclass
- Intimate Exploration of Sherlock
- Touching and Elegant
- Lacking In Thrills
- Convoulted Plot
- Lacking In Mystery