Director: Bill Condor
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Roger Allam, Hiroyuki Sanada
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher, (also based on the novel “A Slight Trick Of The Mind”) Mitch Cullin and (based on the characters created ) Arthur Conan Doyle
Running Time: 104 mins
Release date: 19th June 2015
Apart from the masses of comic book superheroes that keep exploding onto our screens, the other popular fictional character that turns up on a regular occurrence is that of Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr has his version, Benedict Cumberbatch is the great sleuth on the BBC and Johnny Lee Miller plays him in Elementary. So you would have thought we didn’t need another variation. Well we have one, in the form of Sir Ian McKellen, playing a much older version.
Into his 90’s and living in a small Dover farmhouse with his housekeeper, Mrs Munro, and her son, Roger, Sherlock Holmes is fighting losing his memory while tending his one love, bees, and writing his own version of his final, unsolved case, that of a missing wife some 35 years earlier. As he slowly puts the pieces together, he starts to realise that it may have been solved after all.
Bill Condor’s film, based on a best seller by Mitch Cullin, is a classy affair, beautiful to look at, with its rich, Dover coastline and very high production values. The attention to details, whether it be in the farmhouse or London years earlier, or even Japan, where Holmes goes in search of a plant that could aid his memory loss, is perfectly suited for the piece.
Where the problems lie is in the pacing. Having all these versions of Holmes around us, all played out at breakneck speed, with their fancy camera work and quick-fire editing, Mr Holmes feels like it could stop any moment and sit for a while to enjoy the view. Where the others don’t allow the audience a chance to take in clues and red herrings that piece the crimes together, here they are pondered upon, sometimes even laid out for all to see, which, while some are still hard to see, others are blatantly obvious.
The central case, that of a distress husband thinking he is losing his wife after they have both experienced tragedy in their family, is played out in flashback but in short sequences as Holmes desperately tries to remember the events. These scenes are touching but somewhat unremarkable, mainly because, as we slowly witness, there isn’t much of a case in the first place. The scenes of the older Holmes, befriending Roger and sharing his love of bees, are slightly more captivating, thanks more to the performances than the script, which rambles on a little too much.
McKellen was born to play Holmes, with his domineering stage presence and deep theatrical voice, he has the statue of the great detective, who sweeps away the many myths left behind by the “penny dreadfuls” created by his partner-in-crime, Dr Watson (seen only as a blur in the background and no mention of Arthur Conan Doyle). McKellen is immense. Quietly underplaying the older Holmes, he allows us to really examine a man who was once had a great mind that is slowly disappearing. Like Timothy Spall in Mr Turner, McKellen uses grunts, sighs and groans to express much more than any written word could communicate. After years of playing in fantasy films, its nice to see a great actor taking on a complex role like Holmes.
Ably supporting him is Laura Linney as Mrs Munro, the despairing housekeeper. Linney is one of those actresses who can do no wrong, even when there is something not right. Here her accent is a little shaky but she is a perfect foil to the sometimes abrupt McKellen and it’s always a pleasure to spend time with her. We need her back on-screen more often. As Roger, young Milo Parker excels. A naturalistic performance, he makes for a delightful playmate opposite the older and wiser Holmes. McKellen has been singing his praises and its easy to see why.
Keen-eyed Homes fans need to look out for a brief appearance of Nicholas Rowe, a former Sherlock Holmes from the 1985 film, Young Sherlock Holmes, in a clever twist that manages to raise an unexpected smile.
Mr Holmes is a film that is brimming with original ideas and themes, such as loneliness and fear and with its terrific cinematography and strong performances, this should have been an outstanding film. Yet the pacing is far too controlled that it becomes frustrating and, dare I say it, a little boring.