Mr. Holmes is a new film about Sherlock Holmes in his later years. Ian McKellen plays the titular role. It transpires in the postwar 1940s. Holmes has retired ages ago, and lives in a cottage near Dover, England. His body and his memory are failing. He is attended by Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). After losing her husband in the war, she struggles to carry on, urging Roger to not bother Mr. Holmes.
As the film opens, Holmes is returning from a trip to Japan. A gentleman he has been corresponding with offered to help him locate a special plant, which could help him regain memories and help him cope with his aging. He returns to the cottage, and Mrs. Munro urges Roger to leave Mr. Holmes alone. Being a child, he cannot, and goes through Holmes’ papers. Roger finds a story and reads it. Naturally, Mr. Holmes realizes this, and they start to talk. The story is not a story at all, but it is Mr. Holmes’ final case, the one that caused him to retire. It is unfinished, and he has forgotten many of the details, but is struggling to recall enough that he can finalize the recounting of it and find the truth. Holmes is invigorated by this, and remembers a little more more. Meanwhile, he has taken a liking to Roger, and starts to teach him about beekeeping, one of his hobbies that’s sustained him through the years.
This film is three stories in one. The first is ‘the present’, the second is the case, and the third is his trip to Japan, and his interactions with his host. We find that Watson was the storyteller who had a fondness for embellishing the truth, which irritated Holmes to no end. For example, the Deerstalker Hat and Pipe were creations of Watson, and so on. The case he’s trying to remember did not end in the fictional manner that Watson indicated, so he’s trying to resolve it before he passes on. The case itself appears throughout the story, as Holmes remembers it, and the third is his trip to Japan. It goes in an unexpected direction that I will not reveal.
This movie works well on several levels. First, and foremost, the casting is brilliant. Ian McKellen is exceptionally good. He plays the frailty of his years and the frustrations of his aging extremely well, good enough that it made me question McKellen’s actual health. He’s that good. Laura Linney is good, but it’s hard to tell if she was an American in England for the war, or a citizen of the U.K. with a modest accent. Her intensity makes up for that. Milo Parker is more talented than you’d expect for someone his age. He reminds me of Thomas Brodie-Sangster when he starred “Love, Actually”, but moreso. The rest of the cast, especially Hattie Moran as Ann Kelmot, are really committed to making the story work. The second is that the stories, on their own, aren’t all that strong, but the flipping between then strengthens their power. There are several turns of events that kept me guessing on the outcome.
This film has a melancholic tone, but the it slowly builds towards the finale. I expected the film to be decent, but it’s much more than that. There’s power in this drama, and it made me consider something about Sherlock Holmes that has only been hinted at in many of the various representations of him on screen.
I definitely recommend this film, and I’ve already placed it in my top ten movie list for 2015.