By Thomas Simpson
Over the last decade we’ve seen Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes. Each actor brought something different to the role and now Ian McKellen is next to play the great detective. Noticeably older than his predecessors, McKellen has brought a fresh and unique Sherlock to the big screen in Mr. Holmes.
Holmes has long since retired, living in near solitude with only his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and young son (Milo Parker) for company. The legend of Sherlock Holmes has entered popular culture thanks to his old friend Watson who has published novels based on their famous cases. Holmes is quick to point out the fictional aspects of his life embellished by his old partner, such as his wearing a deerstalker and smoking a pipe. What begins to bother him is one particular case, the one that caused him to retire. He disputes Watson’s account of how it ended but he can’t remember the facts. With his health and memory deteriorating, Holmes must solve this one last mystery to find peace.
McKellen is brilliant as the older Holmes. In a world of younger and action packed Sherlocks, Mr. Holmes takes a more reserved and distinguished approach. McKellen initially comes across as surely and grumpy but this is a man struggling with his mortality with no Watson to anchor him or play off of.
He does have Roger, the housekeeper’s son who Holmes strikes up an unlikely friendship. Roger is fascinated by Watson’s tales and substitutes for the absent partner as he helps Holmes with his memory. Without Rogers, Holmes is a lonely old man slowly wasting away, the boy helps drive him, giving him purpose where he feels he has none.
Although he has no villain to match wits with, Laura Linney’s Mrs. Munro is an adversary of sorts. The housekeeper isn’t a bad person, but she feels trapped by Holmes’s frailty and like all mothers wants what’s best for her child. Linney is excellent in the role as she finds herself mentally battling her own son and coming off second best to Holmes’s magnetic lure. The familiar characters may be notable by their absence, but the Munros fill those gaps perfectly.
Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, the script is injected with mild tension but there’s no real excitement. The subplot regarding Holmes trip to Japan feels like it’s been included to bump up the runtime and offers little of value. It detracts from the main story and doesn’t offer any worthy resolution. One can’t help but think that Mr. Holmes would have worked better as a one hour TV drama.
The same can’t be said of the primary mystery with its shocking, albeit it predictable, climax. It doesn’t offer edge of the seat thrills, but it’s a satisfactory conclusion that provides closure for the audience.
It lacks the frantic delights more recently associated with the famous sleuth but it presents a pleasant and original take on the character while remaining respectful of its source material. Prime viewing for a weekend afternoon.