Ian McKellen exudes a sense of curmudgeonly charm in Bill Condon’s Mr Holmes, which sees an elderly version of the legendary sleuth living out his retirement in a seaside cottage. With a more youthful, contemporary version of the great detective thrilling audiences on the small screen, and a dashing Victorian avenger only just having vacated cinemas, it’s nice to see a thoughtful, low-key take on the character. Part deconstruction of the Homes myth, part sideways glance at unwanted celebrity-status, Condon’s Mr Holmes is an attentive and gentle look back at life well-lived and playful grasping at lost youthfulness.
The posters for this film, with an imperial-looking McKellen striking a wonderfully stately pose, promise to offer up an older, possibly less nimble version of the character. Indeed, the version we see throughout the bulk of the film is even older, even less nimble than the one gracing its DVD cover who is seen only through flashbacks. In his nineties and with only his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker) for company, Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) lives a life of solitude on the Sussex coast. His failing memory is a source of frustration to him as he struggles to recall the details of his final case. He tinkers with homeopathic remedies derived from royal jelly and prickly ash to stem his slide into senility.
It seems that his exploits, adapted into fiction by his partner John Watson, have found a wide audience and boosted his notoriety, creating a man-myth character with which he struggles to keep up. Holmes’s reputation precedes him but he sometimes fails to live up to his billing (no deerstalker and he has long since abandoned his pipe) and has grown weary of trying to live up the public’s expectations. Dissatisfied with Watson’s creative adaptation of his final case, Holmes sits down to write his own account and draw a line under his career as a detective.
A consummate master, McKellen appears totally at ease as both the relatively young Holmes present in the flashbacks going about his final case, and the severely-aged Holmes pottering about his apiary. There is a wonderful low-key physicality to McKellen’s acting (look up his brief stint on Coronation Street if you need convincing) that lends both a hard-edged grumpiness and an air of vulnerability to his character. As Holmes’s foster-father relationship with Roger blossoms, he’s an absolute joy to watch with plenty of considered, little movements that never feel over-acted.
Jeffrey Hatcher’s screenplay, adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, goes about deconstructing the man behind the legend to some degree and gives us a clever re-telling of an old Holmes tale with a shrewd look at the notion of reluctant celebrity.
DVD extras consist of interviews with the cast providing insight on their interest in the story.
Drama, Mystery | USA, 2015 | PG | Entertainment One | 26th October 2015 (UK) | Dir. Bill Condon |Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Hattie Morahan, Milo Parker | Buy: Mr Holmes [DVD]