Stars Ian McKellen and Laura Linney “Mr. Holmes,” is an nostalgic portrait of the oncegreat detective as an old man arthritic of body and foggy of mind, yet unwilling to go gently into that good night. It’s a graceful film that seems happy to proceed at roughly the pace of the honey that drips from its central character’s apiary. This version is a faithful adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind” and it may disappoint audiences seeking a ripping good Sherlock Holmes mystery.
The Holmes we meet early on in “Mr. Holmes” is very much a fallen idol, aged 93 and long living in relative anonymity in a Sussex farm house, far from the prying eyes of the fans who once crowded the entrance to his Baker Street home, spurred on by the fictionalized Holmes tales published by his erstwhile partner, Dr. John Watson. The year is 1947, and Holmes whiles away his days tending to his bees and indulging another hobby, botany, under the watchful eye of his widowed cook, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her 14-year-old son, Roger (Milo Parker), who grooms himself in Holmes’ image. But as might be expected, Holmes’ hobbies are no mere passing fancies, but rather attempts at jogging his weary mind.
Already showing the signs of short-term memory loss, Holmes has taken to herbal remedies like royal jelly (hence the bees) and the more exotic prickly ash, an item rare enough to have occasioned a recent trip to Japan, where Holmes plucked it from the still-smouldering hillsides of Hiroshima. Holmes longs to recover one memory in particular, that of the final case he worked on as a detective some 30 years earlier, a case involving an aggrieved husband, Thomas Kelmot his depressive, childless wife and a strange musical instrument, a glass Armonica, with possible occult powers.
Above all, it was a case in which Holmes got something wrong, wrong enough to hang up his magnifying glass for good. If only he could remember what the hell it was. Now it is Holmes who is setting pen to paper in an effort to set the record straight, about his exploits in general and the glass Armonica in particular, and to give himself peace of mind while he still has mind to appease.
For fans of recent Sherlock Holmes neither the Armonica story nor Holmes’ Japanese sojourn is especially suspenseful or surprising, and might seem even less so were it not for the scrambled chronologies with which they unfold. Rather, the more vital subject of “Mr. Holmes” turns out to be our need for stories themselves and, in particular, the role of fiction as an escape from the pain and loss of everyday life, not least the compound horrors of two world wars. Only by his stubborn pursuit of the truth does Holmes come to understand the value of literary invention, from deerstalker hats and curvedstem pipes to our need for happy endings. As you would expect Ian McKellen is superb as Holmes, perhaps a touch too Gandalf-y at times but makes the film as interesting as it is.
Rated M 7 out of 10
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