Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)




Sir Ian McKellen and director Bill Condon reunite for this superb capstone to the Sherlock Holmes legend.

Set in 1947, 30 years after Holmes’ retirement and self-imposed exile to the English West Country, the film focuses on Holmes’ fading memories of his last case and his efforts to come to terms with how and why that particular case forced him to retire as a private investigator. It’s a slow moving film that delves into the mind of the great detective, revealing some of his flaws and weaknesses as well as reminding us all of his intellectual genius and the price he’s paid for it.

In this, McKellen is superbly supported by Laura Linney and Milo Parker  as his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, and her son Roger with whom Holmes forms a paternal bond, recognising in the boy a like mind and keen intellect. This bond deepens during the film as Holmes comes to terms with the reasons for the failure of his last case and the loneliness he has felt throughout his life as he starts trying to guide Roger into not focusing solely on logic and facts, but to always include the Human elements of compassion, empathy and kindness, which Holmes realises have been absent in his own life. This is a point of focus as, through Holmes’ reminiscing with Roger, we are shown glimpses of his relationship with John Watson and the almost contemptuous tolerance he feels towards Watson’s dramatic retelling of Holmes’ cases. We also see the his somewhat arrogant aloofness from the rest of Humanity who he feels need to embrace logic and fact the way he does. This arrogant assurance in his own intellectual superiority is the main point in Holmes’ character that leads to his fall from grace and is the cause of his prickly relationship with Mrs. Munro who is feeling increasingly threatened by his relationship with her son.

Through McKellen’s subtly brilliant performance, we see Holmes’ struggle to overcome a lifetime of reticence and his horror at the slow loss of the memory and intellect he values so much at the hands of senility and his almost desperate efforts to write down the details of his last case before what he thinks is his imminent death. We are also able to witness Holmes’ change as, at last, the details all fall into place and he realises what has been missing from his life.

There are no really dramatic points, no action set pieces, no long winded monologues and no twists and turns in this film. We are treated instead to a nice story that reminds us all of how a good cinematic piece should be done and is a nice counterbalance to the seemingly endless stream of superhero films, reboots and remakes coming from Hollywood.

And, to top it all off, there’s a nice Holmes in-joke with the casting of Nicholas Rowe as a cinematic Sherlock Holmes that the real Holmes sees in the film adaptation of his last case showing the warm humour that is evident throughout.


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