Mr Holmes review: Ian McKellen charms in this elegant, slow look at a detective in retirement


Jul 24, 2015 16:10:51 IST

By Gayatri Gauri

Sherlock Holmes is not just all of 93, bent and frail; he is also losing his memory. That’s not all. The sharpest mind in detective fiction has a fault. He is susceptible to his heart’s failings.

 Mr Holmes review: Ian McKellen charms in this elegant, slow look at a detective in retirement

Movie poster of Mr Holmes.

In this deliciously slow-as-honey-drip version, Mr. Holmes, adapted from the 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, director and Oscar-winning writer Bill Condon presents a multiple mystery of three stories set in 1947, in scenic Sussex.

Holmes (Ian McKellen) is now retired, stays at his honeybee farmhouse with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her 10-year-old son, Roger (Milo Parker). He tends to his bees and waxes eloquent about their distinction from wasps. This little bit of information is not to be dismissed as just any lay piece of dialogue, since what follows in the minor plot of the mystery of the dying bees turns out to be a rare scene in which Holmes actually breaks down.

Those used to the Benedict Cumberbatch avatar of Sherlock Holmes may take a while to adjust to both the pace and the transition. McKellen at 73 strips Holmes of the hip factor and makes him grandfatherly and warm. In fact, the case to be solved is also not all that fascinating. The focus here is on Holmes himself — his growth and his spiritual turmoils as he approaches the end of his life. However, when it all comes together, this story is as infinitely satisfying.

Holmes is seen struggling with some unfinished business and the cause of his early retirement : an unsolved case, of course. In an effort to give a more accurate version to Watson’s exaggerated and misleading account, he picks up the pen himself. However, his dementia doesn’t allow him to recall the exact details concerning a young wife, Ann (Hattie Morahan) mourning over her two miscarriages.

With Holmes’ slow recollections and deliberate reflectiveness, the unfolding of the 30 year-old-case is quite unremarkable as a mystery. What makes it relevant to the present in Sussex is the revelation of Holmes’ personal reason to quit and his developing bond with the budding Watson in the making—the eager, young Roger, as he recollects and ties missing ends.

The finale, when it comes, is captured in a brilliant frame that shows Holmes kneeling on green fields, placing a stone. When the camera pulls back, we see the old man on his knees, surrounded by more stones, and we seen a fine piece of cinematic translation of a fan fiction book. Condon makes a highly commendable, smooth and skillful navigation between three timelines and stories. In between, he inserts a small, clip of an older Sherlock Holmes film, as a delightful little homage.

In all this, Laura Linney shines as the widowed housekeeper, playing a winsome role of the worried mother, defiant in her protectiveness of Roger. McKellen is deeply absorbing as he flits with ease from his convincing, ageing body language to a middle-aged, sharp eyed sleuth. Parker is a complete charmer as the curious wannabe Watson, in awe of his mentor. The three together make a fine, peaceful picture on the lovely Sussex farm.

In the fan fiction that is Mr. Holmes, the world’s most famous detective, God may be old. But it’s not time to say goodbye. Instead say hello to a new Holmes who is now all heart, mind and soul. Older, wiser, warmer, with much amusing ado made about his distinctive hat.

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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2015 16:09:47 IST