by E. Ladd
What if Sherlock Holmes reached the age of 93 and started to lose his memory? This is the basic premise of Mr. Holmes, a drama mystery film based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.
The year is 1947 and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective (played by Ian McKellen), has just returned from a trip to Japan to the quiet seaside farmhouse where he has retired. His days are spent beekeeping and trying to piece together the details of his mysterious last case, a case which was published as a fictionalized story by former partner Dr. Watson, (whose face, interestingly, is never seen onscreen). Holmes is encouraged to remember and record the truth behind this case by Roger (Milo Parker), the precocious young son of his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney). The unfolding drama goes on to recall moments of Holmes’ Hiroshima trip, where he sought the mind restorative powers of the prickly ash plant, to the spotty, often hard-to-retrieve memories of that last case (and the reason for his retirement), many years prior, which involved a young man, Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy), who hired Holmes to follow his wife Ann (Hattie Morahan).
Ian McKellen is wonderful in this film. This is why you want to see it. The combination of McKellen and director Bill Condon (writer/director involved with Dreamgirls, Chicago, and Kinsey) is excellent. The pair worked together once before on 1998’s Gods and Monsters, which won Condon an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and garnered critical acclaim (as most of his film and stage work has) for McKellen, including a Best Actor nomination. Grappling with old age and all of the infirmities that go along with it, how does one of the world’s greatest, hyper-perceptive (albeit fictional) minds handle the twilight years, especially when touched by regret and the specter of death that hangs over us all? It is with a certain grace and aplomb and the realization that “human nature is a mystery that logic alone could not solve”. This is a fictional character dealing with his own fiction, and in my own perception of it, perhaps a true allegory. Although lighter on the mystery side of the plot than some Sherlock Holmes fans might desire, this film is devoted to the sort of drama that is a character study. It is touching and elegantly shot, it has a beautiful score by Carter Burwell, and the acting, all across the board, really, is first rate.
Watch the trailer for Mr. Holmes
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