There are so many concurrent Sherlock Holmes adaptations live at the moment that anyone else who tries to make one is going to struggle to find a unique title. Considering that ‘Sherlock’, Sherlock Holmes, ‘Elementary’ and now Mr Holmes have been taken, there’s not much to choose from. (The best I can come up with is ‘Consulting Detective’, ‘Baker Street’ or ‘Watson, M.D.’; royalties can be sent through the website, kthxbi.)
The good news is that, thus far, the recent adaptations have all been quite distinct from each other. Mr Holmes, based on the novel, ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind,’ is about as far away from the common iterations as you can get. Set in 1947, the film sees the world’s most famous detective retired and living in remote Sussex. As suggested by Arthur Conan Doyle himself, Sherlock (Ian McKellan) occupies his later years tending to his apiary. In Mr. Holmes, however, he is also having a go at writing himself for a change. With his reluctant housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) lurking about and her enthusiastic son Roger (Milo Parker) eager to learn from his great intellect, Sherlock comes up against his most challenging adversary yet: his failing memory.
Mr. Holmes is not a fun whodunit, nor is it action comedy, nor is it a study of an arrogant psychopath. Instead, it’s a sombre tale about a man coming to terms with his own mortality. As a consequence, the film can be rather trying. It’s only 104 minutes, but it felt like over two hours, and this is coming from someone who liked it.
McKellan is wonderful, yes, however I’m not sure what’s more upsetting: seeing him playing a doddering old man, or seeing Sherlock played as a doddering old man. Linney is a good match for him but it’s young Parker who steals the show. Looking more than a little like Asa Butterfield, his determination as Roger provides the narrative with much needed impetus.
To be honest, there’s nothing here that Is Anybody There? didn’t do slightly better, and those purely wanting their Sherlock Holmes fix might be better off looking elsewhere. But if you stick with it, Mr. Holmes does have an impact in the long run. I might have found myself wishing the pacing wasn’t so sluggish, and the multiple narratives weren’t so spaced out, but the end brought a tear to the eye nonetheless.
Mr. Holmes won’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly a return to form for director Bill Condon, who followed up the brilliant Gods and Monsters with the lacklustre Kinsey and Dreamgirls, not to mention The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and 2. If you have the patience, there’s a solid little film to be found here.Rating:
Mr. Holmes is released in Australia on 23 July 2015.