Mr. Holmes


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Ian McKellen and Laura Linney as Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Munro in the film.
"The trouble is that the film takes great effort to counter everything that makes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation stimulating." | Photo: Roadside Attractions/Miramax

Unlike Julianne Moore's Oscar-winning performance in Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer's Still Alice, Mr. Holmes, in this incarnation, based on the novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin, is not still the same despite the struggle with Alzheimer's. This Mr. Holmes we never really knew in the first place.

The year is 1947 and a retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is living quietly in the English countryside with a widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Beekeeping is now one of his major activities these days. McKellen's fantastic face is the battleground where Holmes gets ready for a final lurking enemy - the master of deduction's own fading memory.

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He tells everyone who wants to know that 221B Baker Street in London was a decoy address to distract the curious, that he never wore a deerstalker and never really liked smoking a pipe. Sneaky Dr. Watson, who remains without a face and voiceless here, made it all up. Director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher let us linger on images of wistful yearning without testing our perceptions.

The trouble is that the film takes great effort to counter everything that makes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation stimulating. The screenplay shows its creaking hinges at every turn, especially in the drab flashbacks. The classic Sherlock would have shuddered at the contrived placement of a glove or the hysterical faux-German organ instructor (Frances de la Tour). The wasps versus bees theme haunts the whole movie and becomes less intoxicating each time we are stung.

Mr. Holmes has to have names up his sleeve, written on his shirt cuffs, to remember who he is conversing with. He hopes for the healing powers of Royal Jelly and particularly those of Prickly Ash, harvested in the charred forests of Hiroshima on a trip to Japan where he met with cunning Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) to unearth his treasured herb.

Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler captures a number of memorable images along the way. A young melancholy wife (Hattie Morahan as Ann Kelmot) with rich berry stained lips has a profound effect. A diary is speckled with dots, one for each forgotten name. Coloured paper flashcards on the wall of a nursery tell of an absent child. An excursion to the cliffs by the sea links the old man with the young boy Roger, both carrying the same striped beach towel and a basket full of unfulfilled ideas.

Laura Linney, at the red carpet premiere in New York, when I asked if she had something against carrots, explained the war widow's reluctance to do kitchen work. The sense that Holmes' retirement home was made from cardboard and grumpiness is all too present.

Mr. Holmes reunites Bill Condon with Ian McKellen. The actor received an Oscar nomination for his performance in the far more rewarding Gods And Monsters as Frankenstein director, James Whale, and Condon won for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2015
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Mr. Holmes packshot
A retired Sherlock looks back on his life and an unsolved case.
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Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the book by Mitch Cullin using characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Starring: Ian McKellen, Milo Parker, Laura Linney, Hattie Morahan, Patrick Kennedy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Roger Allam, Colin Starkey, Philip Davis, Nicholas Rowe, Frances de la Tour, Madeleine Worrall, Sarah Crowden, Takako Akashi, Zak Shukor

Year: 2015

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK, US

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