You’d be forgiven for thinking that a movie about an aging Sherlock Holmes would be about the famed detective back on the case solving a murder and recapturing his glory days, but Mr. Holmes is something slightly different.
Holmes (Ian McKellen) is in his 90s, living in a remote cottage after leaving his illustrious career behind 35 years before. His main company is his cook/housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), her son Roger (Milo Parker) and the bees that he keeps. He’s not trying to recapture his glory days, he just wants to be able to properly remember them, as creeping senility keeps making him to forget things, including what really happened on his final case.
He knows that the ending to the tale isn’t what Watson wrote in his successful books about Sherlock, but he’s having trouble remembering exactly what it was that led him to leave his former life behind.
The film is a mix of Holmes’ quiet, slowly diminishing life in his cottage, a recent trip he took to Japan in search of a plant that might help his memory issues, as well as flashbacks to three decades before and the final case that led him to give up his life as a detective.
While Mr. Holmes certainly has elements of a detective story, it’s far more interested in fears about aging and death, with the mystery more about Sherlock attempting to piece together his own mind and find comfort and peace in his final years than anything more grandiose.
At times it’s surprisingly poignant, looking at someone whose brain once made him amongst the most celebrated men of his age, but who is now in decline, to the point where nothing he can do will make him the man he once was, even if there are still flashes of his greatness. The relationship between Holmes and young Milo is handled extremely well, with mortality touching this in more ways than one, not least his mother’s fear that having already lost his father in the war, Milo needs protecting from Holmes’ inevitable demise.
It’s a gentle movie that looks great and has a lot of charm. If you’re looking for a Sherlock Holmes ‘adventure’, you’d better look elsewhere, but if you’re happy with a bittersweet look at growing old, as well as facing your past and the ever-shortening future ahead of you, it’s well worth watching. As ever, Ian McKellen is magnificent, absolutely nailing Holmes both as a very old man in failing health and as a detective in his prime. Indeed, it is an interesting aspect of the film that it deals Holmes with having to grapple with humility, something that he sometimes doesn’t realise he’s lacking in.
Overall Verdict: Although not the adventure many might have expected, Mr. Holmes is a charming and sometimes moving looking at the challenges of aging, with a great performance from Ian McKellen.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac