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MR. HOLMES (review)

mr_holmesMR. HOLMES

Written by Jeffrey Hatcher / Directed by Bill Condon / Starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and Milo Parker

Sherlock Holmes: I’ve never had much use for imagination. I prefer facts.

In the interest of full disclosure, my knowledge of Sherlock Holmes is perfunctory. I might have watched one or two of the 1940’s movie series starring Basil Rathbone on late night television during my formative years, but found the whole thing a little too “la di da” for my tastes and switched my allegiance to the Charlie Chan mysteries. I have yet to watch the acclaimed BBC series that made Benedict Cumberbatch a star, or the modernized reboot from director Guy Ritchie, where I can only assume that Robert Downey Jr. is his smug self all the way through. That said, my ignorance of all things Sherlock did not preclude me from absolutely loving the whimsical MR. HOLMES.

The year is 1947. The world renowned sleuth, majestically played by Ian McKellen (THE LORD OF THE RINGS), has just returned to his home in the countryside from a trip to Japan with a medicinal root that will hopefully boost his brain power. Sherlock is a reclusive, cantankerous 93-year-old, fearful that he is losing his mind to dementia. While he lovingly attends to his bees, he leaves the daily chores to his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (newcomer Milo Parker in a sparkling, assured performance). Irritated by his celebrity status due to the books written about his cases by his sidekick, Watson (for whom, we learn, he had no love nor respect for), Sherlock is determined to write the true version of his final case which was the impetus that made him retire. Unfortunately, his memories of the case, which come to him in flashbacks, are murky at best. Urged on by the precocious Roger, who is also wise beyond his young years, Holmes slowly recounts the case on paper between bouts of memory loss and razor sharp lucidity.


Reuniting with his GODS AND MONSTERS director, Bill Condon, McKellen is flawless. As the frail and aged Holmes, his performance is master class. He walks with an uncertain gait and his rheumy eyes speak volumes, filled with pain due to his ailments at one moment, vague and disconcerted when he is confused about his surroundings the next, and shining brightly with intelligence and wit in moments that are sadly far and few in between. In the flashback scenes, we see an elegantly dressed Sherlock Holmes, brimming with grace and energy as he follows the subject of his final case. His eyes crinkle with glee throughout the chase as he effortlessly discerns the situations at hand.

At first, I felt bad watching the talented Linney in the thankless role of the housekeeper (which had already been perfected by Lynn Redgrave in GODS AND MONSTERS) but, as her backstory is slowly revealed, I admired the actress’s choices more and more. It is a subdued performance with a glorious pay off in the end. Meanwhile, the chemistry between Holmes and the young Roger is genuinely sweet and intelligent. I loved watching McKellen feed off of and then give back the vivacity he was getting from Parker.


MR. HOLMES will not only charm fans of the Sherlock Holmes legacy (there is an absolutely brilliant sequence in this movie where Holmes goes to the theatre to see a filmed version of the case he is currently writing about where all the facts are wrong and illogical), it will also convert neophytes to the elementary charms of this sleuth who, we learn, has always preferred cigars to a pipe.

4 sheep

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