No literary character has garnered more fascination and fame around the world than Sherlock Holmes. While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featured Holmes in four novels and 56 short stories, many others have placed their own spin on the world’s most famous detective over the years. In these derivative works, we’ve seen Holmes as a college student, a married man, and even a cartoon basset hound. On the big screen, Holmes holds the Guinness World Record as the “most portrayed movie character”, with more than 70 actors playing him in over 200 films dating as far back as 1900.
Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, forms the source material for the film, MR. HOLMES, starring the great Ian McKellen as the noted super-sleuth. In this pastiche, Holmes has already well retired to a small farm on the Sussex Downs where he has taken up beekeeping. The time is 1947 – making Holmes about 94 years old – and both his health and his memory are failing him. Here, Holmes is a real person whose fame is due to Watson’s numerous published books on their cases. Absent, though, are his legendary deerstalker hat and pipe, which, Holmes tells a client, are products of Watson’s imaginative license. Amusing!
Before it’s too late, Holmes decides to set the record straight by penning his own recollection of a particular case – the one that forced him into retirement. Holmes, however, struggles to remember the details and his progress is painfully slow. At the same time, he has a mystery developing with his apiary as more than a few bees have begun to turn up dead. Fortunately, he has a new protégé to work with in the person of Roger (Milo Parker), the son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney). The young man is more than keen to learn both Holmes’ power of deductive reasoning and his beekeeping skills. Under the summer sun of a green southeast England, the teacher and student form a bond. One rose fades as another starts to come into bloom.
MR. HOLMES reunites McKellen with director Bill Condon, who previously worked together in the 1998 Oscar®-winning film, GODS AND MONSTERS. (Condon won the award for Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.) In this film, McKellen’s immense talent shines bright as the Yoda-like detective/surrogate grandfather. Though only 76 in real life, he masterfully combines the intellect of a logician whose exploits have filled pages of books with the insecurity of an old man who knows deep down that this is own final chapter. Thankfully and wonderfully, young Parker is up to the task of playing opposite such an august actor, and he delivers a solid performance in this, his third film.
A sentimental story of aging, friendship and regret, MR. HOLMES is a pure delight to watch. If this would be Holmes’ finale, it would be a fitting end. Certainly, look for McKellen to get a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar® next January.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 32:00.)
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