Movie Review: Mr. Holmes


An elderly Sherlock Holmes struggles to recall the case that caused him to retire from detective work.


Bill Condon, 2015

Retired and living in a country home, a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) hasn’t solved a case in thirty years. His return from a trip to Japan triggers him to start questioning how his life came to be so quiet. When Holmes isn’t tending to his bees, he struggles to remember the case that drove him into retirement. The face of a young woman haunts him, and he tries desperately to find out how he could have failed so badly that he was driven away from his life’s calling. His housekeeper’s son Roger (Milo Parker) finds the story of the case that Holmes has written and begs for the full story. The retired detective strikes up a friendship with the clever child while his mother Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) struggles to deal with her stubborn charges.


Okay, I’m getting this out of the way early for the Sherlock Holmes fans I know are reading: Watson doesn’t really appear in this film. We see his hand in flashbacks, and that’s about it. Didn’t stop me from pretending he was played by Patrick Stewart in my head. In spite of the lack of that vital relationship, Mr. Holmes is an interesting, introspective drama. It’s really beautifully shot, utilising the Dover scenery in contrast to Sherlock’s claustrophobic lifestyle. The time-jumping structure keeps the pace up, though the flashbacks to Japan are a little odd. In spite of my mad love for Hiroyuki Sanada, those scenes are the most out of place, and a side plot with an atomic bomb-irradiated plant that Holmes thinks will improve his memory is weird. Thematically it ultimately pieces together with the current timeline and the “final case” timeline nicely, though, and the locations are cool. The case in the past brings just enough intrigue and pathos to keep one interested, even if the twist is actually really bloody obvious. (Seriously. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what was going on with that woman.)

Ultimately, Mr. Holmes is a film about a very old dog learning new tricks: namely, how to connect with his emotions and spirituality. None of this is particularly heavy-handed until the last few moments, but those moments feel earned. This is partly due to a trio of powerful performances from the three leads. Ian McKellen portrays Holmes intelligently and powerfully. His adjustments to fit Holmes’ different ages are clever and not over the top. They never overshadow the emotional journey that the irascible detective goes on thanks to his young protégé. Milo Parker does a good job as Roger. He’s not cloying or precocious, which is good, because Roger has a few dramatic moments of his own. Most of the best of these are in opposition to his stoic, hard-working mother. Laura Linney handles her British accent well, but more importantly, she turns Mrs. Munro into a deeply sympathetic character in spite of being largely opposed to Holmes’ behaviour. She’s sensible and sensitive to her predicament as the simple mother of a brilliant son. This is a really sweet, quiet film that rounds out the mythos of Sherlock Holmes, without being its best exploration.

Mr. Holmes on IMDb

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