There have been an estimated 250 adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous British detective Sherlock Holmes. There have been several new versions of the character in the past few years, such as BBC’s Sherlock, CBS’s Elementary and the Guy Ritchie films. Does the new incarnation, Mr. Holmes stand up with its great predecessors?
Mr. Holmes stars Sir Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes, Milo Parker as Roger and Laura Linney as Ms. Munro with Bill Condon directing. Based on the novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind by Mitch Cullin, we follow Sherlock in his later life as the ravages of time starts to deteriorate his fantastical mind.
The setup of the film is what got me interested in seeing Mr. Holmes. I don’t think I remember seeing any incarnation of Sherlock Holmes before that has focused on his later life. Part of the appeal of Sherlock Holmes is that he is untouchable, he is smarter than any situation, and so the idea that we get to see his brilliant memory start to fade and him trying to come to terms with his mortality, it sounds like a brilliant concept to write about. This theme, while never fully fleshed out enough for my liking, is mentioned in a few scenes. One of the more memorable is how Sherlock notes a mark when he can’t remember something, be it a name or a place, and eventually we get to see the book in which he marks his notes in. It’s almost heartbreaking to see a once great mind broken down by time. This does mean that though we don’t get to see the great Sherlock’s amazing mind at play, we do get to see Sherlock’s emotions finally catching up with him, and that is something we don’t really see in the new incarnations.
As we have a Sherlock that is near the end of his life, we don’t sadly get any of his entourage of famous friends. While we get fleeting glimpses of Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson, all we really get is Sherlock, which in my opinion is a brilliant choice. While it is weird to see Sherlock working by himself, it means we get to know him more as a character, rather than high-functioning madman that we saw through the lens of Dr. Watson.
In the BBC’s Sherlock, we are introduced to an almost sociopathic character, but with Mr. Holmes we have a main character that is much more rounded. Ian McKellen shows off his great acting skills as he flits between the calm, sophisticated Sherlock who is never comprised, to a Sherlock who is frustrated with his failing memory and breaks down into tears during the latter of the film. To continue with the acting, Laura Linney is good as exasperated housekeeper Ms. Munro, but Milo Parker as her son Roger is a bit too over eager. Maybe it’s just his character, as the young boy is mesmerised by Sherlock, but there is a small part of over-acting nestled somewhere in there.
The story is three pronged, with three different times of Sherlock’s life we have to keep up with; his “controversial’ last case that made him retire, a trip to Japan to receive a mysterious plant known as the prickly ash, and his later retirement as he tries to remember that last case, rather than the way Dr. Watson wrote it. The story never get’s twisted or convoluted, as we can tell very clearly which period in time we have gone to, and in the first time period we get to see a small part of Sherlock’s unique gift as well as a nerve-tingling scene which gave the film a PG certificate.
The big problem with the film is that there is just not enough going on. With the running time being an hour and 45 minutes, the film starts to feel a little bit baggy, meaning a few of the more quieter scenes that have no bearing on the story could have been cut. And while we move between the three stories, the Japanese section seems to have no true bearing on the story until the final scenes, meaning we have to wait quite a while to get a payoff.
In summary, Mr. Holmes is an interesting character piece of one of the most enduring British literary creations, but still stumbles a few times with it’s story points.
Score: 6/10 A bit too long for what it asks, but a mesmerising performance by Sir Ian McKellen brings it home.