First things first, Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes is not your typical Sherlock Holmes film. This is most obvious with the mystery-solving aspect of the film being relegated to a small subplot at best. This film is an acute character study, and having the character in question being the one and only Sherlock Holmes is more of a novelty than an integral part of the film.
Film and television have been saturated with representations of Sherlock Holmes in recent years, this film provides a refreshing new take on the idea of a “Sherlock Holmes film”. Ian McKellen’s detective is not the rock star of Benedict Cumberbatch or Robert Downey Jr. This performance tears the character down from the pedestal previous depictions have placed him on, showing the hurdles that old age will eventually throw at us all. This is an exciting approach as Sherlock has always been presented with a kind of eternal youthful energy. Here he is stripped of his physical capabilities and is losing his mental prowess, the very quality that defined him as a character. As such this is a film following the universal human experience of getting old, not a high stakes crime caper.
The struggle of entering old age is a central theme of this film. It’s highlighted beautifully with the pairing of the 93 year-old Holmes and Roger (Milo Parker) the young son of his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney). This relationship is at the forefront of the film. Through his connection with Roger we are able to see the soft, deeply caring side of Holmes. The side that is often side-lined in favour of his sarcastic retorts or arrogant displays of his intelligence. Within the film, it seems Sherlock’s final case was to understand the power of human connections and loving relationships. Mr. Holmes is both heart-warming and bittersweet. McKellen might as well choose his outfits for awards season now, his outstanding performance begs for a nomination.
Attention to detail in a film about Sherlock Homes is perhaps to be expected. In this case the superb set and prop design make the film a joy to watch on an aesthetic level. The eponymous character is seen in a house overflowing with trinkets of past cases providing a visual treat for fans. This is a film that relies on the power of small moments, small problems that are huge to those who face them. This is reflected in the liberal use of close-up shots, close enough to look into the eyes of the character and lingering long enough to allow the audience to try and decipher what they are thinking.
The film follows three plot lines that work well together for the most part although occasionally they weigh the film down, causing it to drag in places. As mentioned before, this is a small, acutely focussed story, by adding flashbacks the central plot is somewhat diminished in comparison to Sherlock’s own more fast paced memories of past cases. Nonetheless the stories are well-rounded and the film is well structured, it ends with no string left untied and no emotion left un-evoked. It is a decent film surrounding, and pushing to the fore, McKellen’s superb performance. He carries both the emotional and entertainment value of the film perhaps leaving the weight unevenly dispersed. But, then again, the character Sherlock Holmes is nothing if not the centre of attention, this apparently rings true regardless of medium or indeed time period.